Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton: Please update your stats!

This really isn’t an embittered cry for just Mr. Waltz and Mr. Hutton, but rather for all sportscasters really. It’s just that I hear Waltz and Hutton the most as I sit and watch Marlins games over telecasts by ESPN and Fox.

A couple of nights ago, on the first game of what would be a three-game sweep of the Jays, Tommy Hutton was mentioning that most Marlins fans probably don’t know the Toronto players all that well. He mentioned in particular two guys at the top of the lineup, Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill, both having tremendous seasons at the plate. In talking about these two players, both Waltz and Hutton mentioned the ability for these guys to “set the table” and get on base for the heart of the lineup.

Key in on the words get on base here.

Those sound very familiar.

Those are the words in a particular stat.

Really now? Speak up, which statistic would this be?

Ahem, it’s…

Ahem! That would be on-base percentage.

Marvelous, on-base percentage, or as it’s often referred to, OBP. It’s a measure of a player’s ability not to make outs, more or less. It’s the easiest measure for, well, the ability to get on base, that I know of. It’s readily available and typically a part of every website’s “numbers that quickly highlight a player’s performance.” You know, what the Triple Crown stats used to exclusively be.

In any case, Hutton mentions this, and following a graphic that shows that Scutaro leads all American League leadoff men in hits and walks, he references how Scutaro has a .300 batting average.

Here, the focus should be on the words hits and batting average.

But here’s where perhaps I was most ticked. Scutaro walks and Hill steps to the plate, where Waltz and Hutton once again deservedly mention his excellent season so far. They again mention his on-base ability and go on to say that he is tied for the league lead in hits and is high on the list in batting average.

Again, hits and batting average.

Ahem…

Why is that, when we have a statistic that is a stand-in for a player’s ability to get on base, a statistic which is named directly for such an ability, a readily available and totally transparent statistic, why do we still use batting average and counting stats to display on-base ability? Can someone mention to Waltz and Hutton that it’s been six years since Moneyball was published, and OBP is mainstream? It took another 30-40 minutes before I saw anything in the way of on-base percentage showing up in the telecast of the game, and that was as a part of a “runners on vs. bases empty” split graphic, a situation where analyzing OBP is marginally important.

Look, I get that many viewers might not fully understand the non-Triple Crown stats, but I think it’s about time someone indoctrinate them on OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS at least. I’m not clamoring for Hutton to quote WAR or even OPS+ values for every player; that type of work simply isn’t feasible for a television sportscaster. An understanding of WAR on the side of the listener is necessary for you to even consider saying something remarkably radical-sounding such “Player X was worth about 3 wins last year.” For a fan who knew nothing of things like Runs Created, Batting Runs Above Average, or wOBA, this “wins” concept attached to a player would make no sense. “How arbitrary, a win value for a player. Only pitchers get wins, and they’re mentioned right there!” an unknowing fan would say.

Such statistics are problematic because they simply aren’t transparent enough. Though most places that due to put WAR-like values up on their stat sheets for players do explain how they come to their conclusions, these sites are the farthest thing from the mind of a fan who only knows the Triple Crown stats. It takes knowledge of park factors and other statistics and factors not easily accessible to the average fan to measure even OPS+. We haven’t even gone into the possibility of having to explain what replacement level means to the average baseball fan watching a broadcast; people get confused just reading it.

What I’m suggesting is simply putting a slash line, maybe OPS as well, on the graphics broadcasts show, alongside the traditional HR and RBI. I know no one will ever get rid of RBI’s in the mainstream media. It’s too ingrained in the minds of people who watch the game, even though the stat doesn’t reveal anything about a player’s true capability, and it’s too important currently for fantasy baseball to take off the graphics and stop mentioning. But if the big scoreboards in parks now provide a player’s slash lines, shouldn’t TV broadcasts do the same? And shouldn’t the broadcasters, one of whom (the color man) is supposed to be an expert on baseball, know enough about the statistics that are better performance indicators to make mention of said statistics more consistently?

This extends into defense as well. Waltz and Hutton had John Dewan over for an interview down in South Florida while he was pimping The Fielding Bible II. Of course, Dewan is the pioneer of +/-, which has proven to be a good defensive metric, on par with Mitchel Lichtman’s UZR, which I reference here. While I certainly don’t expect Waltz and Hutton to start rattling off +/- values for Marlins players, even if +/- is very intuitively easy to understand, I certainly expect them to stop utilizing inferior statistics such as errors and fielding percentage as a measure of excellent defense. Just recently, Waltz and Hutton were discussing the best defenses in the NL and AL, using fielding percentage to determine their answer. Now, the NL team was probably correct (the Phillies came out on top), but just because the results are right doesn’t mean the methodology is wrong. Fielding percentage doesn’t take range into account, but it’s always quoted as gospel for defense, years after it’s become a meaningless statistic.

This is more of a rant than an organized piece certainly. I can’t help but get angry when I have to continuously hear that a player is having a great season because of his .300 batting average or his 100 RBI’s. Please, free OPS from its bondage and let it loose upon the TV viewership. They’ll get it, I swear.

Tags: Miami Marlins Rich Waltz Sabermetrics Tommy Hutton

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