Saturday, June 12, 2004

Open Letter To Broadcasters

Dear Broadcasters:

Please, please, please stop turning every Oakland A's game you call into a referendum about sabermetrics. You almost never have any idea what you're talking about, you sound pathetic and old, and it's not your job. You're supposed to be telling us what's going on in the game and why, not giving completely unfounded opinions about subjects that clearly exceed your intellectual grasp.

This has happened in every Athletics game I've watched in the past two years. Since I haven't yet moved to California, nearly all the A's games I've seen have been on ESPN, and the offending broadcaster has usually been Joe Morgan. Joe, you were a great player, but you're not a very good broadcaster. If you have trouble being objective when you call A's games, perhaps you should ask your boss not to schedule you for them anymore.

Today's offenders, however, were on Fox Sports, which was broadcasting the A's against my local Pirates. The broadcasters were, as you might expect, Pirates cheerleaders who call Pittsburgh players "Jason" and "Jack" and "Kip" instead of their last names. In the top of the sixth, with the Pirates ahead 7-6, Chris Stynes hit a single and Jose Castillo sacrificed him to second. After Jason, I mean Kendall, struck out, Jack Wilson singled, scoring Stynes. The Pirates' color man crowed, "It's Bucco Ball, not Billy Beane Ball!"

Well, I think we've all seen how successful "Bucco Ball" has been over the past, oh, twelve years. Every situation is different, of course, but there are very few contexts in which that sort of sacrifice is a good idea. (That is, if the manager's goal is to score runs rather than preserve a quaint and ineffective approach to baseball strategy.)

After the Pirates' homers ended their victory parade, Jason Bay singled, meaning Stynes would have scored anyway and Castillo's plate appearance was a waste. Craig Wilson hit into a fielders' choice, stranding Bay and Jack Wilson, which means that the Pirates may have bunted their way out of a big inning. If Castillo had been given the chance to take his plate appearance seriously, he might have reached base, probably scoring himself on Bay's single and allowing Rob Mackowiak to come to the plate and take a shot at knocking in even more runs. These facts were never mentioned.

While we're at it, here's another example of the sort of sweeping and unfortunate claim you shouldn't make on the air. After Ryan Vogelsong was pulled from the game, the announcers agreed that the Pirates shouldn't "develop talent at the major league level."

What does this mean? Does this mean that the Pirates shouldn't play rookies at all? Because rookies struggle. That's what they do, often even when they were great in the minors. The announcers agreed that all major league teams had a responsibility to put the best possible product on the field at all times.

Has anyone noticed how horrible the Pirates have been over the past five or six years, in which they've signed a new crop of veterans each year? Even when the old players have been good, like they were in 2003, the Pirates have only been mediocre, and they've been unambiguously awful when the veterans have been bad. If the Pirates hope to ever be good, they have to let young guys play. Vogelsong might be terrible, but at least the Pirates know that now. They've also found out that Oliver Perez is going to help them a whole lot (health permitting), and that Bobby Hill, Mike Johnston, John Grabow, Mike Gonzalez, Jason Bay and Jose Castillo can contribute at the major league level. They've decided to waste J.J. Davis' talent, which is a mistake. Building a core of talented young players who have to play for you for pennies is the only way a small-market team like the Pirates will ever be successful. The Pirates simply don't have the money to sign free agents good enough to make them contenders. You guys, especially those who have broadcast games for years, should know that.

In some sense, maybe this is a subjective issue. Maybe the Pirates should play only veterans and not rookies, if you're only interested in the Pirates winning 73 games rather than 72 that year. The degree of improvement over young players that veterans in the Pirates' price range can afford is usually small, if it exists at all. 2003 was a sort of best case scenario, and while Reggie Sanders was very good for the Pirates, he kept Craig Wilson on the bench. And this year so far, the Pirates would have a better record if they'd never played any of their parade of veterans. Jose Mesa and Daryle Ward have helped a little bit, but their contributions have been more than offset by the awful play of Chris Stynes and Randall Simon.

But I'll be generous and say that signing a bunch of bottom-barrel veterans improves the Pirates by a game. If you'd rather win that one extra game rather than giving yourself a chance of winning 95 instead of 73 (again) three years later, then you are a sad, boring individual and I don't want to hear what you have to say anyway.

In the meantime, please concentrate on telling us about the game when you're broadcasting. There is so much that we amateurs do not know about things like positioning, signs and some of the game's more arcane rules. I don't know why, but somehow most of you still haven't learned anything about long-term strategy and statistical trends. Many fans know a lot more about these things than you do. So please stop talking about those things. They're only tangentially related to the game at hand and they make you look like idiots.



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