Kapler hopes Fox Sports 1 sabermetric broadcast during NLCS allows viewers to engage, learn

Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski on the set at the Fox Sports 1 studio

Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski on the set at the Fox Sports 1 studio.

The interest in advanced metrics in baseball statistical analysis has reached such high levels that Fox Sports 1 is implementing it in the way it broadcasts playoff baseball this season.

Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals will air on FOX at 7 p.m. Saturday, but Fox Sports 1 will offer an alternate broadcast with a panel of experts to dissect the game and players through a sabermetric lens.

The broadcast, a first of its kind, will include Kevin Burkhardt doing main play-by-play from the studio alongside former Major Leaguer and sabermetric guru Gabe Kapler, former Major Leaguer CJ Nitkowski, veteran baseball writer Rob Neyer and San Diego Padres manager Bud Black providing analysis.

If everything goes as planned, Kapler said the broadcast will simply be a conversation between people who venture to look at the game of baseball in a different way.

“I think people watching can expect a different sort of broadcast — one that facilitates flexibility of thought and one that will appreciate people who are truly passionate about a different way to look at baseball in general,” Kapler said. “They’ll get a glimpse into a real-time conversation happening between people who are truly excited about what’s happening on the field in conjunction with what those players have accomplished during the season and in their careers.

“I think you’ll see people who celebrate predictive metrics over metrics that have told the story about what has happened, and focusing on metrics that can tell the story about what may happen going forward.”

Bill James is credited with creating sabermetrics, and his work is credited as a main source of inspiration behind Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” strategy of building a team based on player value metrics rather than traditional statistics, or at least traditional statistics that show and predict a player’s value. Now baseball writers, fans, managers, scouts, analysts and even front office people are beginning to value advanced metrics over traditional metrics because of the specificity of what each data can show and predict.

Some examples of advanced metrics are as follows, as defined by FanGraphs:

  • UZR (ultimate zone rating): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.
  • UZR/150 (ultimate zone rate per 150 games): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.
  • +WPA (win advancement): The amount of positive wins a player contributed to his team, including only the plays where he increased his team’s win expectancy.
  • -WPA (loss advancement): The amount of negative wins a player contributed to his team, including only the plays where he decreased his team’s win expectancy.
  • wRC (weighted runs created): An improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs.
  • wRC+ (weighted runs created plus): Measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects.
  • BABIP (batting average on balls in play): Measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit.
  • FIP (fielding independent pitching): Measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing.
  • WAR (wins above replacement): Perhaps the most frequently used metric to measure a player’s value, WAR is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.

“I think ultimately we wanted to display flexibility of thought,” Kapler said of the thinking that went into the broadcast idea. “We wanted to display a passionate, nuanced take on the game that we think people are watching, the game that we love and the game that people are watching will love.”

While a large contingent of baseball fans, writers and others are migrating toward analyzing the game through sabermetrics, many are still keen on looking at traditional statistics like runs batted in, batting average, earned run average and on-base percentage. For that reason, Kapler said the broadcast will be done in such a way that those unfamiliar with sabermetrics might be able to enjoy it and even learn more about advanced metrics.

“I think we’re targeting people who are passionate about baseball,” he said. “I don’t think we want to cut off any portion of the population that might really appreciate a different way to look at things…I think we really want to broaden the scope a little bit.

“The first thing I believe in is fans are extraordinarily bright and they clamor for ways to evaluate the game like general managers and scouts and top level evaluators do. We have an opportunity to allow them to join us in the way we are evaluating and analyzing the game, and giving them an opportunity to take part in that, potentially learn from it and be interactive with it.”

To help facilitate that, Neyer will answer viewer-submitted questions via Twitter throughout the broadcast. Kapler said the main thing is that viewers feel comfortable watching and interacting with the broadcast and the panel.

“I think there’s room for traditional broadcasts and I also think there’s room for new, cutting-edge broadcasts of a different paradigm,” he said. “I keep focusing on the word different because it doesn’t mean ‘better’ necessarily. It just means a different way to watch a baseball game — a unique way to watch a baseball game with people who are truly passionate about connecting with the viewer. If there’s one thing I want us to be able to do, it’s to invite the viewer into our living room.”

Kapler also described the broadcast’s potential as “authentic, genuine, passionate, nuanced.”

As of now, this is the only postseason game in which this type of broadcast is planned, but that could change down the road.

“We are going to be doing a lot of sharing, a lot of teaching and a lot of making it a safe, non-judgmental space,” Kapler said. “We will make it good. We will make it enjoyable for the viewers because we will enjoy it. That’s generally what makes something fun to watch — when that person talking about it on camera is genuinely enjoying talking about it.”

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