Here are some highlights from the Digital World Meets Baseball Information Panel on Saturday, March 17 at the SABR Analytics Conference, which featured Ryan Zander of Sportvision, Jeff Bennett of ESPN Stats & Info Group, Rob Shaw of Bloomberg Sports and moderator Michele Steele of ESPN:
On discrepancies between ‘virtual strike zones’ on TV and umpires’ ball-strike calls
- Zander: “That’s just the nature of the beast. It’s going to happen. When you start to see a collection of pitches in an at-bat, that tells a story. You just take away, either the umpire missed or the system is wrong. Clearly that’s not a storyline anyone wants, But we start getting the collection of pitches and the fans get used to seeing that “Wow, he’s pitching this guy high and outside.” That’s the focus of the viewer and that’s pretty cool, rather than “This umpire stinks” or “What is this graphic? I don’t even understand how it works. How does it call balls and strikes?” And that’s why we are doing the things we are doing with more data, more analytics. Pitch f/x, showing where the ball crosses the plate, is just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, this is a mound of interesting data and we need to start building storylines out of that. That could make sense for broadcast.”
On using more advanced statistics in TV broadcasts
- Bennett: “When we started way back in 1994, I’d say that we were at a zero (on a scale of 1-10 for using analytics at ESPN). We knew who Bill James was, but integrating statistics with what we did for our event broadcasts, like SportsCenter, wasn’t something that we were pushing. Fast-forward to where we are now, and it’s evolved fairly quickly in the last five years. … It certainly didn’t hurt that ‘Moneyball’ became a phenomenon and with teams like the Red Sox winning the World Series, more teams started to dabble in sabermetrics. We’re pretty aggressive on a show like ‘Baseball Tonight,’ because it caters so a baseball centric audience, and occasionally on SportsCenter.”
On helping TV viewers become more comfortable with sabermetrics
- Shaw: “For us, it’s trying to find ways to better tell the story. I think what ESPN and Sportvision is doing makes a lot of sense. I think the more you do, the more in-depth you can get, but at the same time (you don’t want to) confuse your audience. I think there’s often a great fear. Sometimes it’s not even your audience … some of the time it’s the play-by-play guys that are not very comfortable going that deep. They want to tell the story the way they’ve been doing it for the last 25 to 30 years, but there is an art to that, as well. Sometimes when you’re watching a telecast, you don’t want to go that deep. You want to hear a great story. … So it’s trying to find ways to take the analytics to help tell different stories, but at the same time not confusing the audience and not confusing the broadcasters. I think for the most part we all have very similar data, in fact, the data that we have through BAM (MLB Advanced Media) is Sportvision’s, but I think the added value that we have at Bloomberg is that we try to provide business solutions.”
For more coverage of the SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.
Originally published: March 28, 2012. Last Updated: March 28, 2012.