February 2010

Stats In Broadcasting: How Much Is Too Much?

ESPN play-by-play announcer Jon “Boog” Sciambi wrote an interesting article for Baseball Prospectus recently entitled “Building a Better Broadcast.”  In it, Sciambi discusses the challenge of using sabermetrics in baseball broadcasts (you can read the article here.)

It’s an issue I think about often while broadcasting PawSox games.  What stats should I be sharing with the audience, and how often do I need to explain what the various letters (OPS, WHIP, etc . . .) stand for?

Like a bunch of baseball fans, I’ll never forget the first time I read Bill James Baseball Abstract.  It was sometime in the late 1980’s and it completely changed my view of the game.  Suddenly I realized that walks were underrated, sacrifice bunts were overrated, and fielding percentage was a fairly worthless way of determining the best defensive players.

Twenty years later, I’m amazed by how much we continue to learn from the latest sabermetrics. 

As a broadcaster, I try to be more of a storyteller than a statistician.  I think if you bombard the audience with a bunch of numbers — especially on radio — the stats become monotonous and lose their impact.

But the goal of any baseball announcer is to entertain and inform the audience, and using advanced statistics is one of the best ways to inform.

Typically, when a batter steps to the plate, the announcer lists his batting average, home runs, and RBI.  Occasionally, the broadcaster might mention OBP or slugging percentage.  This year, I’m planning to give those numbers in every at-bat.  Those stats are a better indication of productivity and are widely understood by fans — why stop at the triple crown stats?

Additionally, I plan to selectively introduce other advanced stats to the audience when they can be used to make interesting points about the PawSox and their top prospects. 

Vin Scully famously said that, “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”   

I’m hoping to illuminate.  If there are stats that you would like to hear on a regular basis, you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


Could Harper Fill PawSox Power Void?

It’s no secret that the 2009 Pawtucket Red Sox were not exactly an offensive juggernaut.


After scoring 753 runs the year before, the ’09 PawSox managed to cross the plate a mere 486 times – the fewest runs scored in the International League.


Despite playing half of their games in the home run friendly confines of McCoy Stadium, the PawSox HR total dropped from 176 in 2008 to just 87 in 2009.


It didn’t exactly attract big headlines on Monday, but the Red Sox signed a slugger to a minor league contract who could help fill the power void in the middle of the Pawtucket lineup this summer.


Harper re.jpg 

His name is Brett Harper and the 28-year-old first baseman/DH spent last year in the Pacific Coast League where he batted .292/.333/.508 with 19 HR between Las Vegas and Albuquerque.


Harper was originally drafted by the Mets and had his best season in 2005 when he belted 36 HR between Single-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.  Following that season, he was rated the 14th-best prospect in the Mets organization.


In 9 pro seasons, the son of former major league catcher Brian Harper has solid stats, batting .298/.354/.498.


Pacific Coast League sluggers don’t always put up comparable numbers in the International League — does the name Paul McAnulty ring a bell? (happy to see that Paul signed with the Angels recently . . . great guy who just didn’t hit up to his normal standards with Pawtucket).


We’ll see if Harper can put some sock in the PawSox in 2010.

Retirement Stinks

The news broke at 3:40pm on Tuesday afternoon:


Wilkerson accepts minor-league deal with Phillies (Fox Sports).


Yep.  That would be 32-year-old Brad Wilkerson who battled for the final spot on the Red Sox roster in last year’s spring training camp before opening the season with Pawtucket.


Wilkerson re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of the Providence Journal)


Wilkerson had a brutal spring for Boston, going 5-for-42 (.196), and the veteran outfielder got off to a slow start for the PawSox going 1-for-9 in the first two regular season games with four strikeouts.


That’s when Brad decided it was time to call it quits.


After Pawtucket’s second game he went to manager Ron Johnson’s hotel room in Buffalo and told him that his heart wasn’t in it anymore.  Having made more than $15 million dollars in the big leagues with Montreal, Washington, Texas, and Seattle, Brad decided that it was time to go home to his wife and kids.


I’m not surprised that he’s changed his mind.  If you were good enough to play pro baseball and were financially secure, wouldn’t you keep playing for as long as possible?


“He’s like a kid in candy store right now, chomping at the bit for an opportunity,” a friend of Wilkerson’s told Fox Sports. “He feels he can be as good if not better than what he has been at the major-league level.”


Wilkerson, who hit 32 HR for the Expos in 2004, is so eager to play again that he accepted a minor league contract that does not include an invitation to major league training camp.  Brad’s deal includes an escape clause if he is not promoted to the big leagues by June 15th.


His 10-month retirement was lengthy compared to another former Pawtucket outfielder.


Kielty re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


On July 12, 2009, I chatted with Bobby Kielty for several minutes as he took batting practice before a game in Norfolk.  The switch-hitter, who homered for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, gave no indication that anything unusual was going on.


Minutes after our conversation, he walked into Ron Johnson’s office and said he was finished and going home to California.


His “retirement” lasted for a month as Bobby joined the Rochester Red Wings on August 14th.


Last year, Bobby got off to an injury-plagued start with Triple-A Buffalo and didn’t play after April 17th.  The 33-year-old outfielder was released by the Mets organization in June and got to spend the rest of the summer with his family.


Three weeks ago, mlbtraderumors.com reported that Kielty is attempting to make a comeback as a pitcher.


It beats mowing the lawn right?

Clay Buchholz Weighs In

Clay Buchholz has spent parts of the last three seasons in Pawtucket where he has undoubtedly benefitted from the tutelage of pitching coaches Rich Sauveur and Mike Griffin.


But as it turns out, the 25-year-old pitcher could have learned a few things from spending more time with the PawSox radio guys.


Allow me to explain.


Buchholz Ft. Myers.jpg 

Buchholz showed up for spring training this year with 13 pounds added to his skinny frame. 


“It’s always a goal in the off-season but sometimes it doesn’t work out the way I want it to,” Clay told me in Ft, Myers.  “I tried to eat a lot more – that’s basically what it was.  I tried to stay on a three-meals-a-day routine, whether I was hungry or not.  Just try to put something in front of my face and eat it.”


After hearing that, I told Clay that during his stints with the PawSox, he could have easily learned how to gain weight by going out after games for chicken wings and pizza with Steve Hyder and me.


“Especially Hyder,” Buchholz said with a laugh.  “He actually looks really good from the first time that I ever saw him so that’s awesome for him, but yea, if I ever do make it back down to Pawtucket, I’m definitely going to be eating with you guys.”


Clay spent the first 3 months of last season with the PawSox and reestablished himself as one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball by going 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 17 outings.  In one five-game stretch, Buchholz allowed 2 ER in 33.2 IP (0.53 ERA), culminating with a one-hit shutout on May 25th at Louisville.


Clay joined the Red Sox rotation after the All-Star break and went 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts.  If you remove three bad outings in which Buchholz allowed 7 earned runs in each game, his ERA was 2.53 in his remaining 13 starts for Boston.


As a result, Clay was picked to start Game 3 of Boston’s playoff series against the Los Angeles Angels.  After the Angels beat Jon Lester and Josh Beckett in the first two games, Buchholz left Game 3 with a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning, only to see Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon surrender five runs in the final two innings in a 7-6 loss that ended the Red Sox season.


“It was a boost for my confidence,” Buchholz said.  “I think the Angels had one guy batting under .300 so I knew going into the game that it was going to be a tough start.  I was a little nervous going into that game but at the same time, I tried to treat it as just another game and went out there and said, ‘If I throw the best that I can throw, I think we have a good chance to win.’  I felt like I did pretty well but the game didn’t turn out the way we wanted.  I felt like it was a really productive season and something to build off of.  I’m confident and ready to go.”


Despite his success, Buchholz is not guaranteed a spot in the Red Sox starting rotation in 2010.  With high-priced free agent John Lackey added to pitching staff, Clay is one of six starters battling for five spots in the starting rotation.


“You’ve got the top three guys (Lester, Beckett, Lackey), then Dice-K, and then Wake and myself,” Buchholz told me.  “It’s going to be a tough thing to break into for sure just because of the potential that this starting rotation has to be really good.  Wake’s been here for a long time and I’ve got a feeling that if we both go out and have good springs that he’s going to get the benefit of the doubt.  So I have to be better than him to make this squad and that’s hard to do for a guy that’s been in this game as long as he has and knows how to deal with the situations that he’s been through.  But at the same time, I’m going to go out and pitch, have fun, and let the chips fall where they may.”


Sounds like a little added pressure to go with the added pounds.


“He’s really taken it very seriously this winter,” general manager Theo Epstein told reporters.  “He looks to be in great shape and has really strengthened his core. He’s prepared himself. He’s at an advantaged stage as opposed to where most guys are at this point. With his frame, it’s always been a battle to add a little bit of mass. This is the most progress he’s had in that regard.”


“I packed on a couple of pounds knowing that I’m going to lose some weight in spring training when it gets hot and humid,” Buchholz said.  “I want to be able to pitch at 190 pounds and I’ve got about eight pounds to get down to that.  I feel pretty good.”

Catching up with Dusty Brown

I usually don’t make it to spring training until the last week of March, but a University of Cincinnati basketball game in Tampa on Tuesday night, gave me the opportunity to spend Wednesday morning at the Red Sox camp in Ft. Myers.


Dusty resize.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The first player I ran into was catcher Dusty Brown who flashed an ear-to-ear grin when I asked him about his son Jude who was born last July.


“He’s doing great,” Dusty told me.  “He’s huge – off the charts.  It’s been about seven months now and he’s getting ready to start crawling and walking so it’s exciting.”


Pitchers and catchers aren’t required to report to camp until tomorrow, but most of them worked out at the minor league complex this morning.  For Brown, that meant lugging his catcher’s gear out to the field at roughly 9:00 am to catch several pitchers’ bullpen sessions beginning with Josh Beckett.


“It takes awhile to get back into the swing of things and catching in the bullpen is definitely taxing until your body is where it should be,” Dusty said.  “But you know what?  It’s better doing it in big league camp than in minor league camp.”


This is Brown’s 10th year in the Red Sox organization after being a 35th round draft pick in 2000.  After spending most of the past two seasons in Triple-A Pawtucket, the 27-year-old catcher made his major league debut last year, appearing in one game for the Red Sox in June before returning to Boston when MLB rosters expanded in September.


The final week of the season was eventful to say the least.  Dusty’s first major league hit was a home run over the Green Monster off of Cleveland’s Mike Gosling on October 3rd.  But before getting that hit, Brown recorded a strikeout as a pitcher as he took the mound in the final inning of a 12-0 loss to Toronto on September 30th.  Brown allowed one run on two hits and ended the inning by whiffing the Blue Jays’ Randy Ruiz.


“It was awesome,” Dusty told me.  “I always wanted to pitch in a minor league game and never had the chance to do it, and then I get to the big leagues and they put me on the mound for an inning.  That was pretty fun.  And then hitting my home run and getting a curtain call at Fenway . . . it was just a great week and it makes you want to be up there that much more.”


Two years ago, Brown had an excellent offensive season for the PawSox batting .290 with a .377 OBP and a .471 slugging percentage.  Last year, those numbers dropped to .264/.345/.329 and Dusty is looking to bounce back in 2010.   


“I just want to be consistent at the plate which I wasn’t last year,” Brown said.  “I had a couple of good weeks right at the end to get my average up, but I obviously hope the power comes back this year.  But ultimately I’m a catcher first and if my defense gets me to the big leagues I’ll be happy.  That’s my ultimate goal.  It looks like I’m probably not going to start the season there, but if I can get back up like I did last year that would be great.”

More Brutally Tough Trivia For PawSox Fans

At the beginning of this week, I came up with ten tough trivia questions about former PawSox who played in the major leagues last year.


If you haven’t tested your knowledge yet, here’s a link.


Based on the e-mail I received, I learned two things:


1.  You like trivia.

2.  You agreed that the questions were tough (or as one of you wrote, “impossible”).


So, here we go again. 


This time I’ve come up with 10 questions based on PawSox history.  And yes, once again they are difficult-to-impossible.  Good luck!


1.  Name the nine former PawSox who won major league MVP awards.


2.  Name the six former PawSox who won the American League Rookie of the Year award.


3.  Name the only former PawSox player who won the National League Rookie of the Year award.


4.  Name the five Cy Young Award winners who have pitched for Pawtucket.


5.  Name the four Hall of Famers who played for the Pawsox.


6.  Name the five former PawSox who won American League batting titles.


7.  Name the two former PawSox who won National League batting titles.


8.  What former PawSox manager has the most wins as a major league manager?


9.  What former Pawtucket player ranks highest on the all-time MLB home run list?


10.  Name the five former PawSox broadcasters who are currently MLB broadcasters?




1.  Dustin Pedroia, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Mitchell, Roger Clemens, Willie McGee, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, and Jose Canseco.


2.  Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Mark Fidrych, Jose Canseco, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia.


3.  Scott Williamson.


4.  John Smoltz, Bret Saberhagen, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, and Bartolo Colon.


5.  Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice.


6.  Fred Lynn, Wade Boggs, John Olerud, Nomar Garciaparra, and Bill Mueller.


7.  Willie McGee and Freddy Sanchez.


8.  Darrell Johnson with 472 wins between Boston, Seattle, and Texas.  Ken Macha (448 wins) should pass him this year.


9.  Manny Ramirez who is 15th on the all-time list with 546 HR (and counting).


10.  Gary Cohen (Mets), Don Orsillo (Red Sox), Andy Freed (Rays), Dave Flemming (Giants), and Dave Jageler (Nationals).  Hopefully, Hoard and Hyder will eventually make it seven.


I’d love to hear how you did.  You can let me know in the comments section or e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

A DVR Alert For Red Sox Fans

OK Sox fans . . . here’s a DVR (or VCR) alert if you have the MLB Network on your cable system or get it via satellite.


The MLB Network does a show called “Baseball’s Seasons” where they take an in-depth look back at the memorable moments in a given year.  Like most of the programming on the network, the show is extremely well-done.


Well tonight – Wednesday, February 10th – they look back at the 2004 season.


You may remember it.


Ichiro Suzuki broke the single-season record for hits.  Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 500th home run.  Greg Maddux won his 300th game.  40-year-old Randy Johnson threw a perfect game.


Oh yea, and the Red Sox pulled off the greatest comeback in postseason history and ended an 86-year-old drought.


So, if you want to relive “The Steal,” “The Bloody Sock,” and Big Papi’s Game 4 and Game 5 walk-off heroics, tune in tonight at 8:00.  Better yet – record it.  You’ll be glad you did.


* * * * *


In my opinion, the best sports documentaries ever made are called “America’s Game.”  It’s a series done by the NFL Network that looks back at the first 43 Super Bowl winners (the New Orleans Saints will eventually be featured in episode 44).


Each episode is narrated by a celebrity and features three members of the team talking directly to the camera.  NFL Films does an incredible job of finding previously unseen footage, and the players and coaches featured are all extremely well-spoken.


About a year ago after seeing a couple of episodes on the NFL Network, I started shopping online for the entire series on DVD (perfect for PawSox road trips) but didn’t take the plunge after seeing how expensive the box set was.


I’m thrilled that I didn’t buy them because now you can watch every episode on your computer for free at Hulu.com.


Here’s a link.  If you’re a Patriots fan and you’ve never seen the “America’s Game” episodes devoted to the 2001, 2003, and 2004 Super Bowl champs, I strongly encourage you to check them out.  Start with 2001 and work your way up.  You’ll thank me later.


Here are some details:


2001 – Narrated by Martin Sheen and featuring Tom Brady, Lawyer Milloy, and Adam Vinatieri.


2003 – Narrated by Tom Selleck and featuring Charlie Weis, Rodney Harrison, and Willie McGinest.


2004 – Narrated by Laurence Fishburne and featuring Troy Brown, Bill Belichick, and Tedy Bruschi.


Let me know what you think in the comments section or by e-mailing me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Tough Trivia For PawSox Fans

One of my off-season responsibilities for the PawSox is to work on a few items that go in the media guide each year including something called the “Alumni Report.”  It’s a list of every former Pawtucket player who appeared in a major league game last season along with his stats.


77 former PawSox players appeared in big league games last year, including 44 position players and 43 pitchers.  Dustin Pedroia played in the most games (154) while David Riske and Billy Traber each appeared in one.


So how well do you know your former PawSox?  Here are 10 fairly difficult questions that I put together after doing my research (the answers appear at the end).


1.  What former Pawtucket player tied for the American League lead in HR last season?


2.  Name the two former PawSox who earned World Series rings in 2009.


3.  What former Pawtucket pitcher was a 16-game winner last year? (the most wins of any former PawSox hurler in 2009)


4.  What former PawSox pitcher appeared in the most big league games last season?


5.  Name the six former PawSox who were chosen for the All-Star Game in 2009.


6.  What former Pawtucket player led the American League in being hit by pitches?


7.  Three of the four oldest players to appear in American League games last season were former PawSox.  Name them.


8.  Who was the only former Pawtucket player to play for three different major league teams in 2009?


9.  What former PawSox player is the active MLB leader in career pinch-hit HR with 19?


10.  What team other than Boston, had the most former PawSox on its roster during the course of the 2009 season?




1.  Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena with 39 HR to tie New York’s Mark Teixeira.  It’s pretty amazing that no one hit 40 HR in the American League last year isn’t it?


2.  Kevin Cash and Freddy Guzman who both played for the Yankees during the regular season.


3.  This was a big surprise – Jorge De la Rosa of Colorado who went 16-9, meaning he had one more win than Bronson Arroyo, Jon Lester, Derek Lowe, and Joel Pineiro.


4.  Atlanta’s Mike Gonzalez who pitched in 80 games


5.  Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, Carlos Pena, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Freddy Sanchez.


6.  Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach who got plunked 18 times.


7.  Tim Wakefield (42), John Smoltz (42), and Brian Shouse (40).


8.  Infielder Josh Wilson who played for Arizona, San Diego, and Seattle.


9.  Matt Stairs who belted 5 pinch-hit HR for the Phillies last season.


10.  The St. Louis Cardinals had six former PawSox appear in games last season:  Trever Miller, Joel Pineiro, Chris Duncan, Julio Lugo, Joe Thurston, and John Smoltz.  The Brewers ranked second with five former PawSox. 


How did you do?  Let me know in the comments section.




Happy Birthday To The Snake!

Today is February 5th.  The birth date of Hank Aaron . . . Roberto Alomar . . . and Devern Hansack.


Hansack re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


I don’t know the first two baseball greats, but I would certainly like to wish a Happy 32nd Birthday to the right-handed pitcher who answers to two nicknames – “Seor Slider” and “The Snake.”


In case you missed it, Hansack re-signed with the Red Sox as a minor league free agent a couple of weeks ago and is a strong candidate to pitch for Pawtucket for the fourth straight season if his shoulder is healthy.  Devern dislocated it in his first outing of 2009 (April 13th in Buffalo) and missed the rest of the year.


But PawSox fans certainly know what Hansack is capable of when healthy.  He led the team in strikeouts in 2007 and 2008, and the last time he pitched at McCoy Stadium, “The Snake” threw six hitless innings in a playoff win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on September 4, 2008.


Devern has also pitched in 9 games for Boston between 2006 and 2008, going 2-2 with a 3.70 ERA.


While I’m happy to hear that Hansack could be in Pawtucket this season, I was disappointed to learn that pitcher Billy Traber is still looking for an opportunity to pitch in 2010.


Traber re.jpg 

I exchanged e-mails with the 30-year-old lefty this week, and Billy wrote that several teams have expressed interest but none have offered a contract yet.


Traber was 7-8 with a 3.52 ERA for the PawSox last year, but he excelled as a reliever posting a 2.32 ERA.  He earned a brief promotion to Boston in August, where he “saved the bullpen” in a lopsided loss at Yankee Stadium by pitching 3.2 innings after John Smoltz had allowed eight earned runs in the first four innings.  It was the last time Smoltz pitched for Boston.


Here’s hoping that a team gives Traber an opportunity to pitch this season.  In the meantime, the mere mention of his name gives me another opportunity to show this great photo by my friend Kelly O’Connor.  It shows Billy going to great lengths to give a fan an autographed ball at McCoy Stadium last season.


Sky Traber resize.jpg 



Smaller Natale Hopes For Bigger Role

When Jeff Natale shows up at spring training in a few weeks, he’s likely to hear the same question over and over again from former teammates and coaches.


“Wow Nat – how much weight did you lose?”


Natale resize.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The 27-year-old infielder has followed a rigorous fitness regimen this winter in hopes of having a big year with Pawtucket in 2010.


“I’ve lost 20 pounds since the end of last season,” Natale told me.  “I went from being about 195 pounds to about 175 right now.  I feel great.  I feel more athletic, I look better, and when you look good and feel good you play good.  That’s the goal for this year.”


In the off-season, Jeff works at a baseball/softball training facility near Boston called Frozen Ropes.  The owner had been following a fitness routine for several months and recommended it to Natale.


“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Jeff said.  “I started doing a program called CrossFit which is like a combination of gymnastics, Olympic weight lifting, and a heck of a lot of running.  The combination of those three things has enabled me to get much stronger and in better overall shape.”


Over the past two seasons, Natale has only played in 108 games.  In 2008 he broke his arm in April and missed nearly 2 months.  Last season, Jeff endured two stints on the disabled list due to a strained oblique muscle.


“I want to win a position this year,” Natale said.  “I don’t want to just make a team; I want to be an everyday player coming out of spring training.  That motivated me to try a different program and really start to get myself into optimal shape.”


There’s no question that Natale can hit.  In five minor league seasons, he has a career batting average of .298 and a Moneyball-esque OBP of .432.  Former PawSox manager Ron Johnson (now Boston’s first base coach) raves about Natale’s ability to consistently have good at-bats, and told Jeff that if he can improve defensively at second base, he can make it to the major leagues.


“I talked to RJ on the phone a couple of times in the off-season and I know he has confidence in me,” Natale said.  “I’m just hoping that he’ll speak highly of me up there and I think that he will.  He really encouraged me to get into the best shape possible and do all ground ball work.  He said to not even worry about my offensive game too much and just concentrate on the defensive side.”


“I’ve been doing a lot of agility training and running every day and it’s going to help me get to balls a little bit quicker,” Jeff continued.  “I’ve been taking ground balls a lot more this off-season than I ever have before and I’m been throwing more than I ever have before as well.  I just feel that being a better athlete is going to help me tremendously defensively and if I can keep swinging the bat the way I have been, hopefully I’ll be in good shape.”


I know I speak for my broadcast partner Steve Hyder when I say that we would love to have Natale back in Pawtucket this season.  Not only because he’s one of the toughest outs in the International League, but because of “At Bat With Nat” – the hysterically funny interviews that he does once a week for our pre-game show (you can listen to them here).


“Looking at the guys that we’ve picked up, we’ve got a whole slew of new guys that need to be initiated to the team,” Jeff said with a laugh.  “I’ll be learning a lot about these guys during spring training and I can’t wait to share some of those stories with our fans.  Hopefully, some embarrassing stories.”