January 16, 2012 at 11:50 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Jon Sciambi, former Braves broadcaster and current ESPN commentator, was kind enough to answer a few questions for the site. As many know, Jon is partial to sabermetrics and is not shy to admit it. He contributed a guest post to Baseball Prospectus in 2010, which is certainly a worth while read (some funny stuff about Chipper Jones is included). Anyway, here is our Q&A. Enjoy.
1) Jon, we know you are a saber-friendly broadcaster and we are a saber-friendly site. Research is a big part of sabermetrics and I am sure it is a big part of announcing as well. What do you typically do to research a game you’re scheduled to announce? How far in advance do you start?
The research part of the process really never stops because I’m doing stuff almost every day. I think sometimes people in the saber-world forget that I am not an analyst; I’m a play-by-play guy who likes to analyze. Overall, I’m doing two types of research—first, I’m trying to find stories and nuggets that are entertaining, enlightening and help humanize the players. Also, I’m doing specific statistical research that is more straight-up informational. The people at ESPN research provide amazing support on both ends. For my Sunday games I usually begin on Tuesday with the starting pitchers (who are usually going that night) and I see what peripherals jump out to me. I’ll look at stuff like run differential, DE, OBP, SLG and just get a basic idea of strengths and weaknesses and go from there. Ultimately, I have a pretty good idea of what I want and the themes I’m going to hit on. I know going into a Braves game that it seems one of the consistent issues over the last 5 years has been lack of offensive production from the outfield and so I’ll do work on that and see if that’s correct(last in MLB in outfield OPS since ’07).
2) With that said, which stats do you think are the most misleading for other broadcasters?
I can’t speak for other guys, I just try to avoid “the noise” as I call it—RBIs or wins if at all possible, stuff like that. I don’t like using RISP much because I think it misleads the average fan into thinking that it has predictive value. I despise team batting average because the game is not a hitting contest, it’s a scoring contest. If a guy has a low ERA but a high FIP, I’ll mention both and how they relate. I try to stay away from team record in 1-run games…I think there’s a ton of stuff that leads people to think, “hey, they’re good at this,” when it’s not really reflective of skill.
3) You manage to make advanced statistics comprehensible to the average fan, what do you think is the key to using the advanced metrics, but in a way that your audience can digest?
I think one of the fundamental issues with sabermetrics is that people on the “outside” think it’s about stats as opposed to knowledge. I’m never thinking in terms of explaining a stat, it’s more about relating a concept. I will rarely say, “this guy has a good FIP, here’s what FIP is.” I think it works best with some context or a specific example—If a guy has pitched poorly according to ERA, I’ll talk about how there are factors that go into that stat outside of a pitcher’s control and that can give me an entrée to FIP. So, the specific intent isn’t to explain FIP as much as it is to show that a guy has had some bad luck or at least been affected by things outside his control…but I am using the opportunity to explain FIP. I’m always wary of lulling people into a coma with too many stats and if I can’t explain it in an efficient way, It’s probably not going to get used much.
4) With the Hall-of-Fame vote just closing, and many of next year’s group of eligible players having ties to performance enhancers, what is your stance on putting players tied to PEDs in the hall of fame?
The Hall of Fame is a joke. Start with this…How about the fact that no one has ever been elected unanimously? It’s absurd. If you didn’t vote for Mike Schmidt or Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, you should have your vote taken away. The whole “first ballot” thing is just ridiculous. Everybody has a different feel on the PED thing but I’d put them in. Do I want people to cheat? No. But I get it. I think more than anything, I despise how sanctimonious some writers are on the topic. The Bagwell thing is especially galling—never been linked in any way and guys won’t vote for him because his body got bigger? Look, I’m not naïve but c’mon, that’s the evidence? The best player I’ve ever seen is Barry Bonds and if he had a press conference tomorrow admitting PED use, I wouldn’t change my answer. The game is really difficult, I’m just not “offended” by the cheating.
5) Now we will get into more Braves related questions. What did you make of Fredi Gonzalez’ first year in Atlanta?
I thought it was fine. I thought he bunted a little too much and the lineup criticisms were probably fair but man, people love to complain about the manager. It probably won’t go over well in these parts but I think a manager’s biggest impact is intangible, it’s managing and leading people. I say that in part because I think tactically, the vast majority of managers are the same. The one area where I thought Fredi was in a tough spot was the bullpen because it’s easy to say you have to rest those guys but sorting out how to do that and still win games isn’t so easy. Ultimately, I don’t think a manager has a huge effect on wins and losses.
6) What do you think fans should fans expect from Jason Heyward this season?
I’m still a believer. I was amazed last year how quickly people jumped off the Jason Heyward bandwagon and onto the Freddie Freeman bandwagon. I think his numbers will be similar to his first year with a tad more power and maybe less OBP. Talking to scouts last year, multiple guys said they didn’t think he could succeed with that swing because it’s so different…and I didn’t hear that once in 2010. I just think we have a tendency to get caught up in short term results.
7) Do you feel the Braves need to do anything to remain competitive for the NL East this year?
I think the pitching keeps them competitive but they need to score and I don’t love the defense. It’s hard to imagine them being an above average offensive team because I think you know what you’re getting from 3 spots—CF, 2B and C. To say you know what you’re gonna get from Freddie after 650 PA is a stretch to me (please see Jason Heyward). There are obviously payroll constraints, so adding a bat seems unlikely and I worry about Chipper’s durability/ production and to a lesser extent, Prado’s too.
8) What was your favorite part about broadcasting Braves games?
Working with Joe Simpson. We had fun every single game. Joe’s got the best laugh and a great sense of humor and I loved our old school/new school discussions. I’d also have to say the fans were (and still are) so amazing to me, it just blows me away.
9) Do you recall how heavily sabermetrics are weighed in the Braves’ front office?
I really couldn’t say. John Capolella, the Braves Director of Pro Scouting is extremely savvy in regards to advanced metrics but I couldn’t really give you an idea as to how they are put to use in the organization.
10) Lastly, what was your favorite call for a Braves game, or your most memorable moment during a broadcast?
Not to take the air out of the balloon but in my 3 years we didn’t make the playoffs and I swear, on FSN or SS games I think I called like 5 walk-off wins over that whole period. There just weren’t many really dramatic, crazy games that I did—I can remember feeling multiple times that the few big comebacks or wild games were always on Peachtree or TBS. As far as a call…Yunel Escobar hit an absolute bomb in Arizona that landed on the Fridays porch near the tables and I randomly shouted, “Mind your nachos!” I believe that was my proudest moment.