Towards a Saber-Friendly Game Report

Note: This article is hella interactive. If you have a sec, please do answer the questions at the bottom.

Though it seems hard to imagine, reports suggest that actual, real-live baseball games will commence this Sunday. Starting that day and proceeding through September — with only a brief, kinda lame interlude in July — there will be games every frigging day.

One project that I’d like to undertake this season — very likely in conjunction with other members of Team FanGraphs — is the provision of a semi-regular, nerd-approved game report that is both (a) satisfying to a readership more or less comfortable with the metrics we host here at the site and (b) entertaining to such a degree that, were one to have already seen the game in question, the report would still be worth a damn.

What might constitute the ideal game report is something I’ve considered a little bit. I’ll get to that in a second.

First, let’s consider the flaws of the traditional game report. I’m quoting myself when I say that

As of now, mostly what’s available is the pyramid style of game recap, such as the AP and other news outlets provide, which is a document composed in such a way as to (1) create a more or less fictional narrative for a baseball game, (2) give undue emphasis to emotional factors and less to a combination of skill and chance, (3) become continually less important (and less interesting) as it grows in length and (4) create the impression that baseball is the most boring thing that has ever happened to the world (including the supposedly fun Playmobil-brand toys I was given occasionally as a child).

We don’t have to go very far to find an example of game recaps behaving badly. In fact, if one were to just — I don’t know — look at the very first game listed at Yahoo!’s MLB page yesterday, that’d probably be good enough. Were one to do that, one would find a recap of the Boston/Baltimore game written by David Ginsburg of the Associated Press that begins like so:

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP)—The Boston Red Sox have had enough of spring training.

They figure that if Victor Martinez is going to hit two homers and drive in six runs, and if Jon Lester is going to throw seven innings of three-hit ball, it might as well happen in a regular-season game.

With Boston’s powerful battery leading the way, the Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-6 Wednesday.

Let’s be clear: this is by no means the worst case scenario of the genre. There’s no discussion of a player willing his team to victory by means of sheer Want To. And, at the very least, Ginsburg makes an attempt at playfulness, which, as a sentient being, is something I appreciate.

Even so, the narrative is strained and rests on a premise (i.e. the Red Sox should “save up” runs) that is both tired and impossible. Having played baseball even once, I recognize that a batter is not able to defer his home runs to such a base/out/score state as when it might have greater impact.

I will happily concede that, when content must be produced, then the quality of that content will suffer predictably. Nor do I intend to suggest that David Ginsburg is a bad writer or anything less than an A1 Guy. But the odds are stacked against him from the beginning. For, when the author must repeat, in prose, events that are just as easily apprehended by reading a play log — and when said author must then shoehorn those events into something like a “story” — the project is doomed from the start.

The advantage of writing for FanGraphs is that we’re constrained by nothing except the ominous presence of Dark Overlord David Appelman. Provided we don’t incur his wrath deliberately, he’s pretty flexible on what content we choose to provide. Also fortunate is that our readership is generally sharp and unafraid of change. As such, we authors needn’t adhere to outdated forms. If a game is booooooring, there’s no need on the part of any author here to pretend differently. If a game really knocks our black, over-the-calf work socks off, that’s totally legit. Finally, if the author wants to shout to the world that Colby Lewis is the Cy Young of his heart, he can do that, too.

So what might make for an ideal game report? I’m not positive I know, but I’m willing to learn. Here are some qualities that seem important:

1. Quantitative Analysis
Instead of saying “Victor Martinez helped his team a whole bunch,” we’re able to say, “Victor Martinez was worth about 15% of a win today.” We can also insert game graphs and (yes!) Pitchf/x info into our reports.

2. Observational Analysis
Last playoffs, during one of the Angel playoff games for which I was going to write a report, Marc Hulet emailed the following:

Not sure if you’re watching the Angels game today or not… but I think Kazmir was tipping his pitches with runners on second base. If you can go back and watch it, his glove is open to the second-base runner when he’s in the stretch… I could clearly see his grip on every pitch. It also looked like both Pedroia and especially Victor Martinez knew what was coming in the third inning. Martinez took two very big rips on fastballs and then tailored his swing for the off-speed pitch that he drove at the wall.

If I were a smarter person, I’d have copied and pasted that email and put it into my recap of the game.

3. An Actual, Human Voice
The game report, as it exists in your morning newspaper, is written so as to appear authorless. In fact, it might someday actually be authorless. But why is that good? I watch baseball games to make my life better. I’d like to read a report by someone who does the same.

__ __ __

So that’s my two cents (or — for the Italian people visiting from the year 1997 — 7,234,398 Lira). Now here are some questions for you guys:

1. What are the necessary components of an ideal game report? What might make a game report eminently readable?

2. Are there people (bloggers, for example) writing game reports of which you already approve? Where on the interweb could an enterprising young man find these?

3. Do you like the idea of a standard game report (i.e. a template used by multiple authors) here at FanGraphs? Or would you prefer for the individual author to use his discretion when reporting on a game?

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Kevin S.
14 years ago

1. Use WPA as a guideline for the key players, indicate how much they added (or not), but then talk about the actual things they did in a more narrative sense (i.e. not “that Mauer home run in the bottom of the ninth added .75 to the Twin’s win probability,” but rather “that Mauer home run in the bottom of the ninth allowed Minnesota to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat” (lame cliches not necessary). Also, mock Joe Morgan, whether he called the game or not.

2. Pass

3. Individual voices, please.