Using new Statcast data like exit velocity for hitters, route efficiency for defensive players, and spin rate for pitchers is something that is creeping into broadcasts. We routinely see the exit velocity on home runs and Pitchf/x helps determine pitch types and the strike zone. If you are slightly dissatisfied with a slow creep and want something a little more all-encompassing that dives in on the newest data available, MLB is giving you an option, and it will be available in tonight’s Cardinals-Cubs game at 7 pm.
MLB Plus is a free broadcast of the game that can be found online through MLB.tv. The broadcast schedule for MLB Plus mirrors MLB Network’s Showcase game of the week, and as tonight’s Cubs-Cardinals game is that game this week, there will be a special Statcast version of the broadcast available (blackout restrictions do apply). Mike Petriello, a writer for MLB.com focusing his work on Statcast data, will appear on the broadcast, and he took some time to answer a few questions about what we can expect to see tonight.
VEB: You are the resident Statcast writer for MLB.com. With so much new data available, how do you sift through it all to find the meaningful and interesting while setting aside the trivial?
MP: This is the right question to ask, because the sheer volume of data that comes in each day is massive. That's a lot of work, but it's also why it's so fun - it's not just learning the answers to the questions we've always had, it's learning what the next question actually is. For example, "route efficiency" is pretty straight-forward; it measures how direct a route a fielder took to the ball, or if he wasted time by taking a longer route. Of course, the best route isn't always the best baseball route - on a sac fly, for example, you'd want to use the extra time to circle behind the ball and get momentum for the throw. That doesn't mean that route efficiency doesn't work; it just means we have to put a lot of thought into how to best use or adjust or define it to show what's useful. Or, on outfield throwing arms, finding only the throws where a fielder was trying to make a play, not just lobbing back in a zero-effort toss after a lazy pop fly with no one on. Now, apply that discussion to 40 other things.
So, a lot of time is spent figuring out what all this new data means and how to use it. Sometimes, that's adding more in-depth numbers to a topic that would have been discussed anyway. (For example, talking about Drew Pomeranz' high-spin fastball as critical to his success.) Sometimes the data itself is the story, showing new things we can measure. (The Angels have slow pitch releases.) And sometimes just doing it the old-fashioned way is good enough. (Clayton Kershaw is a legend.) It's all a learning process, and that is indeed the fun.
VEB: In addition to you, MLBAM also hired Daren Willman (Baseball Savant) and more recently Tom Tango. What are your respective roles and what plans do you have for the Statcast data?
MP: I couldn't be happier with the assembled talent at MLBAM. Daren obviously made a name for himself by firing up Baseball Savant on his own, and now that he's part of the company, he's adding more and more great features to it every day - that's where the public can find spin rate, exit velocity, batted ball distance, etc., and of course he puts out extremely cool visualizations to back that up. Tom Tango, obviously, is something of a legend in baseball analytics circles, and in the short time he's been on board he's more than lived up to that - you should see the email discussions about the best way to use these metrics. And then I, hopefully, can take the really smart work they do and get it out there to the general public in articles, the Statcast Podcast, MLB Plus, MLB Network appearances, etc. Those are just the names you know, of course; there's a ton of other people who are less public-facing who play big roles. I know everyone wanted every answer on Day 1, but I think people will be very pleased at where all this leads.
VEB: During the season, you've been participating in the MLB Plus broadcasts on MLB.tv. What was the idea behind these broadcasts? How do these broadcasts differ from the standard broadcast most fans are used to? How are they the same?
MP: MLB Plus is a Statcast-fueled, analytics-focused broadcast that talks about the game in a different way. Our starting lineups show exit velocity, not batting average; I can make graphics that show pitch framing and wRC+, and never talk about wins or saves. In addition to me, we have a lot of interesting people with baseball backgrounds like Daron Sutton, Fernando Perez, Jim Duquette, and Will Leitch, who are on regularly, plus talent from our group of beat writers and columnists, like Jen Langosch, Alyson Footer, Lindsay Berra, Anthony Castrovince, etc. While we of course track the game, it's not necessarily a traditional play-by-play where the count is called out on every pitch.
Obviously, we'll still get into some traditional stuff too, like trade possibilities, injury reports, etc. But it's also a place where we can show live spin rate and exit velocity for each pitch and hit, and we can weigh in on in-game decisions using data. It's come a long way in the few months we've been doing it, and it's a lot of fun to try to show the game in a different way.
VEB: How much prep goes into these broadcasts? What types of things are you looking for?
MP: Lots! Turns out it's a ton of work to be able to talk about baseball for three-plus hours, and to also have something relevant to say about the 8th reliever or last man off the bench. I can't say I was terribly familiar with Dean Kiekhefer before our last Cardinals game, for example, and so just knowing 1 or 2 relevant things about each player is important. I now have a newfound respect for the level of effort broadcasters have to put in, particularly national ones who jump in and out of seeing different teams.
I try to look at stories or trends that we can put numbers to. For example, for the Cardinals, Stephen Piscotty taking steps to improve his arm strength is a cool story and one that can be supported by data, so we'll have that handy. If a team has a catcher with very good framing numbers, I'll make a visual for that, or perhaps an outfield range chart if that's relevant. Obviously, I'm always looking at Statcast numbers like exit velocity or spin rate, but whether it's an "old" stat or a "new" one, it takes a lot of effort to pull this all together.
VEB: Tonight, you are doing an MLB Plus broadcast as the Cardinals as they visit Wrigley Field to take on the unbeatable Cubs. Is there anything you are looking for or hope to highlight in tonight's game?
MP: The bounceback of Adam Wainwright is really interesting to me, as is the fact that Seung-Hwan Oh continues to be unhittable and has a pretty good argument for taking over the closer's job from Trevor Rosenthal. (This is my own confirmation bias, but I've managed to see just about all of the poor Rosenthal outings and few of the good ones.) I'm also looking into some Statcast numbers about the true impact Jason Heyward has had on the Cubs defense (sorry, guys) and explaining why Matt Adams has had such a good year.
Cubs are unreal, though. No getting around that.
Thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer a few questions on Statcast and the MLB Plus broadcasts. You can follow him on twitter and you can see him tonight on the free MLB Plus broadcast available on MLB.tv.