Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Sciambi points way toward better broadcasts
In a guest spot with Baseball Prospectus, ESPN's Jon "Boog" Sciambi tells a great Chipper Jones story and then offers a manifesto of sorts:
So how do we make a better broadcast? It's gotta be fun. Entertaining. To us. Yes. But, by extension, to the audience. What else? Well, it's as much about eliminating certain stats from the lexicon as it is about adding them. We need to slowly erase the "noise." Stop mentioning and graphically supporting with stats like RBI and wins because that stuff doesn't make people smarter.
Let's not forget "it's the search for objective knowledge about baseball." The goal is not unveiling newfangled stats; it's about getting people to understand basic ideas and concepts. To achieve that, we can't just slap stats up on the screen and explain them. Understanding has to come in the form of analysis. We have to use the stat and explain it. Sometimes it needs to be the PBP guy playing analyst and getting the color guy to react:
I'd liken this task to how The New York Times operates. The Times places the stories it deems most important above the fold and to the right. The majority of other papers go with what they think we think are the most important. The goal is to be the Times. If we eliminate the noise of RBI, runs, etc., keep it basic and utilize the slash stats, I believe that, slowly, the desert masses will drink the sand. The BP base must understand: VORP, EqA, WAR, and Robert Parish are not walking through that door. Not for a while. But it can only help if the broadcasters are a team, too—in uniformity (together, I mean, not wearing those blazers) while patiently holding that door open.
I won't suggest that Sciambi is the first sabermetrics-friendly broadcaster, because he's not. But I believe he's the first one who's been so willing to challenge the players -- both the current players and the ex-players in the booth -- in his pursuit of some fairly obvious truths. He certainly won't be the last of them. A decade from now, the environment will have been completely transformed by new information and (mostly) youngish broadcasters and writers who grew up thinking that maybe there was more to baseball statistics than just batting average and RBIs.
I get asked every so often what I'm most excited about this season. And, yeah: Stephen Strasburg and the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Twins' new-look infield and Franklin Gutierrez' Willie Mays impression and Brandon Webb's comeback and Billy Butler's line drives ... all that and much more. But somewhere on that list is Jon Sciambi calling baseball games on ESPN, because he does that job the way I would do it, if I could actually do it.