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  • Twins' broadcaster Cory Provus discusses advanced stats in the booth

    Minnesota Twins broadcaster Cory ProvusWith statistical analysis playing an ever more prominent role in major league front offices, some teams have begun to move their broadcast teams toward being able to dialogue with their fan base over the airwaves.

    The Houston Astros hired Robert Ford and former major league knuckler Steve Sparks to push the envelope for the revamped front office, which FO includes plenty of brain power making decisions based on science rather than guts, instincts and chew spit. Yet, for every progressive pair like Ford and Sparks, there’s the old school Hawk Harrelson in the White Sox booth who denounced the stats guys at every turn. In fact, when asked if advanced stats would be something viewers would like in broadcasts during an MLB Network show, Harrelson scoffed:

    “It’s not ready yet,” the White Sox broadcaster said. “Down the road, 40 or 50 years, when you can put some of those categories, you get your OBPS and all that, your VORPs, when you put in TWTW [“The Will To Win”], and interface those numbers with TWTW, that category, then you might have something cooking.”

    Beefing up the numbers in a broadcast is a hard pill to swallow for some teams. After all, the concepts, stats and acronyms are still foreign to a significant portion of the fans. There is likely a percentage of listeners who fully believe The Will To Win trumps any number alive. Advanced statistics and sabermetrics are often thought of as a niche.

    Locally, the Twins hired Chicago-area native Cory Provus away from the Milwaukee Brewers before the 2012 season. Provus was kind enough to offer his insights about the broadcast industry and the challenges it presents in discussing and promoting some of those concepts on the radio:

    How do you feel about advanced stats and their role in the game today – particularly in your broadcasts?

    The more baseball I am around now, I think it is imperative to at least pay attention to the metrics that are in the game today. They are a prominent part of the game and they’re becoming vital to the way rosters are being assembled – and I’m not just talking about the 25-man, but I think throughout your system. At the same time you have to remember the medium, particularly the medium I work in, how often you use numbers – in the medium of radio – where you just don’t have the capability through numbers on the screen and let people digest that.

    For example, this is just me, but I process things visually, so if you are trying to explain to me – or anybody – if I had a question about balls in play…..I had a question for [Glen] Perkins about that in Detroit last week about the average that players and pitchers try to shoot for. Only he was explaining it to me and I was trying to process it and then I remembered the visual of it and it starts to sink in. So maybe I take that selfish approach to the broadcast and I am always conscious of the medium we work that we don’t have the ability to throw a graphic on the screen and let people visualize it and then digest it.


    Do you think you can convey the concepts of advanced metrics during the broadcasts?

    I think that you can, not so much metrics, but for example, I went on Fangraphs.com for a while this morning and I wanted to compare John Lackey in 2007 – that great year he had and won 19 games and finished like third in the Cy Young balloting that year – and looking at Fangraphs and what he was throwing, the average speeds he was throwing, to what he was throwing. Now, the sample is a lot smaller because of the injury aspect, but I was somewhat surprised that the fastball velocity is pretty constant, pretty consistent with what he did in ’07 compared to what he’s throwing now, he’s average is about 91 with his fastball which is exactly what he was throwing in ’07. However what I find interesting is the difference between ’07 and today is he is throwing more sliders now and less curveballs. And that’s I think probably because of the injury.

    I remember [Milwaukee Brewers’ radio broadcaster] Bob Uecker told me one time…I thought the slider was the most dangerous pitch on your shoulder on your arm on your elbow, and he always told me the curveball puts more strain, even though you throw it with less velocity, the tighter grip and the more torque you’re putting on it. So that makes sense when you look at the injuries [Lackey] is coming back and what he is throwing now and what he was throwing in the past. I found that very interesting.


    Do you use any other sites in preparation for your broadcasts?

    I look at BrooksBaseball.net just for my own knowledge. I’ll take a look at that from time to time. I am aware that there is a demographic of the audience that loves that stuff and thrives on that stuff and it is important. But also remember that I think my primary job is to tell a story. And I would rather tell stories based on person to person contact, based on what I found out that day from talking to the players and coaches. While I think stats are important, I also think stats are a crutch. I think that it goes back to the way I was brought up in baseball broadcasting where dead air isn’t the worst thing in the world. In baseball it is good to let game breathe; Let people hear the sounds, let people hear the emotions of the crowd, the vendors hawking programs and hot dogs, hearing the PA guy, hearing the crack of the bat. I would rather do that then get into stat after stat after stat.

    Are there any stats you prefer over others?

    I think on-base percentage is a stat I do rely on. I think too many times I go back and listen to my own stuff and I think, man I keep bringing up batting average. Danny [Dan Gladden] and I both think on-base percentage should trump batting average. We are of that belief that, maybe we should be better as a team to hammer that stat across more than batting average. Stats are important, they’re a vital part of the game but I think that often times, they are used as a crutch. And I would always rather tell a story than give a stat.

    Do you feel it to be part of your job to educate the listeners on understanding these stats and their context?

    Part of our job is to education as well. Educate about strategy, Educate about rules, and this day and age now, educate about metrics and the way they are applied to a current game and to the ways teams are being built.

    You worked with the legendary Bob Uecker in Milwaukee prior to working with the Twins. Is there anything different about the way that broadcast was approached? Was there any advanced stats discussions?

    Bob and I were telling stories and having fun. Trying to inform and education but keeping people entertained. That’s what we tried to do every night. I don’t think we got into sabermetrics in any way, shape or form.

    If it does not fit well in the broadcast, where do you see the conversation being had about statistical analysis on the air?

    I think it’s a good conversation during a rain delay. I think if we have time to kill during a rain delay, it’s not a bad thing to approach but I go back to how many people are really going to understand it with the medium of radio? Are we going to be throwing so many names and so many numbers across without the benefit of the visual, is everybody really going to get it? I don’t know. I would think that some people would be confused by it, because I would be confused by it.

    Summarize your approach to the broadcast.

    It’s fun. It’s a game. It’s baseball. It’s not rocket science; it’s not trying to solve the financial crisis around the world here. We’re trying to give people a break from their lives for three-and-a-half hours. Let them kind of laugh, let them learn, let them have fun, let them hear something that maybe brings them back to their childhood. That’s what I try to do each and every day.
    This article was originally published in blog: Twins' broadcaster Cory Provus discusses advanced stats in the booth started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 25 Comments
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      A+ piece.

      Provus was a fantastic addition right from day one.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I truly enjoy listening to Provus. I agree that putting out too much in terms of advanced stats would be detrimental to the broadcast. It would be better on TV because a viewer can see (graphics) and hear. Radio is meant for stories. Such a small percentage of the listenership would want to hear that. They just want to know what's happening. I'd enjoy it, and I think Twins Daily readers would enjoy a little bit of it. The average Twins fan, listening on the radio or watching on TV, wouldn't want it. But like Cory said, it should be fun. Kris Attebery likes to discuss such things from time to time when he's on air.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Thanks for the great read. I wish that I would remember to listen to the games more than turn on the TV because I also enjoy listening to Provus.

      I am especially appreciative of what he says in the following quote and wish that the TV broadcasters would heed it even more than the radio guys:

      I think that it goes back to the way I was brought up in baseball broadcasting where dead air isn’t the worst thing in the world. In baseball it is good to let game breathe; Let people hear the sounds, let people hear the emotions of the crowd, the vendors hawking programs and hot dogs, hearing the PA guy, hearing the crack of the bat. I would rather do that then get into stat after stat after stat.

      Stat after stat would be one thing from the TV crew; unfortunately most of what they say is just drivel.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Agree with every comment in this thread.....
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Provus is a great addition. I like that he feels his job requires him to be familiar with all aspects of the game, anecdotal, visual and statistical. I think he's the first person associated with the Twins that I've heard utter the word Fangraphs.
    1. Twins Daily Admin's Avatar
      Twins Daily Admin -
      If it does not fit well in the broadcast, where do you see the conversation being had about statistical analysis on the air?

      I think it’s a good conversation during a rain delay. I think if we have time to kill during a rain delay, it’s not a bad thing to approach but I go back to how many people are really going to understand it with the medium of radio?
      Radio is a tough medium for this stats stuff, no question. When we were doing the "bloggers minute" on 'CCO, that became pretty clear. It's also clear from doing podcasts.

      The more natural medium is the same that works for math and science - whiteboards, demonstrations, etc. But it almost HAS to be visual. Even podcasts that take on science often steer clear of math. It's too visual.

      I've really enjoyed Provus' broadcasts. He was a hell of an addition. And he is always very prepared. We're witnessing a star on the rise right now.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      The average Twins fan, listening on the radio or watching on TV, wouldn't want it. But like Cory said, it should be fun.
      See, this is what I don't understand. Obviously the broadcast shouldn't be a simple recital of the advanced statistics or metrics, but a blend of the information into the broadcast. For example, Provus absolutely nailed what it should be in his second response. He took the information from Fangraphs.com and created a discussion around Lackey's success that used data AND drew from his past experience with Bob Uecker. THAT, is what using advanced metrics and statistics in a broadcast is all about and average fans can understand those concepts.

      I believe the average fan does not want to be placated. Sure, 88-year-old Mama Jo Bickerstaff from Brackenridge may not be interested in the players stats at all but that is an outlier of the listeners, not the standard. In my experience, most want to learn and have their knowledge of the game grow -- be it through strategy, stats or other.
    1. ltwedt's Avatar
      ltwedt -
      Good article - I would love to mute Bert and Dick, and just go with Provus and Gladden (even though Danny forgets to tell me about some of the things happening as they happen). But here's my dilemma - when I watch the game in HD there is a delay between what I hear and what I see. Thanks to Comcast, I can hear what happens, and then look at the screen and see it happen. OK for a while, but hard to do it for the entire game.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Same issue with football.....the delays between channels is annoying as heck.....
    1. MichiganTwins's Avatar
      MichiganTwins -
      Since I am not able to watch the games, I have to listen to the radio. It is a great joy to listen to the Twins broadcast. Great Article.
    1. boomerb5's Avatar
      boomerb5 -
      I like Provus. Better than I ever liked John Gordon. (I still miss Herb so very much). He knows how to call a game. Some stories. Some stats. But mostly just painting the picture of what is happening on the field. That last point is something Dan Galdden still has ZERO ability to do. When I catch part of a game on the radio is is sadly almost always a Dazzle inning...and I wind up turning it off because more often than not I have no clue what the score is, what the inning is, who is pitching and hitting, or even what teams are playing.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      See, this is what I don't understand. Obviously the broadcast shouldn't be a simple recital of the advanced statistics or metrics, but a blend of the information into the broadcast. For example, Provus absolutely nailed what it should be in his second response. He took the information from Fangraphs.com and created a discussion around Lackey's success that used data AND drew from his past experience with Bob Uecker. THAT, is what using advanced metrics and statistics in a broadcast is all about and average fans can understand those concepts.

      I believe the average fan does not want to be placated. Sure, 88-year-old Mama Jo Bickerstaff from Brackenridge may not be interested in the players stats at all but that is an outlier of the listeners, not the standard. In my experience, most want to learn and have their knowledge of the game grow -- be it through strategy, stats or other.
      Like i said, I would enjoy hearing that, I don't know if others would. I also don't think that finding pitch percentages is necessarily advanced metrics. You need to go to a fangraphs site to find them, but that fits well into their conversation and helps them paint the picture of maybe why Lackey is doing what he's doing. that's a great example of Provus tying it all together because he put the numbers with comments from scouts and in the end, everyone wins.

      I just don't think people wanna hear about WAR (BR or other), FIP, xFIP, stuff like that. Again, I don't mind it, but it's not something that listeners can (or should have to) try to grasp on the fly.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      I also don't think that finding pitch percentages is necessarily advanced metrics. You need to go to a fangraphs site to find them, but that fits well into their conversation and helps them paint the picture of maybe why Lackey is doing what he's doing.
      Right. It's a form of statistical analysis, not an advanced metric.

      I just don't think people wanna hear about WAR (BR or other), FIP, xFIP, stuff like that.
      See, this is the problem. The accepted belief is that "people don't want to hear about WAR, FIP, xFIP, etc" is false. Has there ever been a poll conducted or study that showed this? I just don't believe that is inherently true. Plenty of broadcasts have injected statistical analysis and advanced metrics into their air time without alienating their viewers. I'm not suggesting Provus needs to do anything different, but the idea that "people don't want that" is completely unfounded.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      See, this is what I don't understand. Obviously the broadcast shouldn't be a simple recital of the advanced statistics or metrics, but a blend of the information into the broadcast. For example, Provus absolutely nailed what it should be in his second response. He took the information from Fangraphs.com and created a discussion around Lackey's success that used data AND drew from his past experience with Bob Uecker. THAT, is what using advanced metrics and statistics in a broadcast is all about and average fans can understand those concepts.

      I believe the average fan does not want to be placated. Sure, 88-year-old Mama Jo Bickerstaff from Brackenridge may not be interested in the players stats at all but that is an outlier of the listeners, not the standard. In my experience, most want to learn and have their knowledge of the game grow -- be it through strategy, stats or other.
      I think I need to respectfully disagree with you on this. I think the "average fan" you know is different than the "average fan" I know. I went through a good part of my life watching Twins baseball on TV and, more relevantly, listening to it on radio. I had absolutely no interest in learning the game, nor in advanced statistics. I just wanted to be entertained. Most of the Twins fans I know (or knew, now that I have relocated) fell into that category, not the one you describe.

      It was only when I started coming to this website that I even developed an interest in going beyond the pure entertainment aspect, and even at that I have not developed the interest in advanced statistics that many on this site have.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I think the worst thing would be for Provus to spend any more time informing. Either slip in an advanced stat without wasting time on background, or bin it. The savvy will know what he is talking about, and the people who don't care won't have to be bored to tears as he explains what he's talking about.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Sure, 88-year-old Mama Jo Bickerstaff from Brackenridge
      Hey, I know her. She's listed on those "See who has been arrested in Minneapolis" ads all over the site.

      Didn't know she was a Twins fan.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Interesting story on one of the NPR podcasts on those ads, and how most people have not been arrested that are in those ads.....and how the algorhythm used to show the ad in different ways seems to make more black people show up as arrested, and white people in more generic searches.......but how most people don't view the ads as racist per se, but that the "system" is racist and the math generating the ads reflects that system. It was a great listen on the long drive last weekend.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Dang, I should start using real periods......
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Dang, I should start using real periods......
      Those are overrated - stream of consciousness is the way to go these days...
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I think he's the first person associated with the Twins that I've heard utter the word Fangraphs.
      Right. It's just unfortunate we're talking about the radio play-by-play guy and not someone who actually influences the roster or game play.
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