Kansas City Royals fans have become very familiar with Ryan Lefebvre’s velvety-smooth playcalling, Rex Hudler’s goofy antics, Steve Physioc’s golden baritone, and Joel Goldberg’s Gatorade-soaked postgame suit. However, Fox Sports Kansas City is implementing a variety of changes to their Royals broadcasts in 2018 sure to pique the interest of regular viewers.
What will be immediately obvious will be a brand new graphics package, and if you watched 2017’s absolute thriller of a World Series you will have seen it in baseball action already. It is a brand-wide move that first debuted last fall in NFL and college football games.
Fox Sports Kansas City will also debut a new Pitchtrax system. Varying broadcasts use these systems differently to help show the location and movement of pitches after the catcher receives the pitch and for replays. As for more specifics of its use, Executive Producer Larry Mago revealed that “in replays, fans will be able to see the sequence of pitches in an at-bat, with color trails showing the speed, type of pitch and location,” and that visual data can also be applied to individual pitches.
Unlike some other methods of pitch evaluation, Pitchtrax and the rectangular strike zone it can superimpose on the screen is connected to only the center field camera. While many fans will undoubtedly use it to grade the umpires’ strike-calling ability, just keep in mind that the system isn’t meant to be a perfect representation of the strike zone, which can change batter-to-batter, umpire-to-umpire, and is usually even different depending on the handedness of the hitters and the pitchers.
However, the most exciting part of Fox Sports Kansas City’s 2018 visual updates is the implementation of Statcast. Statcast is an analytics package developed directly by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. It is a new package, and 2018 will only be its fourth year of operation.
The immense Statcast data, which exists for every single major league game, will be accessible by FSKC from MLBAM, and is potentially a game-changing advancement for how we consume a game. Mago stressed that its granularity offered insights that couldn’t quite be gleaned otherwise: “Instead of just saying that a runner has a large lead, we can show that it’s a 12-foot lead or a 15-foot lead.” It also answers specific questions and gives simple context like, “How far did an outfielder run to make a catch? What was the range of the shortstop on that play in the hole? And how do those numbers compare to other fielders?”
As for how they’ll be implemented in a broadcast, Mago was somewhat coy, saying “We’ll look to use it when it helps to communicate the game.” Whatever legwork the producers do to make data accessible, announcers like Lefebvre still need to communicate it, and advanced stats take more time and effort to explain than the codified batting average and RBI stats everyone is used to. Statcast’s strength is that it presents data in terms of raw terms everyone is used to—speed, distance, angles—and can easily offer context in terms of how unusual an event is in compared to the rest of Major League Baseball.
Statcast has already been in use in other broadcasts, such as games on the MLB Network or ESPN, but it will be of particular interest to FSKC viewers who are unused to that level of data being available. The geeks have indeed inherited the earth.