Dave Raymond won’t be returning to the Houston Astros radio booth next season. Along with broadcast partner Brett Dolan, he was informed that his contract will not be renewed. [Milo Hamilton, who shared air time with the two, is retiring.] There is irony involved in the decision.
A member of the Astros radio team from 2006-2012, the 40-year-old Raymond was seemingly a perfect fit for the club’s analytics-driven approach. A graduate of Stanford University and former business reporter for Forbes Magazine, he is among the more saber-savvy broadcasters in the game. Unlike the old-school Hamilton, he speaks the same language as the Houston front office.
Raymond — an undervalued asset in the broadcaster free-agent market — is currently in search of his next opportunity.
David Laurila: What are your thoughts on the Astros having adopted an analytics-based approach?
Dave Raymond: I thought it made a lot of sense when they first started moving in that direction. Before the sale closed, it was made clear in what direction the team would be headed. They would be looking for a young, analytics-based general manager, and would shift aggressively to the new philosophy. It was a good idea, especially given the status of the franchise at that time. They were depleted in prospects, and the major-league roster was either aging rapidly or just deteriorating in terms of production. It was obvious they were going to have to do some drastic maneuvering.
Having watched what has happened in the last 12 to 18 months, it’s been really dramatic. I’m sure anybody in the industry would echo that sentiment. I didn’t know they would be as aggressive as they’ve been, or that they would have had as much success moving guys and adding so many young bodies. They’ve pulled off several one-for-two, and one-for-three, trades. It’s simple law of averages. If they can bring in three younger options for one body — they realize all three aren’t going to make it big — but if one of them does, maybe they make some real headway.
It was a bold move, although it’s tough for the fan base, because there is such little hope of winning in the near term. Long term, it will more than likely suit them well.
DL: Compared to many broadcasters, you have a good understanding of analytics.
DR: I know just enough to be curious. The math is mostly beyond me. But I was excited for the opportunity to learn more about it from guys like Jeff [Luhnow], Sig [Megdal] and Mike [Fast]. That said, people treat it as a new discovery in the ballgame, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. Pre-Michael Lewis and Moneyball, there were plenty of teams interested and intrigued by advanced metrics and statistics. Take Tal Smith, who was with the Astros for decades. Tal was at the forefront of that. He was member of SABR and had his own consulting business for arbitration cases. Tal was a master at using and manipulating numbers to fit arguments for arbitration. In a large way, he was one of the forefathers of the movement, along with guys like Bill James. Tal gave it practical value, because he used it on a daily basis.
It’s a side of the business that’s very interesting, and it’s so different from team to team. I was excited to learn even more about it from smart guys who really love the science. I relished the opportunity and had a great time, talking with Sig and Mike in particular. To their credit, they were pretty forthright and very good about pointing me in the right direction. They gave me suggestions on things to read. They would discuss strategic moves, both on and off the field, if I asked. I really appreciated that.
DL: How does that knowledge play into the broadcast?
DR: That’s the challenging part. Most baseball fans have a great familiarity with the basics, and sometimes deviating from that in a broadcast can be more distracting than helpful or illustrative. I try pick my moments, here and there, where I can explain just a little bit. I just can’t get into linear weights in the middle of an at bat… and I couldn’t explain it anyway.
Run expectancy is something that can be discussed. Some of the numbers that might drive strategic decisions, like when or why to bunt, can occasionally be sprinkled in there. Every now and then you might have an opportunity to explain why OPS is a better measure of a hitter’s contributions than, say, batting average. But there is only so much you can accomplish during a game, because with baseball on the radio, you have to be describing what is happening on the field.
DL: That said, with more and more fans being statistically savvy, you don’t want to dumb down the broadcast?
DR: I think it’s critical to understand the information being used and the direction the game is moving, if for no better reason than explaining why some things are occurring on the field. There’s nothing worse than being misinformed when you’re a couple hundred feet away from where the decisions are being made. You need to understand, and be able to articulate, why things are happening. So I agree with you.
For me, the conversation is not just on the air. It’s off the air, on Twitter, on blogs, in newspapers… and it’s fascinating. With the internet, and the fan base, there are so many informed voices and interesting perspectives. The other aspect of advanced analytics is that they create questions. I sat down with Sig and Mike during Spring Training one afternoon. They entertained a bunch of my questions and we had a lively discussion on certain theories, things they might explore mathematically or otherwise. Some of the ideas I threw out there, they were already modeling. Other things we kind of bounced off each other and came up with some different angles to consider. It was fun. That’s why we’re all attracted to baseball — the arguments and the subjectivity, as well as the statistical objectivity that anchors in the game.
I feel like I’m always learning new things from fans, blogs and so many great baseball websites now. I love getting tips from other broadcasters about what information they use from FanGraphs. As an example. I happen to use the batted-ball and PITCHf/x data a lot. Sometimes I’ll notice a tendency I hadn’t considered before, or the data will disprove an assumption about a guy. Those kinds of things really help extend the summer-long conversation.
The data you guys supply are great, but I feel like one of the things FanGraphs does well is help give context. To me, the way we think about and interpret the numbers is every bit as important as the numbers themselves.
DL: What was it like working with Milo Hamilton?
DR: It was definitely different broadcasting with Milo than it would be working with anybody else. I enjoyed it. It was a completely unique experience, unlike any you could get in baseball right now. Even Vin Scully, who doesn’t really work with a partner, has kind of adapted his broadcast style. Milo was still very old-school.
A lot of what Milo did was really good. He was singularly focused on the event playing out in front of him that night, and he was in that moment. When you get right down to it, that’s the job. I think when broadcasters focus on that simple task, we’re all better off. Often times, especially on radio, you’re tempted to fill the time with stats and anecdotes. Only in as much as that anecdote or statistic amplifies what is happening in front of your eyes is it worth bringing up. The listener is driving along, trying to envision the game, and you want to limit how much you distract him or her from that. That said, one of my guilty pleasures was getting Milo to talk about Satchel Paige or Ted Williams or Stan Musial. I wish we did it more often.
DL: Any final thoughts?
DR: Going back to the original point of this conversation, I think it’s valuable to understand what’s driving decisions, both in terms of player acquisitions and game management. It is critical to understand what the philosophy of the front office and coaching staff is, and why they do what they do.
Fans love statistics, so any way we can make those numbers palatable, and valuable, the better off we are. You just can’t overuse them. The better you understand them, the better you’ll be in knowing when, and how, to use them. It makes for a better broadcast.