An Idea for Television Directors: Show Us the Throws!

It’s Spring Training, and everyone is trying to improve their game. That means everyone — I mean everyone — is seeking unsolicited advice from baseball writers who have no individual experience in their line of work. Right? Rather than call this advice, because I alone am not qualified to give advice in this particular field, let’s call it a discussion.

A few months back, I wrote a post titled The Outfielders Who Threw 100, in which I used Statcast data to identify the 15 outfielders who cracked 100 mph on a throw last season, and broke down the various types of 100-mph outfielder throws. The post, of course, was full of video clips — clips of the year’s most exciting throws.

But we didn’t always see the throws. Instead, we saw the ball hit to the outfielder, and the outfielder corralling it, and we felt the palpable suspense of watching the outfielder position himself to unleash a momentous throw, except as soon as he did, we saw a quick cut to a baserunner, and then another quick cut back to the fielder receiving the throw we’d just prepared ourselves to witness — a throw that ended up being one of the most impressive of the year.

This is how they all went. All of the year’s most impressive throws weren’t witnessed in full on the live broadcast, and were instead interrupted by a distracting, one-second interjection of a baserunner scrambling toward the next bag. After seeing this a dozen times in a row, I grew frustrated.

Turns out I wasn’t alone. This popped up in the comment section of that post:

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 9.44.44 AM

Now, jp laid it on a bit thick here — we could’ve done without the ad hominem attacks; producers are just trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability — but I did agree with his overall point, and seemingly so did at least 51 other FanGraphs commenters.

The spectacle of these plays is not the baserunner. Joe Mauer plodding around third base is not what made that play above so exciting. Every time a ball is put into play during a baseball game, somebody runs. People are running all the time! The spectacle is the throw. Outfielders make a throw with intent maybe once or twice a game. Someone makes a throw like the one Carlos Gomez made above maybe 10 or so times a year. So why is Joe Mauer interrupting our view of the spectacle?

This is the part where I’m no longer qualified to continue on my own. I had an idea of why this was the case, but I couldn’t be sure, because I’ve never been involved in television production. So I got a hold of someone who was. I spoke with Pat Murray, who retired last year but previously directed baseball television broadcasts for 32 years — the last 10 with SportsTimeOhio — and operated his own company, Pat Murray Productions, for 13.

“For someone who’s not sitting in a stadium, you’re trying as a director to let the viewers know where these guys are going,” Murray said. “You can’t put them in boxes all over the screen and have the ball going in. So how are you going to show all this? Well the only way to do this is to cut.”

It makes sense. Viewers at the stadium have agency over their sightlines. All the action of the game is in front of them, and they don’t need help identifying the actors. Television viewers, though, don’t have that luxury. If you were at that Astros-Twins game from the clip above, you’d follow the ball toward Gomez, and once it became clear he was going to make a throw home, your eyes would probably dart toward Mauer rounding third for a brief moment before quickly returning to Gomez and watching the flight of the throw home. The broadcast director is just attempting to recreate that experience.

Murray brought up another good point, and that’s the difference between viewing a live game, where every future action is unpredictable, and a series of clips with expected outcomes, like in the outfielders-throwing-100 post or in a YouTube video highlighting all of Yoenis Cespedes‘ best throws. In the latter two, we don’t particularly care about the extraneous action, or the position of the baserunner, or the leverage of the moment. We know a good throw is on the way, and that’s all that matters, so of course the cut becomes more distracting in that instance.

Honing in on a real-game situation, Murray presented me with a hypothetical. Here’s the situation: runner on third, one out. Fly ball to a right fielder with a cannon, let’s say Yasiel Puig. Do you ignore the runner at third tagging to go home in the live-action shot?

Me, personally? I’d rather just see the flight of the throw home, but I can see both sides, and that spawned another interesting talking point — the distinction between the casual fan and the hardcore fan. My full-time job is to write about baseball; I don’t need to see the runner tagging up to know that he’s heading home, so I want to see the throw. The runner’s intention becomes obvious fairly quickly, based on the game situation and the way the outfielder prepares his body for the throw. But maybe the casual fan doesn’t put two-and-two together that quickly, and so perhaps the broadcast helps guide them along.

If it’s a throw worth seeing again, we can just wait a second and see it in its entirety, which is fine, but I just wonder if broadcasts are missing out on excitement — even to casual fans — by waiting to show the most compelling version of a play until after the suspense has been ruined. What it boils down to, essentially, is: does the value of scene-setting outweigh the entertainment value of being able to track the flight of the throw live, when the nature of the throw is the most important factor in dictating the outcome of the play?

“To me, that would become a question of taste,” Murray said. “I would say this – if enough people said, ‘Hey, we’d like to see something like that,’ we were always open to stuff like that and talking about what people wanted to see.”

“I wouldn’t disregard what people think about things. If I were directing still, I would be sensitive to that… It would have been something to talk about a little bit.”

Given that, and the original feedback from the comment thread, we ought to hear the opinion of the crowd. I’ve embedded a poll down at the bottom. What would you rather see?

Would you rather see it the way it’s always been done, where the scene is set for you at the expense of the throw:

Or would you rather the replay version be shown live, so the flight of the ball can be tracked in its entirety:

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We hoped you liked reading An Idea for Television Directors: Show Us the Throws! by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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bmfc1
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Member
bmfc1

Great column. I primarily watch Mets games and overrated director Bill Webb always cuts to the runner as he approaches home, even if the ball is in the LF corner so we see the runner calmly touching home while missing the action: where is the ball and where is the batter?

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

You take that back about Bill Webb! (Or they’ll put up that damn graphic of him juggling Emmys again)