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Broadcasters, Their Responsibility, and New Stats

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Why I'm so mad about last night.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I'm going to try to be fair about this.

Newer or advanced stats can be a bit confusing. There's a lot of math that about 1% of the population knows - I don't know the math that goes into it - and acronyms make learning anything new a chore when you first start out. For most baseball fans, I don't care if you know what WAR, UZR, and FIP are. I really don't. It's absolutely not that necessary. Yes, I'd prefer you take a look at WHY they exist. I'd prefer that you know that BA, RBI, W-L for pitchers, etc. all have their flaws, and that, for the most part, newer stats are simply an attempt to correct the problems according to research and solid baseball thinking. But mainly, I'd like you to know that players can do anything over a month, that a walk is almost as good as a hit even if it isn't AS good, that not making outs is better than making outs, that defense matters a lot and errors don't explain it, and that the game is really interconnected and a lot of the older stats just don't take that into account. But I really don't care if you agree with WAR, fWAR, or rWAR. Just enjoy baseball.

But what Chip and Joe - and to be fair, a lot of other writers - did last night and have done all season, however, is borderline irresponsible. For fans, I don't care if you know the acronyms. FOR PEOPLE WHOSE JOB IT IS TO DISCUSS BASEBALL AND TALK TO THE PUBLIC AS AN IMPLIED OR EXPLICIT EXPERT ON THE SUBJECT, IT IS NECESSARY TO AT LEAST UNDERSTAND THEM. Sabermetrics is not new. It's been a hot topic for several years now. And there's absolutely no reason to ignore it. IT'S ESPECIALLY BAD TO SAY THAT YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS AND THAT YOU DON'T CARE. As a broadcaster or writer, it is your job to inform the public. That's it. It's not to grandstand. Everyone is not entitled to their opinion. You are only entitled to an opinion you can defend. And you can't defend your point of view against something you obviously have no grasp of.

Let's talk.

One topic - I can't remember the exact order - was BABIP. After Tom Hart explained what it was and the formula for it, Chip and Joe did several things. One, they showed a complete lack of understanding of basic math. They said (paraphrasing), "They have HR in the top and bottom and both subtracted. Can't they just take it out?" No discussion of why it's important that HR are subtracted - home runs are not balls in play - and they messed up basic math - no, in fact, you cannot just subtract them out. Two, they made a joke of it by talking about how it's just luck and has nothing to do with skill and haha Chris Johnson just messed everything up. That's not what it is. BABIP, especially on offense, indicates skill to a certain degree, but yes, it does help point out when random variation or luck is involved. It's more of an early warning system. Again, no discussion on it except for mocking a perfectly good use of statistics.

The next topic was DRS. I really thought they'd buy in because it illustrates how good a Braves player is, but they didn't. Instead, they preferred to talk about Wrigley Field's grass, and how no camera can figure that out. Again, absolutely no understanding of what DRS is - a commonly used stat now and something Tom Hart has brought up several times this season - and it's not like it's never been discussed. There are plenty of points of discussion here - the volatility, sample size, what's wrong with zone metrics. They chose none. Instead, they chose to point out inane aspects that FIELD f/x will actually be able to discuss. It won't be able to measure the length of grass, but it will pinpoint where a player started, where a ball was hit, and how quickly it got there, which measures "grass length" implicitly - a faster infield will allow the ball through quicker, and the player will have less time to get to it; FIELD f/x will notice. Again, plenty of talking points here, but they chose instead to mock it.

Finally, we get to clutch, WPA (Wins Probability Added), and LI (Leverage Index). Instead of talking about how different situations and times in the game affect winning the game differently, they chose to mock the stat. They chose, instead, to talk about how it can't possibly measure how important a spot in the game is. They chose, instead, to let Freddie Freeman talk about how computers can't evaluate player performance, and they used that snippet to scoff at the stat. Again, no discussion of the positives and negatives. Just a mocking dismissal of statistics that have been developed by people who love baseball so much they spent hours combing through stats, code, etc. to attempt to answer a question.

Again, my point here is not to rebuke either announcer, other announcers, or writers for not agreeing with all the new stats. They aren't perfect. And you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions and point out possible issues. Asking questions will do one of two things. One, it will confirm what you know, and you're better off for the confirmation. Two, it will force you to re-evaluate your stance and come to an adjusted, if not completely different, conclusion that can be investigated again if need be. Either way, you move toward actually answering the question. I'm a big believer in stats and scouts being able to teach each other a lot, but this does nothing to advance that discussion. It stops it. Being afraid of or dismissing questions is not a way to establish true authority on a subject. If you can't defend your position, you have no position. Chip and Joe didn't even try to explain themselves. They just scoffed. Discussion is great. Attempting to appeal to authority is not.

And the general public heard and was influenced by that garbage. That's the worst part. People who don't know about these stats because they live their lives and don't spend all their free time on FanGraphs because they have kids, etc. watch TV and don't put it on mute because they want to learn while they watch. They may not want an elevated discussion, but they want to know who's good, bad, and average. And kids who have hardly even been introduced to BA and RBI saw that. And the only exposure they get to sabermetrics is a complete fabrication of the truth. It's not even close. What they get is Chip and Joe's uninformed ramblings, but because a multi-million dollar company gave them a job, the public thinks they know what they're talking about.

Listen. I'll say this again. Disagree all you want. BUT KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DISAGREEING WITH. If you want to take sabermetrics down, then do it. But read up on it first. Learn something. It will only make your argument stronger. If it's your job to know about baseball and you analyze it for a living, you don't have to be cutting edge, but you better know what a major conversation IN YOUR FIELD OF "EXPERTISE" is even about. It's a discussion that's been going on for a long time, and it's clear that some people - again, whose job it is to know these things - haven't taken the time to prepare themselves. Chip and Joe basically admitted as much. FOX pays these two a lot of money to talk about baseball, and I'm shocked they aren't embarrassed by the duo's complete lack of preparation before going on air. Tom Hart did some work on his own and brought up the possibility of a solid discussion, but Chip and Joe ruined the opportunity.

I love baseball. I like learning as much as I can about it. And I respect the fact that not everyone enjoys the game the way I do. That's fine. No one's making any of us do it. But broadcasters, announcers, and writers are paid to discuss baseball in an informed way, and whether they like it or not, sabermetrics and statistics is a major talking point during their time on air. When they say something to the effect of "I don't understand it, and I never will," it's a complete failure on their part. You can't ignore just because you don't like it. It won't just go away.

The new stats aren't that hard. Wins, saves, and RBIs have all of these convoluted rules to them, but the baseball world is used to them. While it may take an adjustment period to learn, you'd get the hang of it. I promise. You don't have to learn the math. I don't know the math. Just know why it's there. And if you have trouble, I'm happy to help. If you don't care to take that time because baseball and statistics isn't that important to you, that's fine. But for people who are paid to talk baseball, take the time to at least get to know what you're arguing against.

Because all Chip and Joe did last night was teach a lot of people to just dismiss things they don't like or understand out of hand because... they don't like or understand it. That's never a good idea.