Last weekend, my parents were in town. We were watching Saturday night’s baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. We were on the edge of our seats as we watched Jorge Lopez try to complete the 25th* perfect game in Major League Baseball history. He did not. It was still fun.
*Yo, Armando Galarraga, I got you.
During the game, Ryan O’Hearn stepped up to bat. Fox Sports Kansas City displayed O’Hearn’s night so far in the standard plate appearance graphic, and then displayed his batting average, runs batted in, and home runs. My dad saw his .261 batting average and asked me if that was a “respectable average.” Later in the game, when Adalberto Mondesi stepped to the plate, he stated he was really happy with Mondesi because he had the second highest batting average on the team.
I’ll be honest with you: I have no idea what the batting average of most Royals players is. Whit Merrifield is hitting about .300, Hunter Dozier is at .240 or so. O’Hearn’s at .260. Beyond that? No clue. Alex Gordon could be hitting .240 or .260, Salvador Perez could be anywhere from .220 to .250, and don’t even ask what Brett Phillips or Jorge Bonifacio are hitting. No idea.
Of course, I also don’t care. I copy batting averages in triple slash figures all the time, but I almost never look it up by itself, because by itself it is not very useful. Other figures are way more important: walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power. On base percentage and slugging percentage are way more important than batting average. In evaluating players, batting average just isn’t useful.
But my dad wasn’t talking about any of those other way more useful stats. It’s not because he’s dumb. He has a master’s degree in engineering and on any given afternoon does more complicated things with numbers than I can comprehend. And it’s not because he doesn’t understand baseball—he taught me how to throw a baseball and hit, and we’ve played many a church softball game together. He was the first person I called when I acquired two tickets to the Wild Card Game in 2014.
No, the reason why he mentioned batting average is twofold. First, because batting average is a stat that has been around forever and everyone knows, like a politician with huge name recognition that isn’t the best fit for the job. And second, because the broadcast decided that it, along with RBIs and home runs, were the most pertinent pieces of information to show for a hitter.
That is, to be perfectly honest, insane. Displaying batting average without any context is bad enough, because it does not contain enough data. It insinuates that Mondesi, with a .270 average entering yesterday’s game, is a slightly better hitter than O’Hearn, with a .263 average. That is hilariously false: O’Hearn walks way more, which translates to a much higher on base percentage, and hits for much more power, giving him a way higher slugging percentage.
And including counting stats like home runs and RBIs? Those stats as a comparison tool are completely meaningless among players with wildly differing plate appearance totals. Gordon has two more home runs than O’Hearn and almost double the amount of RBIs, but has done so in over four times as many plate appearances. Not only are they bad stats at signifying a player’s talent level, but they aren’t even rate stats that are bad at signifying player talent level.
I know these things. I get cash moneys to write about baseball. I pull up obscure lists of thousands of players on Fangraphs dot com to find out some obscure fact for funsies. But the dudes watching the broadcasts do not necessarily know those things. In fact, as Ryan Lefebvre told me last year, they are likely not to; most viewers are just average people looking for a few hours of entertainment.
However, that is why it is so important for broadcasts to be better at choosing what statistics to display, independent of what Ryan and Hud say in the booth. Most people don’t know that on base percentage is way more important than batting average. Most people don’t know that walk rates and strikeout rates are measured, let alone why they are measured and why they are important. Most people think wRC+ is a weird blood type or coding language, not one of the best statistics about a player’s offensive performance.
It’s not hard. Instead of displaying batting average, home runs, and RBIs, display a player’s triple slash—batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. Heck, you can even display home runs and RBIs, too. On the pitchers’ side, it’s as easy as switching from total strikeouts and total walks to strikeout rates and walk rates.
FSKC is not running a bad ship, and they are certainly not the only station displaying the traditional ‘Triple Crown’ statistics when batters come up to the plate. But they still have a big impact on how people understand the game of baseball. A few years ago, people had no idea what ‘launch angle’ was. Today, Rex heckin’ Hudler uses the term all the time during home runs. The change happened because broadcast teams all over the country began using and incorporating launch angle. Nothing more, nothing less.
The same can be done for simple stats that have been known to the community for decades. It just has to start with the broadcasting team. Simple graphics can go a long ways.