We know Ron Darling is a great announcer as Mets fans, having been privy to his talents on SNY since 2006. He creates great insight into the game as a former pitcher, and isn’t afraid to tell you what he thinks. We’ve witnessed this frequently this past season with his remarks about how the Washington Nationals handled Steven Strasburg. Unlike other former athletes turned broadcaster, Darling often goes above and beyond simply crediting players for ‘being players’ as if he’s part of some secret club that knows better than we do. He imparts knowledge like he wants us to have it, not like he wants us to know HE has it.
I was watching the third game of the Giants and Reds NLDS, and he offered a bit of analysis that blended an appreciation of advanced shifting with a thought to the game at hand and how long-term trends might not apply the same way to individual samples. The Giants were shifting against Joey Votto to pull like many teams do for left-handed hitters with power. Ron Darling noted that Votto had returned from knee surgery this season and may not be 100%. He was questioning whether or not Votto could put the same force into his front leg to generate the power and pull that the Giants were positioning for. Maybe, he mused, they should use the injury information to adjust the defensive positioning despite what the long term trends say.
Joey Votto had not hit a home run since returning from the surgery, but I have no idea if this theory has any statistical merit in Votto’s case or in knee injuries at large. That’s not really important here because Darling wasn’t suggesting that the Giants forgo the shift because it’s over-thinking or bad form or anything, he was proposing that there was another input that the Giants should take into consideration. Perhaps the player they were shifting against wasn’t quite the same player that had generated all the data they were using.
Baseball is a game with a ton of statistical data that can be used to make educated guesses about players and teams and overall results, but it’s also a collection of small sample results that can vary wildly based on any number of random inputs. A player simply waking up with a headache could throw off the projections for one afternoon. This is why the very best teams will succeed by being aware of the overall trends and still be able to make snap decisions in the moment to adjust those trends based on the fluctuating nature of many of the factors. It’s part of what makes Ron Darling a great announcer. As a pitcher he studied and learned a lot about baseball, and he’s brought that into the booth with him, and as a scholar he appreciates the studious work other people have put in as well.