White Sox voice Jason Benetti enjoys going deep on ESPN’s Statcast games
On Sunday, Benetti will host a Statcast edition of “Sunday Night Baseball” at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 for the Padres-Dodgers game. “Statcast data is underlying every decision,” he said.
When ESPN aired the National League wild-card game between the Cubs and Rockies in 2018, the network produced an alternate version of its regular game broadcast based on MLB’s Statcast tracking for the first time. White Sox announcer Jason Benetti handled the play-by-play.
I remember the broadcast not so much for the game – the Cubs lost 2-1 in 13 innings – but for the broadcast itself. I switched over to check it out and never went back to the regular broadcast – and it had nothing to do with Alex Rodriguez being there. Benetti and crew had piqued my interest.
“The coolest thing based on the research that ESPN has is exactly what you just said: People have a tendency to stay longer than the average broadcast,” Benetti said. “And that is so awesome and heartwarming, but it’s much more about the information than anything else.”
On Sunday, Benetti will host a Statcast edition of “Sunday Night Baseball” at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 for the Padres-Dodgers game. He’ll be joined by his regular Statcast mates, analyst Eduardo Perez, MLB.com Statcast Insider Mike Petriello and producer Andy Jacobson. They also will broadcast a Statcast-driven presentation of “Baseball Tonight” at 5:30 on ESPN2.
“Statcast data is underlying every decision,” said Benetti, who will call the game from his living room in Chicago. “We’re trying to explain to people what the tendencies of everybody and every team are and why decisions are being made. It’s not just numbers for the sake of numbers. It’s numbers for the sake of what pattern the game might follow.”
Benetti uses Statcast research for every Sox game he calls, but the nature of this broadcast allows him to dig deeper. In his preparation for the Padres-Dodgers game, Benetti learned about the differences in the way the teams shift in the field, which will be a topic of discussion.
“The range in MLB in shifting is still wild,” he said. “There is no accepted way to shift.”
The broadcast also will incorporate analytics. With the help of MLB’s website Baseball Savant, Benetti discovered a similarity that has made both teams successful: Entering Thursday, the Padres ranked first and the Dodgers third in the majors in lowest swing percentage. In other words, they take a lot of pitches.
“They try to zone-hit you and try to find the best pitch for them to hit,” he said.
In the big picture, Benetti and the crew plan to examine how the Dodgers have used their large analytics department to help them become perennial contenders.
“They’re the perfect team for this show because they put this into practice,” Benetti said. “Anybody who’s not tuned into what analytics can do throws it into a pile and says, ‘It’s why the Rays lost the World Series.’ The response is, ‘The Dodgers are doing the same thing, and they won the World Series.”
You might recall the Rays lost the 2020 Series after manager Kevin Cash pulled starter Blake Snell before he could go through the Dodgers’ lineup a third time, even though he had thrown only 73 pitches in 6 1/3 innings.
Benetti might have to explain to viewers why analytics and Statcast tracking are important, but many players are already on board.
“The reason that this show matters to me is players are using this information every day,” Benetti said. “I say this to Stoney [Sox analyst Steve Stone] a lot: ‘If you were pitching in this era, you would absolutely use this, right?’ He’s like, ‘Oh, totally.’ Because players want to have every edge possible.”
But Benetti will ensure that the show will have elements of a normal baseball broadcast.
“When we had our first Statcast game, I said, ‘It is OK for me to tell stories, right?’ ” he said. “And they said, ‘Absolutely. You need to tell stories.’ This is still a baseball show. It’s just driven by Statcast.”
NOTE: Jason Benetti and Sox radio voice Len Kasper will share the NBC Sports Chicago booth for five games the week of May 3, when Steve Stone will be off. The Sox visit Cincinnati and Kansas City.
“There’s a storied history in baseball of two play-by-play announcers doing a game,” Benetti said. “I’m really excited to bring it back, and I’m excited to work with Len.”
With Benetti calling the Statcast on Sunday, Kasper will join Stone on NBCSCH for the Sox’ game against the Rangers.