King Kaufman's Sports Daily

100 percent of TV networks flash junk stats with no context during game broadcasts, an insult to the intelligence of 73 percent of viewers.


Salon Staff
July 9, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)

Of all the people who looked at the first page of my column Thursday, 76.9 percent of them clicked through to Page 2. That's really something, isn't it? Amazing. It really tells you everything you need to know about this column and its readers. Fantastic.

If this were TV, that paragraph would pass for analysis. The 76.9 figure would flash as a graphic ("King Kaufman column: 76.9 percent of readers click through to Page 2") and that would be it. If you were paying attention at all, you'd be sitting there going, "Uh, 76.9 percent: Is that a lot or a little?"

Advertisement:

TV does this all the time. I have bruises on my forehead right now because of the most recent example I saw, which had me banging my head against the wall. The Anaheim Angels had just scored a bunch of runs with two outs in their game against the Chicago White Sox Thursday when ESPN flashed a graphic saying the Angels score 40 percent of their runs with two outs.

"Uh," thought I. "Is that a lot or a little?"

I mean, it seems to me that a pretty healthy percentage of runs are going to score with two outs. There are only three possibilities -- no outs, one out or two outs -- so if everything were distributed evenly 33.3 percent of all runs would score with two outs. And since it sometimes takes a while to get runners around the bases, it makes sense that more than a third of the runs are going to score after two are gone.

And the Angels are a team that likes to sacrifice -- that is, they're willing to trade an out to move runners along -- so that should bump up their two-out scoring totals a little.

Forty percent just didn't seem that high to me, but analyst Buck Martinez launched into a lecture about how that stat reflects the Angels' scrappy personality, that they never give up on an inning, etc. and so on. It was a measure of their character, he said.

Well, whenever anybody starts talking that way my hogwash alarm goes off. I decided to try to figure out what that 40 percent figure means.

Advertisement:

According to my own calculations based on stats I found at mlb.com (thanks to Dan Werr at Baseball Primer for pointing me to the right place), my assumption about two-out scoring wasn't correct. In the American League this season, at least, more runs score with one out than in any other situation. Here's how it breaks down, through Thursday:

0 outs: 23.0 percent
1 out: 39.9 percent
2 outs: 37.0 percent

At the start of Thursday's game, the Angels had scored 39.3 percent of their runs with two outs, above league average but not outrageously so. (Thursday's game got them up to 40 percent.) What the graphic didn't mention was that the White Sox also score a lot with two outs: 38.9 percent of their runs before Thursday's game had come with two outs. After their 9-8 win Thursday, that figure jumped to 39.6

Since the White Sox have scored more than the Angels this year, they've actually scored more two-out runs than Anaheim, 178-170 through Thursday. But ESPN didn't want to tell you that because the network didn't have anything to say about the White Sox's character, how they never quit on an inning etc. and so on.

Advertisement:

The White Sox lead the A.L. in sacrifice bunts with 33, and the Angels and Tigers are right behind them with 32. My theory about a lot of bunting boosting the two-out run scoring fell apart when I looked at the Tigers, who have scored only 33.4 percent of their runs with two gone. They're dynamite with one out, though, at 45.3 percent. Maybe they should bunt less often to stay away from that second out, but that's another matter.

I also looked at the two teams in the league that almost never bunt, the Red Sox and A's, who have 15 sacrifice hits between them, not even half the total of either the White Sox or Angels separately. They're both terrific with two outs. Better than the Angels, in fact.

The Bostons score 40.1 percent of their runs with two outs, as you'd expect from that team, which has character etc. and so on to spare. The A's score 41.1 percent of their runs with two outs. You know the A's, don't you? The team that lacks the character etc. and so on to win a postseason series?

Advertisement:

The Angels are fifth in the American League in the percentage of runs they score with two outs. The White Sox are sixth. Last in the league in this stat is the Twins, who score 31.3 percent of their runs with two outs. The Twins have the third best record in the league. Next to last is the Yankees, at 33.1 percent. The Yankees have the best record in the league. The Royals lead the league in two-out scoring at 42.9 percent. The Royals have the worst record in the league.

That's some stat, there.

Did ESPN not tell us that the Angels' scoring 40 percent of their runs with two outs is only fifth best in the league and barely better than the team in the other dugout because it didn't want us to know that the figure is ordinary, not astounding, as it implied? Or was it because the network knows the stat itself is meaningless, that it tells us nothing about how good a team is? What other reason could there be to withhold that information?

Advertisement:

I'm only singling out ESPN here because that's the network I happened to be watching Thursday, but they all do it, they all flash meaningless, context-free stats that insult the intelligence of viewers who are thinking even a little bit.

By the way, that 76.9 percent figure for click-throughs to Page 2 Thursday? That was low. It's usually over 80 percent. Amazing what a little context will do for you, isn't it?

Previous column: Sports likes and dislikes

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Advertisement:

  • Bookmark http://www.salon.com/sports to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to kingnewsletter@salon.com.


  • Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    BROWSE SALON.COM
    COMPLETELY AD FREE,
    FOR THE NEXT HOUR

    Read Now, Pay Later - no upfront
    registration for 1-Hour Access

    Click Here
    7-Day Access and Monthly
    Subscriptions also available
    No tracking or personal data collection
    beyond name and email address

    •••


    Fearless journalism
    in your inbox every day

    Sign up for our free newsletter

    • • •