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Just My Take: The Nerding of American sports continues

John Reidy Avatar
May 20, 2016

 

Just-my-take (1)We mock things we don’t understand. It’s easier that way. Why accept change when you can call someone a name and dismiss their argument outright? Where sports are concerned, anti-intellectualism is the order of the day. It’s what non-sports fans expect and are usually not disappointed. But sports don’t have to be dumb. In fact, they can pretty smart. By utilizing statistics in ways that tell a story you can’t actually see, is like how an astronomer might gauge the size of a planet they have no hope of ever viewing with the naked eye.

Stats don’t necessarily tell you everything you could get by watching the game, but it’s a smart and a new way of thinking that could elevate sports beyond the meathead image of the past.  Analytics in sports isn’t just arriving, it’s already here and has entrenched itself deep in the world of sports analysis. But the old guard dies hard and every day on TV and the radio you’ll hear some pundit poo-poo analytics like it’s a religion that uses an E-meter to register your thetans.

In a recent Colorado Rockies commercial, a big swing is taken at the Sabermetrics enthusiasts. Charlie Blackmon, apparently now an 80’s movie jock, yells “Nerd!” as some stats are avidly read off to him. Anyone else bringing up what are admittedly some of the more advanced stats in the commercial gets a confused look like they were speaking Dothraki.

It’s all a big laugh, but the Rockies know this plays to a select group of curmudgeons who aren’t interested in learning anything new. The ironic thing is, the Rockies wholeheartedly employ an analytics team to comb through those “nerdy” stats in an attempt to make the team better.

And most front offices of any major sport do the same. If you’re not using analytics to make your team better, you’re not trying hard enough. And you’re probably not winning. But baseball is the king of advanced stats, and with a sport that has pioneered the field of analytics, you’d think more baseball fans and commentators would be on board. You’d think, but you’d be wrong.

With an anti-intellectual commercial like the Rockies have presented, it paves the way for ignorant and dismissive opinions about statistical analysis.

And speaking of ignorant and dismissive opinions about statistical analysis, Root Sports Rocky Mountain has planted the philistine flag so deep in that rock, it may never come out.

The station that broadcasts the Rockies games has long been the lapdog of the team, towing the line like a good soldier, refusing to ever recognize when the Rockies are bad and polishing a nightly turd to such a degree that its shine can be seen from space.

Ridiculing advanced stats is just one more way to showcase what a dinosaur (not a purple one) Root is as it plays this anti-stat card as often as it can. Play by play man Drew Goodman goes out of his way to avoid talking about advanced stats and when he does, he apologizes for mentioning them with such sincerity, he’s like an Army Colonel taking a flag to a newly minted war widow.

But while Root only wants to cater to the boorish louts who need their information in easy to understand, digestible chunks, this year’s broadcasts have been interesting in that they are starting to incorporate more advanced stats into the broadcasts. At least Ryan Spilborghs is. While Spilborghs lays out some interesting statistical nuggets, the underlying contempt still hangs in the air. I imagine that while Spilly proffers what most stats grousers would consider an advanced stat, Goodman crosses his arms over his chest and issues an aggressive “Harumph” toward any of that nonsense. But the statistical revolution has landed and is here to stay whether Goodman realizes or not.

The anti-stat attitude that Root purveys is very much like the anti-science agenda we’ve seen going on in America today: Learning is stupid and using your brain is making the rest of us uncomfortable. It’s also possible Root doesn’t want you to think too much or you may actually realize what a second rate broadcast it’s putting on.

If you love sports, you should be open to any new information that could help you enjoy the game in a different way. No one is asking the die-hard baseball fan in their 70’s to drop everything and learn what xFip and wOBA are but as times change, there are actually new things you can learn about a sport that’s been around for well over a hundred years.

And regardless of your age or capacity to accept new things in your life, why wouldn’t you want to learn everything you can about a sport you like? Doctors who study cancer don’t reject new information simply because it’s foreign to them. Learning is essential to constant growth and dismissing advanced stats out of hand seems counterintuitive to enjoying the particular sport you love.

Or you can just watch the game. That’s cool too. But poo-pooing stats is like shooting fish in a barrel: easy, loud and pretty pointless. And that also accurately describes the sports commentators who yell “nerd!” any time analytics are mentioned.

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