Digging Deeper Beyond the Obvious

In the top of the sixth inning, with two outs and the score 4-2, Casey Blake stood at first base with the pitcher Randy Wolf up at the plate. Curiously, Casey Blake would steal second base during the at bat, moving into scoring position fruitlessly as Randy Wolf would proceed to fly out to end the inning.

It was curious because as a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid having your pitcher bat. They are, on average, quite poor at the task. By attempting a steal of second with two outs, Casey Blake was highly increasing the risk of a third out on the base paths. An out that would result in the pitcher’s spot still being up to plate when the seventh inning came around.

Further curiously, the move was praised by the TBS broadcasting crew as a good chance to take by Joe Torre. Ignoring for a moment whose decision it actually was for Blake to attempt second base, I could not help but wonder immediately what that same crew’s reaction would have been had Blake been thrown out. They even mentioned how unusual of a move it was given Wolf at bat, but didn’t go any further than that.

This is a small example, but I think an important one, that illustrates my major beef with broadcasting crews. Where is the attempt to educate the viewer? First of all, taken in a vacuum, this was a terrible play. There was not enough emphasis on that, explaining why it’s such a risk generally. Secondly, there are a couple exceptions to that, and none of those were mentioned either.

Did Torre or Blake or whoever notice, because a steal attempt is so bad a move in that situation, that the Phillies were not paying enough attention to Blake? If Philadelphia were thereby allowing Blake a bigger lead and/or jump, his odds of making it second base successfully would rise, possibly tipping the play into a good risk.

Randy Wolf had thrown 73 pitches at that point in the game. If Torre had determined that the most likely outcome of the bottom of the sixth would be that Wolf would throw enough pitches that his day would be finished, then Torre would be utilizing a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh. With no fear of having the pitcher bad to start the seventh, the risk of the play would be decreased.

Neither of those possible explanations were mentioned — explanations that would help bring to the viewer’s attention some of the tactical considerations that goes into managing a baseball game. Nope, instead the uninformed viewer is left with an increased respect for some nebulous mystique for Joe Torre and his incredible judgment of when to send the running game into motion. Come on, TBS, you are not a representative of either team and you get to pick your best people for this.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

35 Responses to “Digging Deeper Beyond the Obvious”

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  1. Big Oil says:

    Unsurprisingly, I’m with Matthew here. However, since everyone here already knows how mediocre some of these crews can be when it comes to providing relevant information, I’d mention two of the things I’ve enjoyed so far this postseason from a broadcasting standpoint:

    1. The display before the pitch of pitcher, batter, and the catcher’s sign in the bottom-center of the screen. I love being able to know the sign (and often also enjoy following pitch sequences and guessing), but often the camera is too busy focusing on Kate Hudson to show me the catcher’s call. This is mostly Fox.

    2. Silence in the booth during big moments: pan the crowd going nuts, the apprehension (or lack thereof) on the managers’ faces, the concentration of pitcher/batter, then let the pitch and result tell the tail. Even the casual baseball fan knows what is going on. Less is more.

    3. Not sure about the release velocity/velocity at plate graphic of Fox’s. Although it is growing on me, if accurate.

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    • Big Oil says:

      Horrible grammar. I’ll just say change tail to tale.

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    • archilochusColubris says:

      I’m with you on the first two, but i gotta say i find that release velocity / velocity at plate courtesy of FoXXXtrax+++ remarkably annoying. What is it trying to say? I know pitches get slower as they travel through the air. Are they pointing anything out about the difference? Not really. I think it was John Walsh who wrote an article on the percentage of velocity lost during travel and found that there was almost zero variance in the statistic excepting knuckleballs (where it was still minimal). It might be sweet to see how batters react to the different subtractions of velocity in that context, but i’m getting nothing as is.

      Though i will forward one other potentially blasphemous thing i’m finding surprisingly pleasant this postseason: Joe Buck. I can’t pin down exactly what’s changed, but i certainly am not finding his moralistic tone anywhere near as flagrant or annoying this time around. Maybe he’s getting better… or maybe i don’t mind it when he’s covering the Yankees.

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      • Dan30 says:

        Buck has been terribly offensive this post-season… i find his inability to do ANY kind of analysis more proof that he simply has a job because of who his dad was. He is a whiny nepotism pick who prefers football (thats on the record) and i wish he would leave our game alone.

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      • pounded clown says:

        Tim Mcarver didn’t know that the initial and final velocity of a pitched ball were different…sad enough for a catcher but worse was that he admitted this during the game broadcast.

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  2. Lance says:

    Good stuff. Can we also explore the MLB Network’s inability to describe how badly Joe Girardi ruined tonight’s game for his team?

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  3. TLB says:

    “Come on, TBS, you are not a representative of either team and you get to pick your best people for this.”

    It’s not just TBS — the #1 color commentator on the nation’s ‘premier’ baseball broadcast, Tim McCarver, admitted to the nation in ALCS game 1 that he didn’t know until *that day* that the radar gun velocities typically displayed on TV & at ballparks read the velocity as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. Now, I wouldn’t fault any random baseball fan for not knowing that, but think about that for a bit.

    McCarver has been broadcasting games for decades now, and was a catcher when he played! As best I can tell on a quick search, radar guns have been in use since the 1940s or 50s in police enforcement. McCarver played in the 60s & 70s, and I’d have to guess radar guns were in use then. And regardless, radar guns sure as heck have been around while he’s been broadcasting now for roughly 30 years.

    I’m sure somewhere, someone will be amused that THIS is the annoyance I’ve chosen to air on McCarver, as he certainly provides plenty during any given game. However, I just think it highlights the ignorance with which he goes about his job. As a Brewers fan, I’m lucky enough to have Brian Anderson (worked the PHI-COL series this postseason for TBS) as our ‘everyday’ pbp announcer. Quite frankly, his work with Joe Simpson was by far the best of any of the LDS series, and they should be working the NLCS too.

    But sadly, no — nepotism & the good ol’ boys’ club rules the day, and postseason MLB fans are stuck listening to the ignorant tones of Buck, McCarver, Caray, Darling, & Martinez. I never thought anyone could make me tolerate listening to Joe Buck’s smug arrogance, but congratulations, Chip Caray. Now please stop screaming — especially on routine plays.

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    • Richie Abernathy says:

      Well said. Despite McCarver’s nonsense, it is Joe Buck who I would knock out if I saw both walking down the street because of said smug arrogance. I simply write McCarver as a senile old man who ought to be in a nursing home playing bridge rather than being the color guy in the American League Championship Series.

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  4. chuckb says:

    I’ll also add that no one in their crew mentioned the possibility that this was a delayed double steal. With 2 outs and the pitcher at the plate, there was the possibility that the runner on third was waiting for Ruiz to throw the ball through and attempt to steal home. Ruiz seemed to recognize this possibility as he bluffed the throw in case the Dodgers were trying to steal home. Even if that wasn’t the Dodgers’ strategy, simple game theory tells us that this possibility may increase the likelihood of a successful steal of 2nd as Blake may have known that Ruiz was unlikely to even throw through to 2nd. Yet the announcers in the booth — ironically, a former pitcher and catcher — never addressed any of these possibilities. Why bother having 3 guys up in that booth if they can’t address ANY of these things?

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  5. Ryan L says:

    The mute button has been on since the playoffs started.

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  6. Cohort says:

    TBS- They really do not talk about the type of each pitch, only in significant situations, and it is the secondary announcer. I like to have my beliefs confirmed. I am new to this, so I try to spot the hanging fastball when I can. It is like listening to the radio and the DJ does not say anything about the song he just played. I am from Phila. and we have a couple of really good announcers, Gary Matthews and Chris Wheeler. They are good teachers.
    FOX – They share the pitch count with pitch velocity on screen. I try to keep up with counts. Maybe share the velocity with the inning number? I hate the way they light up the bases when an H.R. is hit. I like to look up and see where players were positioned.

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    • b_rider says:

      Watching baseball (and hockey) on TV, I’ve wondered if the announcers have _any_ function. How does listening to Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan contribute in any way to the experience? We’d be much better off with just video and crowd sounds. If they can someday have an alternate feed without announcers, I would certainly use it, and I’m sure many others would as well.

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      • odbsol says:

        You can try to switch over to the SAP audio. Sometimes you get Spanish (which is still better than Buck/McCarver) announcers who don’t talk as much. One time I got a blank audio except for the crowd noise. Much better.

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      • scatterbrian says:

        Fox Sports West did this one day mid-season. Was watching the Angels broadcast, and they went an entire inning without commentary, and I think even had microphones at various spots in the stands. Even though I find Rex Hudler and Steve Physioc unbearable and regularly turn down the volume, watching a game this way was really cool. You could hear every call by the plate umpire, the ball snap the pitcher’s glove every time the catcher threw it back, the ebb and flow of the crowd cheering and reacting, etc. Too bad this is not an option all the time.

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      • TLB says:

        @ odbsol

        “You can try to switch over to the SAP audio. Sometimes you get Spanish (which is still better than Buck/McCarver) announcers who don’t talk as much. One time I got a blank audio except for the crowd noise. Much better.”

        Thanks for the good tip. The only reason I don’t just mute like Ryan L is that I love said crowd & game sounds.

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  7. ChuckO says:

    “Where is the attempt to educate the viewer?”

    I doubt that there is a single executive at these networks who would agree that educating the viewers is any part of the role of the announcers. The purpose of these broadcasts is to draw viewers and it is the purpose of the announcers to contribute to that goal. As such, they are most likely chosen for being pleasant and personable, and I’d be willing to bet that they are expected not to challenge the opinions of the majority of the viewers. I don’t agree with this. I find most announcers intolerable and wish there would be more insightful, but it is utopian to expect that to happen.

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  8. aweb says:

    Coverage has been annoying me for a different reason – whoever is producing some of the games has a serious case of ADD. Stop cutting to shots of players in the dugout and fans between every play and pitch. I know Tori Hunter is camera friendly, I know Jeter and Rodriguez are on the Yankees…just stop it. After Hunter was picked off, they spent the next several at bats watching him pace back and forth in the dugout. Several pitches have been missed because of the constant “reaction replays”, which don’t show the play, but instead show people watching the play unfold. Just stop it. Focus on the batter and pitcher. Regular season coverage usually gets this right. Several games have given me the impression that I’m flipping channels during the innings.

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    • Nate says:

      I think this is a new sports broadcasting fad. They do the same thing in football. The play is over and they immediately go to the coach or some random guy on the sideline. You miss most of the formation set up and defense adjustments, etc. All you get is snap, play, look at this jackass who just who just got burnt.

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  9. Nate says:

    How about the play where Abreu got thrown out coming back to 2nd after he stopped short of going for the triple. The announers basically claimed that no one was around to tell Jeter not the throw to 3rd and he magically knew to check 2nd (presumably because of his clutchiness). Then they show the replay and say “look no one around”… and Teixiera is sitting no more than 20 feet from Jeter in the frame at 2nd.

    Classic example of announcers ignoring the evidence in front of them.

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    • TLB says:

      Not to mention that Teix had his glove up, presenting himself as a target… and if I had a trillion dollars to bet, I’d bet it that he was screaming “Two! Two! Two” as loud as he could.

      But nope, Derek Jeetah is teh amayzinz!

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    • Wally says:

      “Classic example of announcers ignoring the evidence in front of them.”

      I hate a lot of things about announcers, many of them have been mentioned in this article and the comments, but none of them piss me off more than the announcers making a snap judgement in real time (often obviously wrong at the time), and then not reversing their judgement once looking at the replays.

      I can’t remember which play this was anymore, but I’m pretty sure it was Martinez, where he claimed the first basemen had pulled his foot off the bag before the ball gets there. He was very emphatic about. Then we get the first replay, and he says something like, “and his foot comes off the bag right there” as they freeze it when ball enters the mit. Does he say, “oh maybe not” or anything when its obvious his foot is still on the bag..nope. “There it is his foot is off the bag.” It wasn’t until the 4th or 5th slow motion replay he finally semi-sorta admits his snap judgement was wrong and give us something like “I still thought his foot came off.”

      Its horribly frustrating to listen to a guy deny the obvious for 2-3 minutes while we watch replay after replay from umpteen different angles. It makes me want to reach right through the screen and rip the guy’s head off. I’d turn off the sound to save myself these kinds of moments, but sadly I just can’t stand the absolute quite.

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  10. neuter_your_dogma says:

    I enjoy ESPN’s coverage, not for the announcers, but for the stats it provides – although the screen can get cluttered like this comment.

    As for this crew, maybe they had Wolf’s 04 batting stats, he of wOBA 328.

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  11. Matt B. says:

    Dan Schulman is the best announcer in the game, bar none.

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    • Coby DuBose says:

      I tend to agree with this. I actually said to myself how pleasant listening to him is, and I questioned aloud (by myself) why he’s stuck calling games on the radio while people like Chip Caray get to call games on television.

      One of the most insufferable Caray moments from last night:

      Random Phillies player hits lazy, routine fly ball to right field/

      “Ball DRIVENNNNN to right field, right at ETHIERRRRR….

      4 seconds later…

      still waiting…

      (routine fly ball comes down to fielder who has been waiting under it for a solid 4 seconds)


      Seriously, Chip. Stop yelling at me. Stop confusing fly balls and line drives. Just stop.

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      • TLB says:

        I’m glad you highlighted that play. That sums up everything wrong with Chip Caray. I specifically remember this exact play, because it was so bad.

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    • Chad says:

      Dan S. is great….great at MLB and NBA. I will make an effort to listen to him over every other broadcaster (except Vin Scully, for nostalgia).

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  12. scatterbrian says:

    How about “No?”

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  13. Antonio says:

    A good or a bad decision is based on the result of that decision. I actually thought it was a brilliant thing to do. As you stated, Wolf only have 73 pitches at the time, and I am sure Torre wants him to go one more inning. In hindsight, he gets yanked in the bottom of the 6th. Let’s say Blake gets thrown out. Randy can go one extra inning and get a pinch-batter the next inning when he is up. Dodgers is leading by 2, with the bullpen Dodgers have, 2 runs is plenty. In hindsight, 2 runs is not enough ……

    I would call for a pinch-batter once Blake is at 2nd. But Torre had Wolf pinch-run for Thome …… crazier things has happened!!

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  14. Jeremiah says:

    Does anybody know if the ball/strike graphic on TBS is using the data from the pitchF/X system? It looks to me to be horribly inaccurate. My suspicion is that TBS has attempted to replicate the Gameday pitch tracker, but they are only using one camera, which does not have a fixed view. They have come up with some way to estimate where the pitch crosses home plate, but it is not very accurate. I have seen a several pitches that they placed way outside the zone, that were actually right over the plate when you watch the replay.

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    • Wally says:

      I’ve been wondering this as well. It seems as if their on screen strike zone is subject to the same skew as that of the usual camara center. If they insist on doing this would it be that hard to get pitchF/X?

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  15. Bret says:

    Oh man, thanks to everyone providing specific examples of why these announcers are so bad. It’s easy to harp on them in general, but a collection of mind-boggling examples really solidifies the case.

    Being a Giants fan I have the pleasure of listening to Jon Miller on a regular basis and I would just love to have him do some of these playoff games.

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    • Jeremiah says:

      Isn’t he on ESPN radio? It seems like I’ve listened to him on the radio during postseason games.

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