Sunday Notes: Baseball’s Only Female Play-by-Play Broadcaster Is a Rising Star

Kirsten Karbach grew up listening to Andy Freed and Dave Wills call Tampa Bay Rays games on the radio. Now she’s following in their footsteps. At age 27, Karbach is the voice of Philadelphia’s high-A affiliate, the Clearwater Threshers. She’s been with the Florida State League club since 2013.

According to Ben Gellman, Karbach got her job by “knocking our socks off” in an interview.

“When I was with the Threshers, my boss told me I could hire a No. 2 broadcaster to intern and help me out,” explained Gellman, who now does play-by-play for the Salem Red Sox. “He suggested a guy from the University of South Florida, whose tape was pretty good, but I’d heard a couple of innings of Kirsten on tape and was blown away by the quality of her call. I told my boss, ‘We have got to bring her in for an interview.’

“We brought her on board and she was a terrific partner, consistently pointing out nuances of the game and enhancing the broadcast. When she took over the lead job in 2014, I knew she’d do a fantastic job and I’m so happy to see her continued success in a corner of our industry that badly needs more women and people of color — and other people who aren’t straight, white males — to give us a diverse perspective that better reflects our fans.”

Karbach obviously feels the same way, and while she’s currently the only female play-by-play broadcaster in affiliated baseball she doesn’t expect that to be the case for much longer.

“I think we’re starting to trend toward more women getting involved,” opined Karbach. “When I was in college (at the University of South Florida) the women we had coming in to volunteer for student radio were mostly just interested in doing on-camera studio work. A big reason is that they never saw women doing color commentating or play-by-play, but now they are because of people like Beth Mowins and Jessica Mendoza.”

“What Jessica is doing is very tough. I especially admire what she’s been able to do because not only is she the only woman at the national level in baseball broadcasting, she’s doing Sunday Night Baseball and working the playoffs. She’s broadcasting to millions of people, so there’s a lot of pressure on her.”

Karbach doesn’t feel nearly as much pressure calling games in the Florida State League, but working at that level isn’t her ultimate goal. She aspires to join Mendoza and Suzyn Waldman (who does color commentary on New York Yankees radio) in MLB. She’d also like to see more women chasing the same dream.

“I’d love for teams to give more opportunities to female broadcasters,” expressed Karbach, who many see rising in the ranks. “The Phillies have been tremendous, but other organizations are hesitant to put women in those roles. There’s no reason that women who want to pursue broadcasting, play-by-play in particular, can’t do it.”

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Some have speculated that the Tampa Bay Rays could trade Kevin Kiermaier, and while it seems unlikely, it’s certainly possible. Were that to happen, Mallex Smith would presumably replace him in center field. I asked Kevin Cash about the 24-year-old speed merchant earlier this week.

“Mallex came on the scene and really ignited us when he came up from Durham,” said the Rays manager. “Very athletic, very talented player that energized us with a lot of his abilities. I’m really looking forward for him coming into spring training, hopefully having a healthy spring training — he didn’t last year — and just kind of taking the reins off and seeing what he can do.”

Suppose Kiermaier stays. Would there be room for two speed-and-defense outfielders in the starting lineup?

“There’s definitely room,” claimed Cash. “One thing we’ve discussed this off-season is doing everything we can to catch the baseball. We want to put the best defense out there possible, and you look at, obviously, KK and Steven Souza, (who are) elite defenders. Last year we had Peter Bourjos, who we consider elite. Mallex is in that same fold of speed.

“We want as much speed as possible. On the surface, maybe you don’t see the tradeoff with 30 home runs, but when you’re saving runs, there is a pretty substantial tradeoff. That’s what Kevin Kiermaier has become a superstar for.”

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Billy Hamilton’s name has come up in trade rumors, with the San Francisco Giants reportedly among the teams interested in the Cincinnati speedster. Regardless of where he’s playing next year, his spot in the batting order will be debated. Hamilton has primarily hit leadoff for the Reds, but with a career OBP of .298, that’s hardly ideal — despite his plus-plus wheels.

Asked at the Winter Meetings where he sees Hamilton hitting, Bryan Price responded that it was “a great question.” The Cincinnati skipper went on to say, ”Billy’s got to start getting on base… In a role where you’re going to lead the team in plate appearances, you have to have the ability to affect the offense at a high rate in order to justify getting those at-bats.”

If he’s not first, he’s likely to be last. Price said that hitting Hamilton in front of the pitcher could hinder his opportunities to run, which makes the nine-hole a better option. As for non-Hamilton lead-off options, a lot of people feel Jesse Winker has a leg up on the opportunity. Listening to Price, it may well be the player who finished second to Hamilton on the club in stolen bases.

“Jesse’s always been an on-base guy,” stated Price. “Jose Peraza was an on-base guy — much better on-base percentage in the second half of this last season. His walks went up. He was better with strike zone command. He’s 23 years old. This kid is going to be a stud. I think he’s another candidate to hit towards the top of the lineup.”

Peraza finished his first full MLB season with a .297 on-base percentage — .002 lower than Hamilton’s mark — but as Price pointed out, the youngster was indeed better in the second half (.333). In 2016, Peraza put up a .352 OBP in 256 plate appearances with the Reds.

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When it comes to baseball analytics, Brian Snitker qualifies as an old dog learning new tricks. The Atlanta Braves manager admitted as much when he met with the media at the Winter Meetings. Alex Anthopoulos, the club’s new GM, has wasted little time getting Snitker up to speed.

“I told him, ‘Hey, I’m 62 years old and have spent my entire career relying on my gut and my eyes,’” said Snitker. “But getting to know the people that Alex has brought in has been enlightening. This is kind of where we’re going in the game, and… they’re showing us the information. And there’s a lot to it. It’s very interesting for somebody like me that doesn’t have that background.

“Now I kind of get what I’ve been reading about, what I’ve been hearing about with the analytics side of the game, I’m already understanding what that’s all about and now, as these guys say, we’re going to get the information and get it in the players’ hands. It’s kind of like you see what they’re talking about.”

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Power-pitching is all the rage in today’s game, but it’s not only avenue to success for a big league hurler. Just ask the Milwaukee Brewers. Two of their best starters in 2017 have run-of-the-mill velocity and pedestrian K rates. They aren’t sexy, but that isn’t what Craig Counsell is concerned with.

“What I want is pitchers who get outs,” said the Brewers manager. “Pitchers get outs in different ways. Brent Suter is very unique in how he gets outs. A guy like Zach Davies gets outs because he’s an elite commander of the baseball. Power is the easiest thing to see — there’s a number on the radar gun — and if it’s really big, that’s power. And it works. Velocity works.”

Asked to elaborate on the velocity-challenged Suter (his fastball averaged 86.1 MPH), Counsell said his success is predicated by more than just his signature deception.

“With Brent, it’s deception and pace,” said Counsell. “He works at a pace that’s very uncomfortable for hitters. Hitters struggle with it. It’s just a different way to get outs, and we know we have to be open to guys who get outs in different ways that are maybe not valued by everybody.”

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Discussing the versatility of his infielders earlier this week, Andy Green said that Carlos Asuaje “is locked in at second base.” I asked the Padres manager if that meant it’s Asuaje’s job to lose, or if second is only position he’s comfortable playing him at. Green responded that it’s the latter, adding that he embraces a culture of competition. He wants his players to push each other.

The primary candidates to compete for the job are all capable of playing elsewhere, and in all likelihood will at different points of the season.

“There’s a young guy in Luis Arias who is breathing down his neck right now to get to the big leagues,” explained Green. “He plays at second base and (also) some short. (Cory) Spangenberg can bounce over there. (Yangervis) Solarte can bounce over there. It’s a muddy picture trying to figure out how our roster fits together, but I think where we’re at is bringing in as much talent as you possibly can and sorting it out.”

Asuaje came to the plate 343 times and slashed .270/.334/.362 in his rookie season.

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Don Mattingly used an interesting analogy when addressing the criticism Derek Jeter has received since becoming the face of the Miami Marlins franchise. While presumably not looking to knock his boss, he did suggest that Jeter has been more than a little prone to errors in judgement.

“Derek may be the first to admit, ‘Hey, I would do some things maybe a little differently.’” said Mattingly. “I don’t know that. But I kind of look back to Derek’s first year in pro ball. He made 50-something errors at shortstop and we know what happened after that. He’s got a lot on his plate, a lot going on, a lot happening very fast, but I fully expect any adjustments that he has to make, or that he thinks he has to make… we’re just going to move forward.”

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Frank Lary, who was dubbed “Yankee Killer” during his career with (mostly) the Detroit Tigers, died earlier this week at age 87. Lary pitched from 1954-1965 and had a record of 28-13 against a Yankees team that won nine pennants during that stretch. Against all other teams, Lary went 100-103.

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RANDOM BATTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Joe DiMaggio went 0 for 8 against Satchel Paige.

Napoleon Lajoie went 1 for 16 against Slow Joe Doyle.

Beauty McGowan went 5 for 8 against Lil Stoner.

Adam Dunn went 8 for 13 against Clayton Kershaw.

Alan Trammell went 1 for 10 against Jack Morris.

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The Detroit Tigers are planning to retire Alan Trammell’s number on August 26. There has been no announcement regarding Lou Whitaker’s number, but retiring his at the same time seems like a no-brainer. Not only did they have comparable careers, to most Tigers fans they weren’t so much individuals as they were “Trammell and Whitaker.” As such, they should be honored together.

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Should Dusty Baker go into the Hall of Fame someday? That question came up in a conversation at the Winter Meetings, and I’m inclined to say he’s deserving. The reason goes beyond Baker’s 1,863 managerial wins, which ranks him 14th all time, right in front of Bruce Bochy. Much like Joe Torre, Baker had a solid playing career before becoming a skipper. For reasons I neither understand nor agree with, the two are mutually exclusive when it comes to Cooperstown consideration. In my opinion, that’s wrong. Overall contributions are what should matter, and Baker has made a meaningful impact on the game of baseball.

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A large contingent of BBWAA members met in Orlando this past week, and among the issues addressed was a clause in Tyler Chatwood’s contract with the Chicago Cubs. Per the recently-agreed-to three-year deal, the free agent hurler would receive an extra $2 million in salary if he received as much as a single Cy Young Award vote in the coming season, and an extra $4 million is he received at least one vote in each of the next two seasons.

Understandably, the BBWAA views such a clause as objectionable. Their members are doing the voting and would thus be impacting a player’s salary by filling out a ballot. That would be a conflict of interest.

This isn’t the first time the issue has come up. Ten years ago, a similar clause was written into Curt Schilling’s contract. The BBWAA objected then, as well, and MLB and the players’ union agreed to not include such clauses in future contracts. A decade later, that was seemingly forgotten.

Once again, reason has prevailed. Upon being informed by the BBWAA that Chatwood would be deemed ineligible for the award if the clause remained, it was removed.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The San Francisco Chronicle, Susan Slusser wrote about the Oakland A’s — “a leader in front-office diversity” — hiring 24-year-old Haley Alvarez as their new scouting coordinator.

Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser told us why the Detroit Tigers see Victor Reyes — the top pick in this year’s Rule 5 Draft — as part of their outfield solution.

Over at The Kyodo News, Jim Allen wrote about how Billy Eppler and the Angels connected with Shohei Ohtani.

Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune feels it’s time for Hell’s Bells to toll for Trevor Hoffman.

The seventh annual SABR Analytics Conference will be held in Phoenix on March 9-11, 2018. Information can be found here.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Don Mattingly had 3,301 total bases and a 127 adjusted OPS. Adrian Gonzalez has 3,399 total bases and a 130 adjusted OPS.

Shaq Thompson, a starting outside linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2012 and appeared in 13 Gulf Coast League games. He went 0 for 39 with 37 strikeouts.

On December 18, 1993, Yankees prospect Brien Taylor — the first overall pick in the 1991 draft — seriously injured his pitching shoulder during an altercation. He subsequently never pitched above A-ball.

On the final day of the 1954 season, Yankees manager Casey Stengel played Yogi Berra at third base, Mickey Mantle at shortstop, and Moose Skowron at second base.

In a three-year stretch from 1902-1904, Cincinnati Reds left-hander Noodles Hahn allowed eight home runs, and issued 140 free passes, in 914-and-two-thirds innings.

Since 1871, a total of 2,287 pitchers have thrown at least 500 innings. None has a higher walk rate (7.08) than Mitch Williams.

Per Tyler Kepner of The New York Times, Tommy John induced 605 ground ball double plays, the most in history. Jim Kaat is next on the list, with 462.

Hall of Fame manager John McGraw had 2,763 wins while leading the Baltimore Orioles and New York Giants. As a player, he slashed .334/.466/.410 over 1,100 games.

In 1922 — the last of his three seasons where he hit .400 or better — Ty Cobb scored 99 runs and had 99 RBIs.

Razor Ledbetter and Grover Lowdermilk both pitched for the 1915 Detroit Tigers.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Baseball’s Only Female Play-by-Play Broadcaster Is a Rising Star by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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John Autin
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John Autin

It will look very fishy if the Tigers retire Alan Trammell’s number before that of Lou Whitaker. Sweet Lou topped Tram in games, WAR (both versions), hits, runs, RBI, HRs, total bases, times on base, OPS and OPS+.

Regardless of Trammell, it’s very odd that after more than 20 years, Detroit has yet to bestow this honor on the man who is 3rd in team history in games played, 4th in bWAR and runs, 5th in total bases, etc.

Whitaker’s snub by the HOF is more forgivable than this would be. The Tigers will blow a golden opportunity for a public statement if they don’t honor Whitaker and Trammell together.

tramps like us
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tramps like us

I’ve also been surprised that Whitaker was seemingly forgotten by HOF voters. Trammell and him were the same player if ever 2 players were, with Lou having the edge in both WAR and OPS+. But you said it will look “fishy.” Are you implying racism, and if not what do you mean?

John Autin
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John Autin

I’m saying it will look like inexplicable favoritism. Now, we all know that racism is the most common reason a white person might be inexplicably favored over a nonwhite. But beyond racism’s general prevalence throughout the world, I don’t have any specific reason to call THIS racism.

I’ll say this again, though: It’s one thing for HOF voters to distinguish between Trammell and Whitaker, since the Hall has an established preference for those with a higher peak, and Trammell no doubt has that over Whitaker.

But when it comes to the team honor, I’m damned if I know how the Tigers could justify elevating Tram over Sweet Lou. To say they’re just echoing the HOF is not persuasive. Fishy, fishy, fishy.

christinamaxwell965
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christinamaxwell965

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