For those baseball fans among us who welcome their analytical overlords — and yes, count me among those who covet information both nostalgic and sabermetric — it was a memorable week.
In the scorebook that keeps track of the ongoing tug-of-war between the opposite ends of the information spectrum — simplified, let’s call it the data collectors versus the ol’ eye-test faithful — it appears each side chalked up one victory and one defeat.
First, the good news for the data side: Soon, you’re going to know, in an instant, everything about every play in baseball that you could possibly imagine. The ideal Point A-to-Point B route an outfielder should have taken to a fly ball, and the route he actually did take. The quickness of a base stealer’s first step. The velocity and break of, say, Clay Buchholz’s curveball. How much ground Derek Jeter actually covered on that six-hop ground ball into center field. Everything.
The player-tracking technology was unveiled at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at the Hynes Convention Center last Saturday in a presentation by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. The system, which uses six cameras as well as radar to capture player movement around the field in several dimensions, will be in use at three ballparks this year (Target Field, Citi Field, Miller Park), with the intent of having it available in each ballpark in 2015.
It is literally a game-changer, particularly in terms of measuring defensive performance. Remember the Red Sox’ advanced-metrics-based decision in 2010 to go with Mike Cameron in center field over the younger and seemingly defensively dazzling Jacoby Ellsbury, who moved to left field? The MLBAM technology would have been especially valuable in a debate such as that, or even something less contentious or just plain fun, such as measuring the difference in range between, say, Jose Iglesias and Andrelton Simmons.
How any baseball fan doesn’t find this new treasure trove of richly detailed, previously unavailable information fascinating is beyond me, unless they’re simply worried about having their longstanding conventional wisdoms — the kind that lead to a consistently proven subpar defender such Jeter winning five Gold Gloves — shattered by the truth in numbers.
But for those who believe advanced metrics overwhelm the game’s sentimental, sunny-day-at-the-ballpark appeal, well, there was a victory for them as well. Fox Sports confirmed the poorly kept secret that Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci would join Joe Buck in the booth for the network’s baseball coverage this season. Reynolds and Verducci replace Tim McCarver, who semi-retired after the World Series.
Verducci is fine, a superb writer and reporter for Sports Illustrated who has improved over time during his frequent television appearances, mostly on MLB Network. He’ll be a suitable information guy.
But this is about Reynolds, who has served as an affable if rarely insightful studio analyst at MLB Network since its launch in 2009. To be blunt: Fox Sports made a less-than-inspired choice to replace McCarver, and it’s disappointing given the prominence of the position.
Reynolds willfully disregards the statistical advances in baseball to traffic in hagiography, myth-making, and archaic thinking. He’ll argue without a second thought that the win, a misleading stat, is the greatest measure of a pitcher’s value. He’ll attribute intangibles to a player when his actual value doesn’t equal the media’s gritty-gutty-scrappy perception of him. He will not criticize management, and he’ll over-praise certain players so much that you may start recalling McCarver’s particular adorations as restrained and subtle.
Fox Sports, which prides itself on being the fun and innovative foil to ESPN, missed a golden chance to be the latter here, though at least Reynolds suggested he has an open mind during a conference call Monday.
“I broadcast every day in this current realm where sabermetrics can’t be denied or ignored, and so it’s a compelling conversation whether you’re on one side or the other,’’ he said. “There’s a place in the conversation for it in baseball, no doubt.
“If there’s a window open to do it, I think we’re well-versed enough to discuss it. I got my training from Brian Kenny [his sabermetric-bent foil on MLB] last year. Every day he threw a different metric at me that I had to go back and study.
“The main thing is, if you ignore it, you’re not current, and we’re current with all these guys in the booth.”
Buck, who will debut with his new partners April 5 on Fox Sports 1, with at least eight prime-time broadcasts scheduled for the actual Fox network before July 12, said executives have suggested becoming more savvy regarding advanced metrics.
“People in the positions of power at Fox have wanted us more into the analytics,” Buck said. “I think it’s very different to just throw statistics out there that fall under one category.
“I still think they’re so new and they still take explanation. If it takes something to be explained over the course of multiple pitches or, in some cases, multiple at-bats, it’s a tough thing to carry through a half-inning.
“That said, I don’t think you can ignore it.”
The ‘Big’ guys
No word yet on whether Brick Tamland is reuniting with the old gang, but Glenn Ordway is getting much of the familiar “Big Show” crew back together as he prepares to begin his online radio venture on sportstalkboston.com. His show, titled “Big Show Unfiltered,’’ debuts March 17 and will include contributions from Pete Sheppard, Steve Buckley, and Fred Smerlas, among others. But he’s also bringing in some young blood, most notably 21-year-old Boston University junior Alex Reimer, who has hosted his “Without A Curse” podcast since 2005 and whose success in building a following at a young age landed him an appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Reimer might be the most mature member of the Big Show revamped . . . Curious to hear the trio of Michael Holley, Kirk Minihane, and Tom Curran from 2-4 p.m. Friday on WEEI. That could potentially be an outstanding show. It’s well-documented that Minihane has been a crucial addition to “Dennis and Callahan” in the mornings. But could Entercom be considering him as a potential solution in the afternoons? We’ll let you know, right after the break.