Former Mariner radio voice Ken Levine has some provocative things to say about the use of statistics in baseball broadcasts.
I urge you to read his full piece and come back, but the jist is this: Bad baseball broadcasters use stats as a crutch when they don’t have anything unique or perceptive to say, and with the rise of sabermetrics, this tendency has gotten worse.
Listeners want to hear storytellers. They want to be entertained. If they’re listening on the radio they want the game to come alive. They want the announcer to put them in the stadium through vivid descriptions. They want personality.
Statistics are fine in key game situations...But breaking down a batter’s average against a certain pitcher when he’s had only six at bats against him and it’s the second inning of a game in mid April – who gives a shit?
I got a chance to interview Levine once; he's a smart guy. He's also been around some of the best broadcasters of all-time, having worked with Dave Niehaus when he was doing the Mariners play-by-play, and with Vin Scully when he did post-game shows for the Dodgers. I think he undermines his point a bit by calling his post "Art has been replaced by VORP," which comes off as a knock on advanced stats, but the question remains: To what extent should statistics be part of a radio/TV broadcast?
Levine’s point about batter/pitcher stats is well-taken as someone who watches/listens to a lot of Mariner games, since that’s the one statistic M’s announcers tend to lean on and it’s pointless. But what about citing modern analysis about the likelihood of a strategic decision panning out? In a possible bunt situation, I’d like to hear how run expectancy would be affected if the bunt gets down. On a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, in a close game, I think the drama would be heightened if the announcer mentioned how win expectancy would be affected by a strikeout or a single or whatever.
My take: I’d rather the Mariners announcers give me insights about the players and the coaches—whether they are analytical insights or personal insights. The announcers are around the players so much, that's something they can provide that no one else can. Also, I don't get the sense that Sims nor Blowers nor Rizzs nor Goldsmith have a strong grasp of advanced statistics—at least not that I've heard. Whether you’re a broadcasting a baseball game or just talking to someone at a party, it’s best to stick to what you know. Of course it's entirely possible that the M's broadcast team is arguing the merits of FIP during the commercial breaks, they've just made a conscious decision to only use traditional stats and stuff like batter vs. pitcher, which may be statistical noise but at least is easy to explain. What do you think? More stats? Better stats? No stats?