ALCS Coverage: The Braindead Headset

In his first plate appearance last night versus CC Sabathia, well-known Walkaholic Bobby Abreu did his thing: he walked on four pitches, all fastballs. His second plate appearance began similarly — two fastpieces for balls (although GameDay appears to have the latter in the upper-inner part of the strike zone).

It’s an interesting situation, this: Sabathia, facing the only lefty in the Angels righty- and switchy-stacked lineup, has thrown six straight balls. Granted, we know Abreu is an uber-patient hitter, but this is CC Sabathia he’s facing. The same CC Sabathia, that is, who walked only about seven percent of the batters he faced this season. It’s certainly possible, but indeed unlikely, that Sabathia would throw six straight balls to Abreu, let alone walk him twice.

It was at this point that Mister Avuncular himself, Tim McCarver, said something along the lines of: “Sometimes, when you face a lineup of all righties, it’s harder to face the lefty.” His justification? Because the pitcher wouldn’t be used to it. A possibility, for sure. Certainly something to consider.

But here’s the thing: why state it as fact? This is the sort of thing that a thousand nerds in a thousand mothers’ basements all over this great nation are so ready to check. I don’t know exactly how they’d do it, but it seems like you could just find all the instances in which a lefty faced a lineup of all righties but one. Then, I’m surmising, you’d find out how the lefty batters fared in those games versus what you’d expect given their normal platoon splits and the platoon splits of the pitcher. Or something like that. Point is: there’s data. It’s check-up-on-able.

Of course, one could argue that by “harder,” McCarver intended only to comment on how it might feel to a pitcher — that is, as opposed to what the actual outcomes were of such situations. Players-turned-broadcaster are useful for this exact reason. But I think such an argument would be disingenuous in this case. It’s my contention that, in the context of the situation (Abreu having walked already and now halfway to a second walk), McCarver fully intended to comment on the outcome.

Let me make one point clear here: this is not to pick on Tim McCarver, per se. I’m almost positive that Tim McCarver is an excellent grandfather and probably also does a lot of good work with his local chapter of the Rotary. Tim McCarver isn’t really the bad guy here. He’s participating in a different national pastime besides baseball, one particularly native to television. I don’t know exactly what you’d call it, but it’s a pastime that values volume and the appearance of assuredness over dialogue and curiosity. It’s this same pastime that keeps Angry Shouting People like Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly in business and upon which George Saunders comments in his book The Braindead Megaphone.

How do we rival this influence? By asking questions. Modern Philosopher Bill James has built his entire empire on a single premise: that, instead of making claims, we ask simple, almost childish questions. That’s it. Just ask the question. Instead of saying, “Immigrants are bad for the country!” you ask, “How does immigration affect our country?” Instead of saying, “Facing only one lefty can make it hard for the lefty pitcher,” you say, “I wonder if, just maybe, facing only one lefty in a lineup of all righties could make it hard for a lefty pitcher.”

You couch it. You resist the temptation to make a claim. You ask a question. And you allow yourself to be amazed by the answer.

(P.S. Abreu struck out in that plate appearance and ended up 0-for-3 versus Sabathia with 2 K and 1 BB.)



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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mike
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mike
6 years 11 months ago

I hear your point. Here is my answer: the guys wearing the headsets, principally the former players, are supposed to know and not wonder. We, the audience, however, would appreciate the honesty of curious behavior. I imagine the analyst’s bosses – the network producers – would rather have their analysts take a harder stance and act like they know with authority. After all, that is the resason they are supposed to be in the booth, to spew their so-called knowledge. We, however, know better. Good article.

Andy S.
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Andy S.
6 years 11 months ago

Jesus Christ, did you have your period this morning or something?

Look, I hate this kind of broadcasting too, but you really picked the most innocent possible thing McCarver could have said to make fun of him about. And I doubt arrogance was his intent.

TCQ
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TCQ
6 years 11 months ago

Right, because the entire point of the article was to slam McCarver, not to make a larger point or anything…

mike
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mike
6 years 11 months ago

Regarding Van Gundy, I’ll have to watch an NBA game then. On second thought, nah; I believe you.

Matthew McExpos
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Matthew McExpos
6 years 11 months ago

Does that make Jon Stewart a political sabermetrician?

fire jerry manuel
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6 years 11 months ago

i believe that’s nate silver

Steven
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Steven
6 years 11 months ago

He didn’t state it as fact. He said sometimes, which dispels any notion that he’s stating something as a fact, which is never-changing and absolute. He meant that sometimes a pitcher gets his rhythm thrown off when he’s facing one lefthander in a sea of righthanders. That’s it. The silly thing about McCarver’s statement was that Sabathia had only faced one righthanded batter before walking Abreu on four pitches.

Jay Wigley
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Jay Wigley
6 years 11 months ago

The point of the broadcast team is to entertain, not to educate. If you want to be educated, then read more of this website and others like it. Join SABR and then the statistical analysis committee. Buy more Bill James books. Write Fox and tell them to put Bill James on a game once in a while. But please, don’t confuse the issue: old ballplayers and former Presidents are asked to comment on their respective areas of expertise because people (most people) enjoy hearing them talk and they, perhaps, fondly remember them as they used to be. It is about being entertained. I wish the point was educating the viewer, engaging his brain. But it’s not.

PhD Brian
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PhD Brian
6 years 11 months ago

Rob Dibble was exactly the kind of headset you want this season. He was frank all the time. He always called a spade a spade. But I doubt he keeps his job because he is not good at telling people what the franchise wants you to hear. Tim McCarver is very good at telling the party line as is most of his peers. If your baseball you do not want someone saying CC Sabathia just threw a terrible pitch and Abreu stood and watched it any way. “It’s a tough pitch that was hard to layoff”, so both stars look good and the game looks better.

TLB
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TLB
6 years 11 months ago

Rob Dibble also made the statement on a Nationals broadcast that “Wins & losses are the most important stats for a pitcher”. I’m not making this up, I actually was watching the broadcast when he made this mind-number.

Matt B.
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Well in a lot of ways, to a pitcher it is probably true. Awards, accolades, HOF consideration, contract negotiations etc are hingent upon wins and losses.

Certainly not the best way for us to guage a pitchers value, but to them it probably is very important.

Joshua
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Joshua
6 years 11 months ago

You have to realize, that statistical analysis is used to predict what will happen in the future, or to remove the impact of things the pitcher can’t control.

But to an actual player, they view their job as to win the game, if that means giving up 3 runs in 6 innings, and my team wins, then I felt i did my job.

We love analyzing the game, so we have a better understanding of what is likely to happen going forward…. but analyzing what actually happened…. doesnt change the fact that it happened.

TCQ
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TCQ
6 years 11 months ago

I listened to Dibble a decent amount this past year. Always thought he was a jack-ass, although he may have come off better with a better partner than the astounding Bob Carpenter.

Seriously. Screw Bob Carpenter.

Matt B.
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Well, a lot of lefties don’t face a lot of lefty batters (obviously as managers load up on righties) so there are some interesting splits (on smaller sample sizes due to the discrepancy) and a lot of lefties do in fact have worse numbers against lefties. Ted Lilly has shocking splits vs lefties, Hamels, Santana (to name two) have slightly better numbers vs righties than lefties. I am sure he didn’t research this, but on any given year it possibly COULD be backed up.

divakar
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divakar
6 years 11 months ago

I love reading baseball analysis, but I rarely do it myself… I have, however, noticed that many a good lefty pitcher will have a “reverse” split for a season or over a small sample size… While one can always invoke SSS – I think Matt B. suggests why this bizarre phenomenon might occur. I’d take it one step further…

Could this be the result of facing only very good left-handed hitters? Ace lefties tend to bring out the “matchup maven” in every manager… I mean, if a lineup is “righty” stacked, does that also mean that it has shitty right-handed hitters? Notice all the guys you mentioned are in the NL – In the AL your DH is often in the lineup no matter who is on the mound. If you DH is lefty, he probably hits lefties OK.

I’m guessing that Johan, Hamels and Lilly all pitch well against bad hitters no matter what their handedness. If the bad hitters were lefties, then the lefty stats would sink. But those guys never get in games against the best lefties.

As such, when these lefties are on the mound, managers will serve up the replacement righties. Such a phenomenon might explain why you will see, on occassion, a lefty with a “reverse” split in a small sample size. He’s eating up crappy righties while also facing a tougher-than-average slate of lefties.

Matt B.
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6 years 11 months ago

Good point, if managers are quick to load up with righties who crush lefties than any lefty who manages to stick around the lineup is likely there for a reason…

MPC
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MPC
6 years 11 months ago

Well in Santana’s case, I’d say he has a good split vs. righties because he throws his changeup to them more often than he does to lefties.

TCQ
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TCQ
6 years 11 months ago

MPC kind of nailed this one. Both Hamels and Santana use their change-ups heavily, and Ted Lilly’s best pitch is his cutter, which I imagine would have a reverse-platoon split as well(Mariano Rivera has always displayed said split, which is about as much research as I feel like doing at the moment)…

divakar
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divakar
6 years 11 months ago

I’m willing to go down this line of reasoning – I certainly don’t know what creates reverse splits… I find it quite interesting.

Hamels changeup was not as good as it has been previously, but his wCH was still quite high and it was definitely his best pitch. His reverse split definitely was smaller, correlating his decreased wCH… To me, however, Hamels just wasn’t the same pitcher this year as before, with his wFB clearly a problem and his wCB negative as well. Hamels FIP was identical to last year, so I think we’ll have to wait and see if his reverse split returns next year. Maybe he’s just a different pitcher now, who is still quite effective.

In the case of Johan – his reverse split was even more pronounced this year despite having his worst wCH ever. Does that mean anything? I’m not able to pull up which pitches were thrown to which batters, but it if his changeup is the reason for his reverse split, you’d expect that his reverse split would decrease when the changeup isn’t as good. Yet the exact opposite happened.

And Lilly doesn’t throw a cutter from what I know. He throws a slider and change, but i didn’t think he threw a cutter – certainly nothing like Rivera’s. Where are his cutter stats? I can’t find them.

Finally, CC Sabathia had the best wCH of any left-hander in baseball and showed a dramatic non-reverse split. Maybe he doesn’t throw it to righties, and maybe he should – but again, I can’t find that data.

I realize all of this is pretty shoddy “research” – I just don’t see how we can determine that throwing “changeups to righties” results in a reverse split for the guys we’re discussing.

Chad
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Chad
6 years 11 months ago

For all the MLB fans who don’t watch NBA, Jeff Van Gundy is a great announcer. He is my favorite color guy out of any sport. He can make most NBA games very entertaining and engaging. I suggest giving a few of his broadcasts a try.

divakar
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divakar
6 years 11 months ago

I agree completely. Love the JVG experience.

Now if only we could pair him with someone not named Mark Jackson.

I’d actually love to see Reggie Miller and JVG team up for a whole season.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 11 months ago

Man, the NBA hoards all the best announcers. Albert, Breen, Harlan, JVG… I’m even finding Jackson better now that I don’t listen to him every night on YES.

dan woytek
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dan woytek
6 years 11 months ago

Breen can be kind of a killjoy sometimes. Especially for the more aesthetics among us NBA fans, but I do love me some JVG

http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2009/06/toothpicks-do-not-add-up-to-salvation.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoxhfmYBPsg

MikeS
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MikeS
6 years 11 months ago

Great post about captain obvious.

But couldn’t you haver just said “If you know anything at all about baseball, Tim McCarver adds nothing to your viewing experience?”

jrdo410
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jrdo410
6 years 11 months ago
Seideberg
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Seideberg
6 years 11 months ago

Forget Tim McCarver. Check out this quote from Joe Buck. Does he seriously believe what he is writing?

“Treat everybody equally and don’t act like a bigshot. Don’t make the game about you. If I don’t make the game on Friday night, I think they’ll still play. No one is tuning in to listen to me. Especially on TV, you don’t try to accent it, you just let it go. I just try to stay away. In the big moments, I just try to step into the background.”
-Joe Buck, the most overly-dramatic announcer this side of John Sterling.

MPC
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MPC
6 years 11 months ago

Haha, what bullshit. Joe Buck doesn’t know how to STFU.

TCQ
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TCQ
6 years 11 months ago

Well, at least he knows what he should be doing in theory…

And at least he doesn’t yell through every other play, like a certain Chip Carey.

Aaron
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Aaron
6 years 11 months ago

Anyone else feel like there’s a business model in offering alternate audio for baseball games? I for one would pay to be able mute my TV and get a live stream of a good sabermetric broadcast, especially if the broadcasters had a couple of researchers feeding them truly relevant and interesting stats.

MikeS
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MikeS
6 years 11 months ago

They have that, it’s called radio.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 11 months ago

And as I’m a Yankee fan living on the North Shore of Chicago, I’m fucked.

Aaron
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Aaron
6 years 11 months ago

I’m a huge Joe Castiglione fan but I don’t know of any broadcasts that are truly sabermetrically oriented and I’ve probably listened to half the radio guys out there.

Logan
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Logan
6 years 11 months ago

Carson- you are a good writer. F#ck the haters.

Bill
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Bill
6 years 11 months ago

Yeah, Carson is an excellent writer, but I think the haters have point. I agree with Carson’s broader point, but the McCarver example is a poor one. McCarver prefaced his comment with “Sometimes”. I’m sure at some point in the history of baseball, a lefty was thrown off balance by a lefty in a lineup full of right handers. McCarver has been around baseball his whole life. It is reasonable to believe that he has known of a pitcher that had this happen to him. I see no reason to doubt that McCarver made an accurate statement. Good point Carson, but bad example.

Alex JN
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Alex JN
6 years 11 months ago

This was a very good article that, though it could have perhaps chosen a better example, highlighted a phenomenon that is undoubtedly common – announcers constantly state theses that are extremely uncertain as though they were truth. Carson’s proposed solution of asking things as a question (or at least inserting appropriate uncertainty) is a concrete step broadcasters could take to make broadcasts far more palatable to the reasoning fan. There is no reason McCarver should even state with certainty that this is sometimes true, although the sometimes does make the statement more acceptable, and there are “worse” examples.

Although I think everyone agrees that the broadcasters on some level are doing this because this is the sort of commentary fans prefer, we, as fans, have every right to criticize and make our voices heard and perhaps, at some stage, shift the balance (in favor of reason instead of certainty and faux-expertise) of what announcers are selected for.

cardsfan
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cardsfan
6 years 11 months ago

Idiotic article – complete waste of time.

dan woytek
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dan woytek
6 years 11 months ago

Best fans in baseball!

Jennifer
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Jennifer
6 years 11 months ago

Great point, I particularly like how you connect it to the larger phenomenon that exists in our culture.

The fox broadcast is a considerable step down from most of the local broadcasts I’ve seen on directv mlb ticket (imo). I’ve been muting it most of the time – but could also turn on AM radio to listen. Anyone like the ESPN radio broadcast, or is that lame too?

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 11 months ago

Don’t they just have Miller and Morgan do it? Pick your poison.

Ian
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Ian
6 years 11 months ago

Bill James is not a ‘modern day philosopher.’ Sorry, he’s just not.

Seideberg
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Seideberg
6 years 10 months ago

What is this newfangled “OPS” statistic of which Tim McCarver speaks?

J. Gonzalez
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Hi Carson,

This is a well written article. I think you are right in saying that many people often announce things as fact, when in realty they are just the announcers’ opinion. Good job man!

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