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The Case for Updating the Stats on Baseball Broadcasts

You can roll your eyes at this, throw up your hands, and exclaim, "WHY ARE NERDS TAKING OVER BASEBALL? BATTING AVERAGE AND RBIS MATTER!!!"

First, thank you for calling me a nerd. Honestly, my intelligence and knowledge about baseball and the numbers behind the game are far inferior to many others who do outstanding work to make baseball more understandable and fun.


Secondly, this is what front offices are doing. It's been the thing for a while now, and if you're not going to catch up, fine, but don't expect everyone else to continue to lag behind.


Thirdly, why do people get so angry about people trying to improve our understanding of this fantastic game? If you want to get into an argument about the corporatization of baseball and how owners are using these metrics and new ways to view the game as another reason to keep more profits and pay players less, I'm with you. Let's do it.


But if you're just angry just to be angry, let's chill out. Plain and simple, an update on how TV broadcasts display meaningful statistics for players needs to be updated. We'll start with offensive metrics. The typical local broadcast of games (I'll be using the Rays' Bally Sports broadcasts as an example) displays a few hitting stats to convey how a hitter performs in a given season or the previous year.


It's usually batting average, RBIs, home runs, and a 4th wild card option that seems to vary a bit (OBP, SLG, OPS, take your pick at whatever other hitting metric you can think of).


My proposal for hitters is to use weighted runs created+ (wRC+), a generally well-agreed-upon catch-all stat that does a decent job of conveying how well a hitter is doing and how his performance stacks up in the context of the rest of baseball, to replace batting average.


The replacement for RBIs could be win probability added, which isn't predictive or particularly meaningful for future performance, as it's incredibly dependent on context. Still, it can be a good barometer of how impactful a player has been toward winning throughout a season, which is something people cry about when RBIs are disparaged. It can give fans a good idea of how a player does in essential situations without insulting their intelligence.


Home runs I can take or leave, mainly because people would get so upset about replacing the other stats. Still, if you want to replace it, you could include the Google Statcast metric "barrels" to add a counting, power-based stat that does a bit better of a job adding in the context of a player's power numbers than simply showing how many dingers a guy has. Home runs can be incredibly park-dependent regarding dimensions, weather quality, etc., so barrels can do a bit of a better job cutting through that.


The fourth category could be a fun one. Maybe you first keep batting average or RBIs to satisfy the older crowd and slowly fade it out. Alternatively, you can commit fully to the modern game and include WAR or the recently created plate discipline stat SEAGER (via Baseball Prospectus).


I'd keep the tradition of showing the at-bat totals for a game (1-1, 0-2, 3-5, etc.) as it progresses; I understand and can appreciate keeping viewers informed about the happenings of that isolated game because, hey, we all have lives, not everyone can be tuned in for the whole game or remember every single batter's previous at-bats.


Now, let's focus on pitchers. This one's a bit more complicated because there are simply more stats listed when a pitcher first enters a game, or a starter throws his first warm-up pitches, and many of them are fine for informing viewers what to expect from a player.


But we can start by replacing ERA with fielding independent pitching (FIP). I like FIP. It's not perfect, and in a few years, I'm sure it'll be viewed as behind-the-times as any other metric we'll discuss, but it tries to cut through the noise of BABIP and focuses on what a pitcher can control: walks, strikeouts, and home runs. If you wanted to get super fancy and show FIP-, which averages it against the rest of the league and makes it so that a lower number is better, go for it, but the great thing about FIP is that it reads like ERA, making it easier for the old-school viewers to grasp.


We can move on to win-loss and save totals. Ah, the win. It's commonly accepted as a flawed statistic, yet TV broadcasts still show it. Tradition? Appealing to older viewers? I get it, but we're trying to keep the game alive and make it more fun for the younger generation. Let's introduce quality starts instead because while I'd still consider it behind the times regarding what tells a story, it's an improvement. For saves, we can introduce lockdowns, which is in the same boat as quality starts regarding its viability but, again, an improvement over saves.


I can take or leave WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, games, and walks. If you want to make an argument to replace any of them, OK, but like home runs with hitters, it might do more harm than good.


Not updating the statistics to catch up even in the slightest (trust me, my knowledge of this complicated world is limited, and the proposals I've included are very surface-level compared to a lot of other stat-heads) to the modern baseball era is doing a disservice to the people who watch baseball games. Some will complain and moan about how they miss the good old days of Pete Rose racking up hits or Jack Morris getting wins because he "pitched to the score."


I'm trying to make people aware of the more helpful statistics and push the general population further along in the analytics movement (or push them forward at all instead of moving backward).


Is it an exercise in futility? Perhaps, but hey, it's a sports article. The world has many horrible things going on, and I think we could all use a distraction, even one arguing against people who are likely too entrenched in their ways to change their minds.



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