Twins' broadcaster Cory Provus discusses advanced stats in the booth
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Twins' broadcaster Cory Provus discusses advanced stats in the booth
With 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.