top of page

The Next Baseball Revolution Should Not Be Televised

MLB broadcasters explaining defensive runs saved and launch angle has reached "NFL announcers explaining the meaning of 'RPO' at least a dozen times a game" levels, and I loathe it. I'm not opposed to the inclusion of metrics in the broadcasts even if they intermingle with traditional statistics. What I am opposed to is the way metrics get introduced, conveyed, and used/abused.

The presentation layer for advanced metrics is limited by the inflexibility of the conventional televised content delivery system. Information can be displayed on-screen, verbally communicated by the broadcaster, or both can be done simultaneously. In terms of delivery, that's not a huge leap from watching baseball on a 13" black-and-white tv in the 80's. It's really just televised baseball with an occasional nugget of statistical information passed along.

The most noticeable difference from my vantage point is that the information being passed along frequently needs to be accompanied by a glossary of terms. Much of that information may cure erectile dysfunction for the most ardent of wOBA and wRAA evangelists, but the average fan probably can't calculate slugging percentage. That's possibly can exaggeration, but mathing is really hard (as is Englishing). Even the chosen few with knowledge of the components needed for the calculation probably still need to borrow someone's TI-83 graphing calculator to do it. The Venn diagram of the evangelists and people borrowing the calculators probably looks like a full lunar eclipse, but whatever.

There is an audience for the metrics (even wOBA whatever the heck that is), and 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed believe that most of that audience has no issue with ED. There is also an audience of people who just want 3 hours of mindless baseball entertainment without any newfangled or even oldfangled numbers. There are other audiences as well. A one-size-fits-all approach is a lofty, unreachable goal, but a one-size-fits-most approach is plausible.

We have the technology. We should use it. Implementation of a better approach requires more than a few simple tweaks, but it doesn't require blowing up the existing model. If anything, the opposite is true.

Here is my "relax this only makes sense to me and probably isn't reasonable or possible so stop the pearl clutching" dream.

Build an entire information ecosystem to support an expanded version of the model across platforms. I believe the children are our future (teach them well and let them lead the way), and I also believe that streaming content with the existing model at the epicenter will draw a lot of the aforementioned kids to baseball in the future without alienating the existing audience.

MLB dipped a pinkie toe in the pool by streaming the occasional game on YouTube. Those games were extremely popular with people who still argue on Facebook threads and just learned that Vine existed. Streaming a game with something around a 15-minute delay is a great idea....if the year is 2015 and your target audience is mostly kids walking around malls watching games on used iPhone 5c's. Since there weren't many of those and the year isn't 2015, it's akin to closing the barn door after the horse has done whatever horses do when barn doors are open. It's a "right distance wrong club" thing.

How do I feel about MLB's execution?

I'm in favor of it.

(hat tip to John McKay for that inspirational quote found in a 2017 issue of the Upper Room)

YouTube isn't the answer, but it's at least close to the green in regulation. That's better than the unplayable lie that is most existing streaming options.

Relying on different network providers with mobile apps built by 2 people sitting in a Starbucks for 3 months isn't getting the job done. The real work is being done by the person facing the wall because the person facing the window is just people watching and sipping a tall decaf cappuccino. Browser-based solutions offer more options (including VPN location management which you would never use to spoof to work around blackout restrictions), but they are still quite limited.

I don't have a solution, but I've got a bunch of keywords and a plucky attitude.

Invest. Adapt. Innovate. Thrive. Profit. Reduce. Reuse. Bicycle.

Smart TV's are constantly evolving and expanding the number of built-in apps. If you can get Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix applications with your new tv, then it shouldn't be that difficult to get an app. MLB can get the 2 programmers working at Starbucks to write an update to the mobile version and then port most of the core functionality to an app for your smart tv. It may take more than 3 months of effort, but it's PSL season at Starbucks, and the timing could not be better.

Maybe the 2 programmers can get an intern to do the real work like expanding functionality. A lot.

You know all those Statcast values, Fangraphs data, and OPS+/wOBA/STHU number thingies? There is no technical reason why that MLB app for your tv can't deliver the same information. It can be in the form of the infographic from the broadcast, but it could also be interactive. Means of consumption is important here especially in a world where there are no longer any real gatekeepers for this data. A statistician chain smoking in a windowless room in a subterranean chamber below the stadium is no longer the Oracle of baseball's Delphi. Information wants to be free and not limited to a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. Anyone capable of searching for replacement iPhone cables on Amazon can use baseball-reference to look at splits, BABIP, and salary info.

Imagine watching a game and seeing some arbitrary endpoint value set used to create a new MLB "record". Maybe something like most stolen bases by someone age 31 or older in a 21-game span that started on a US holiday while hitting more than 7 home runs and posting an OPS between .777 and .873. Seriously. It's getting that ridiculous, and you know it. Also, the God of Hammers, Thor once said that "all endpoints are arbitrary", and I believe anything Chris Hemsworth says.

Now imagine that you want to know more or want to select your own endpoints (perhaps .777 to .873 seems a little too broad to you). Or maybe you just want to see a ranking of XBH for shortstops named "Bob" over the past decade. The app could include an overlay or separate screen option with a search engine that supports compound filtering and complex search. On-screen navigation using a remote with 400 buttons may seem unwieldy, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

I mean you could just sit in front of a tv with a laptop and set your home page to baseballsavant dot mlb dot com, but that's nerdy. I'm not saying that I've never done it, but it's still nerdy.

If that's your thing, then there is also another level of integration to consider. The app on your phone or the browser-based solution may allow you to customize what you see on your tv screen. Better yet, maybe you perform the search on a separate device but see the results on your tv. That's basically pocket protector quality nerd stuff, but it's potentially a viable option during the 8th pitching change of the game. Unless you are related to the person entering the game, you probably don't care about the warmup pitches anyway.

My keywords and plucky attitude could help MLB address another issue - pace-of-play. One fairly common complaint about baseball games is the duration which is greatly a function of pace-of-play. It's not so much the length but how you use it. Spending 2 1/2 hours watching an entertaining movie may seem like nothing to some, but spending 2 1/2 hours watching the first 6 innings of 4-corners offensive baseball is painful. If MLB can't do anything substantial about pace, then at least offer something to keep our minds busy during the downtime.

Even a bad movie gives me some kind of constant stimulus, but a game with 25-30 seconds between every pitch makes me want to grow hair just to pull it out. Maybe I don't have the attention span. It's probably baseball-specific ADD. My brain simply loses focus after 15 seconds and moves on to something more exciting like pondering advances in game theory, reading the dictionary, or imagining Game of Thrones but with dinosaurs.

Each and every one of us is part of an audience that is in turn part of a much bigger audience. The people in my audience want more information and control over when and how to consume it, but we don't want to burden everyone in the larger audience with information spew. Picture NFL RedZone but with fine tuning.

The NFL uses RedZone which is a separate channel dedicated to plays when the line of scrimmage is around the 20-yard line or closer. The channel covers multiple games played simultaneously, and it's popular with people who can't afford to make their media rooms look like the inside of a Buffalo Wild Wings. MLB could do something similar but without the separate channel. Just build the option into the stream.

Just give me a picture-in-picture option on the smart tv app, and let's call it a day. Actually, make it a pictures-in-picture option and call it a Mike Tompkins video.

Or just jump to S-Tier content delivery. Create an in-game chat option. Use AI to build a dictionary used to filter out inappropriate words/topics and ban accounts that attempt to use them. Even then it's probably a good idea to include a safeguard like parental controls to make it easy for parents to toggle on/off the chat. Tie a chat ban to account service in some way, and parents will be properly motivated to manage those controls.

Ideally, the chat becomes a lot like Twitter but without politics, religion, and regurgitated tweets from anon accounts with inappropriate profile pics and 500K followers. Don't get me wrong here. It will still be toxic and full of idiots, but at least the idiocy will be mostly about baseball. It can also be moderated by some unpaid interns working on their degrees in communications. That's not a shot at interns or degrees in communications either. I think putting "MLB Digital Content Delivery Coordinator" sounds like a pretty cool thing to put on a resume.

It will be a lot like Twitch but with way better camera work and fewer emotes.

But what about the business model and the distribution of wealth? I can't decide between "not my problem" and "I don't care", but neither response changes the fact that bowing at the altar of the almighty dollar is the only way to guarantee safe passage into the MLB broadcast temple.

The existing model would need to change, but it wouldn't need an overhaul at its core. The size of the existing regional network pies may shrink, but those same networks would have slices of the new streaming service pie. Better yet, they could get those slices without developing their own inevitably awful mobile apps. The 2 devs at Starbucks and the intern fetching their PSL's are already spoken for, so regional networks will have to find their own Pumpkin Spice Latte-addicted developers.

For ease of use and since I'm making up numbers to fit my narrative, let's say that team "Oiseaux Rouges" has a fanbase that consists of 500,000 households. Each household spends an average of $200 on cable/satellite/pirated streaming services each month. MLBtv in its current form is around $130 per season to watch all out-of-market games that aren't taken by networks that actually despise baseball - ESPN, TBS, FOX, and FreeForm.

What would you pay to be able to watch your favorite team regardless of location? I paid nearly $300 a season for NFL Sunday Ticket just because I wanted to watch games in which I had zero rooting interest and maybe 4-5 games per season where I did have a non-zero rooting interest. I'd definitely pay at least half that. So let's say that there are 10 people like me who would pay $130 a season for MLBtv and another $130 to have the Oiseaux Rouges as well. That's $1300. Now multiple that by 10,000 households. Then add advertising dollars. That's at least enough to pay for the 2 programmers sitting at Starbucks.

Maybe all of this is pie-in-the-sky nonsense. Maybe it's just to satisfy an audience of one. Maybe it's Maybelline.

And maybe I won't use a VPN with my laptop connected to the tv to watch baseball with no audio while the radio feed is synchronized to the video.....

As Oscar Wilde said in a 2018 interview for a Nat Geo series on human emotions "There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting good baseball content because your favorite team sucks, and the other is getting to see their games only 2-3 times a season because of blackout restrictions."


PS - A rhinoceros is just an overweight unicorn in hiding.

Recent Posts

See All

The Worst NL Wild Card Preview Ever

Unless you live under a rock or get most of your sports information from Facebook, you probably know that the Dodgers are hosting the Cardinals tonight in a best-of-one series to determine which team


bottom of page