Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sportscaster laziness

I think what mostly drives me crazy about sportscasters isn't so much that they do not see the baseball world like I do. There's room for healthy disagreement there. No, I think the thing that drives me crazy is that they are too often lazy in their analysis. Willing to fall back on clichés, they often slip into a sort of absurd autopilot in which certain events automatically trigger certain comments regardless of their correctness.

Here's the example that set this off. During the top of the ninth inning of today's game pitting the Tigers against the White Sox, the Tigers had a double play opportunity with a runner on first and no one out while protecting a two run lead. Mark Kotsay hit a groundball to Adam Everett. Everett went to second for the force, but Placido Polanco's relay to first was slightly offline, and Miguel Cabrera came off of first to field it, so the runner was safe. Rod Allen (I know, I know; fish in a barrel) immediately praised Cabrera for his decision to leave the bag and ensure that the runner didn't move into scoring position.

This is autopilot extraordinaire. It's the ninth inning with a two-run lead. That run does not matter. Any baseball fan worth his salt knows this. The only thing that matters are outs. The only advantage of keeping the runner on first by coming off the bag and forfeiting any shot at a double play is that you keep the double play in order for the next batter. Note further that even if you stretch and don't get the double play, it's not assured that the ball will get by you. You still may knock it down and prevent the runner from advancing. Thus, to come off the bag in that situation, you have to believe that the odds of not getting the double play AND having the ball get by you were so high that it was more likely that the next batter would hit into a double play.

This is highly unlikely. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that for any relay throw that is not truly atrocious (which again, Polanco's was not), the better play is to stretch for the throw. Furthermore, Fernando Rodney, the current pitcher, is not an extreme groundball pitcher (he's roughly neutral for his career). Alex Rios, the next batter, is not a groundball hitter (about three groundballs for every four flyballs in his career).

Sportscasters should know this. They should be able to make this point. They should be able to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each decision. They should not default to meaningless and unhelpful platitudes. Rod had a great chance to talk about the little details of baseball and he blew it because he, like so many other sportscasters, are just up there spewing trite baseball clichés and cashing a paycheck.

I should note that the fact that Rios actually hit into a double play does not change the analysis. This result was far from certain and could not have been known ex ante.


Lisa said...

Perhaps they are lazy. And maybe what you described would be perfectly and immediately obvious to anyone professionally involved in the sport. But maybe not. I don't know enough to say for sure. If it isn't immediately obvious, how much time did you spend analyzing that play? They have to keep the chatter up on the air, while paying attention to other things. It might be more complicated than it first appears, and deeper analysis harder to come up with on the spot. Of course, it is also highly likely that they are just sitting back, enjoying the game, being lazy, and collecting a big check. Hey! It works...

John Lynch said...

My whole point is that no sooner had Rod's words left my speakers than I thought "No, that is completely and totally the wrong thing to say about that."

There's no deep analysis necessary. All Rod has to say is: "Cabrera should have made more of an effort to get that ball. It doesn't matter if the runner on first moves into scoring position because the Tigers have a two run lead. What matters here is getting outs."

That would be 95% correct, as opposed to what he said, which was maybe 10% correct.