Steve Stone, by way of the Boers and Bernstein Show on 670 The Score, dropped a doozy on everybody by announcing that he and Hawk Harrelson will be taking White Sox broadcasts into forbidden territory.
It starts at 28:30, but this is the key exchange:
Stone: I just want to mention one thing that you'll be really interested in. I have actually been studying up, and will continue to, because we're going to kind of introduce -- we might not call it this because this is, y'know, the evil empire -- but we're going to introduce some sabermetrics into the broadcast this year.
Bernstein: /exaggerated gasp
Stone: We're going to actually explain to our viewers a bit about how it's used as a tool, and try to explain that it's not *the* tool, but it's *a* tool, and used correctly.
Specificially, Stone cites wins above replacement, batting average on balls in play, defensive metrics like runs saved. You can hear Bernstein's smirk while Stone is laying out the groundwork, and he finally says, "I'm looking forward to it because it likely means Hawk is going to leave."
Coming just a season after Harrelson engaged in a personal war with the field, the schadenfreude potential here is off the charts. I'd be surprised if it actually delivers, though.
If I had to bet, I'd guess it'll turn out to be around as awkward as the introduction of the run expectancy chart in RISP situations last year. Harrelson was never prepared to see the chart, and only a little more ready to pronounce it. After a while, he left it up to Stone to read it, and whenever the scenario said the Sox were above average in producing runs in any situation, they both expressed skepticism (not that they were wrong to feel that way, given what they had to watch).
The production crews shouldn't give up on introducing sabermetrics just because run expectancy didn't click, but it does highlight what might go awry if they try expanding on the topic when the broadcast booth really isn't invested in it. Explaining advanced stats live on air poses a challenge to even the saber-oriented, veteran broadcasters, so I can't imagine it going any smoother if Stone and Harrelson -- probably more Stone than Harrelson -- is a teaching assistant who has read one chapter ahead of the discussion group.
Harrelson isn't going to turn into Len Kasper overnight, so I'd be happy if the broadcasts had a firmer grasp on its limitations this year as it tries to stretch.
Some stats should come naturally to them. When Harrelson laments the shift's effects on Dunn or says a player isn't getting rewarded for good contact, that's reflected in BABIP. But anything that requires a formula with derived weights is probably going to be a harder sell. If they don't have conviction in it, maybe Dan Fabian could drop by the booth and drop some knowledge on occasion (or record some segments for use on air).
But really, I'd consider it a major step forward if they stopped with the knee-jerk backlash and strawmen and condescension when the topic comes up. Maybe that's what this will address more than anything. Granted, it was funny when Harrelson and Stone bashed the Blue Jays for batting Jose Bautista second, only to see him tie the game with a two-out homer in the ninth inning, but it was a low point in terms of living up to their job description -- conveying an understanding of the way teams operate.
If the same situation comes up this year, the broadcast could choose a number of routes and constitute an improvement.
Optimal: Explain the statistical rationale in batting the best hitter second.
Good: Note that it's unusual, but statistics/numbers/studies/whatever say it's effective.
Acceptable: Say that batting orders don't really make much of a difference as long as the good hitters are getting more at-bats than bad hitters, and the players are comfortable with their assignments.
All of these are better than what happened last year. As long as the two broadcasters are ex-players who are supremely confident in their experience-based wisdom, I'm not setting the bar too high.
Plus, given the state of the White Sox roster, the Sox might be able to improve their broadcasts most by playing to the strengths of a hitter and pitcher in the booth, rather than trying to totally transform their weaknesses. Everybody's going to get their first extended exposure to Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Erik Johnson, etc., and hearing the booth live-scout their mechanics, approaches and adjustments could be immensely insightful if they really dug into them.
Whether they broaden their horizons or lean on their powers of observation doesn't really matter to me, because either may help them avoid the biggest pitfall of White Sox broadcasts -- Harrelson's tendency to steer every topic into a prefabricated truism. Harrelson and Stone (and Stone and Tom Paciorek) were at their best when they spoke spontaneously about current events without forcing a conclusion.
In other words, the biggest difference between a good Sox broadcast and a typical one is the level of one's genuine interest in what the other is saying. A tepid, mandated embrace of sabermetrics is going to be pretty easy to see through.