clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

ESPN's Karl Ravech talks about the role of analytics for Baseball Tonight

New, 1 comment

Karl Ravech, host of Baseball Tonight, discusses how he approaches his job and the role of Baseball Tonight in educating fans.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Cardinals-Dodgers matchup will air on ESPN as the featured matchup on Sunday Night Baseball. Karl Ravech has long been the host of Baseball Tonight and will be previewing the game at 6pm CT on ESPN as part of Baseball Tonight's Sunday Night Countdown. Ravech took some time out of his schedule to answer my questions on the Cardinals and preview the Dodgers series, which can be found here. In the portion of the interview below, Ravech discusses the role of advanced metrics in his broadcasts.

VEB: Baseball tonight has a built in audience who likes baseball who want to know more about baseball. What would you say your role is in integrating more advanced statistics into your broadcasts?

KR: I think the way we appeal to that group is to recognize the value in team-building, in organizational structure, and why a particular player plays. Shifts are a byproduct of advanced metrics, because you are able to see tendencies. At some point it becomes part of the natural conversation. I think i just mentioned batting average on balls in play which when i started as host of the show wasn't a concept. We didn't even think about those things and now it is part of your consciousness to regurgitate one of those numbers,

I tend to fall back though, that there is a bit of an ego subscribing to the term advanced because to me they are really a reflection of stuff recognized forever and it may be the difference between on or two wins over the course the season. It is an interesting study.

If you have an organization built purely on scouting and you have another organization built purely on sabermetrics and never saw a player play in his life but used all the numbers and metrics available to them and the other never saw statistics just saw the player who do you think would have a better record?

VEB: That's a really good question. As you are pointing out, it would be stupid to ignore either one.

KR: Right. I think that's the answer to your question, which is you pay attention to both and in the end fans watch games ultimately to see the results. Who wins the game I go to watch? The impact and import on a show like ours with ex-players, front office people, managers, and people who speak to scouts is to explain why they outcome was what it was. That doesn't usually involve a ton of advanced metrics and it doesn't usually involve a ton of scouting.

You've seen the results of the work the organization has put in using both of those components to build the team. Fans want to know why the Cardinals lost that game 3-2, and it isn't just that Andrew McCutchen hit a home run. There are usually things leading up to the home run on that particular play. There are reasons that a pitcher is on the mound in the eighth inning when likely he shouldn't be and what led up to that.  The way we incorporate it is to accept that fans know about it and now we have to explain the whys on the outcome of the game.

We have trade deadline shows and draft day and Keith Law and guys who can do both who really do tell you advanced metrics on a particular player coupled with a scout's perspective. I know it is long-winded but my question is a fair one if you had two organizations, an organization built purely on scouting and you have another organization built purely on sabermetrics, which one would be better. I ask it because i don't know the answer but i don't think the outcomes would be too far off. They will both be competitive teams.

Thanks again to Karl Ravech for answering questions. I think the points he brings up are interesting. To some degree, advanced metrics are becoming more ingrained in broadcasts in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. The more everyone understands, the better broadcasts become. As to the ego in using the term "advanced" as it relates to metrics, it isn't really a criticism I have heard much, which itself might be evidence of the ego involved. Ideally a conversation might happen like this:

Scout: I'm looking for power and a player who can get on base.

Stat: I agree. We both know a double is better than a single. I'm going to try and figure out how much better so we can use that information together to better the organization.

\Scout and Stat do prearranged creative handshake

In reality, scouting and statistics was very much an insider/outsider problem (and seems to be more so now in the media than on teams, though I don't have much to back up that perception) and that naturally breeds an adversarial situation where the focus is on differences and not similarities when it comes to process or goals. As the two are becoming more and more integrated throughout the game, I believe we are seeing greater emphasis on the similarities. Great work is being done as it relates to defense with shifting and attempting to quantify the long-held beliefs about the value of a great catcher, which is very much scouting and statistics coming together. Statcast deals often with miles per hour for pitchers and hitters helping determine raw power, once solely the domain of scouts.

Much of what advanced metrics has done agrees with and helps refine many of the good, long-held beliefs throughout baseball history. To the extent newer statistics are advanced, computers and the data that has become available essentially do what many in the game's past wish they could have done decades ago. Those advances have helped create better educated organizations and fans, even if more data and more information is more likely to lead to more misuse of said information. While we can long for the days of Musial and Gibson, there has never been a better time to be a fan of baseball due to the great ability to satisfy our desires to watch as much baseball as we want and find as much information as we can about the game we love.