Broadcast Review: Tigers Television

This post comes complete with poll. Because it’s America, you know.

Tiger play-by-play man Mario Impemba is most well known for his role as a Fratelli in The Goonies.

In a move that I believe underscores my commitment to the fledgling broadcast-review project here at NotGraphs, I’ve not only consumed three or four Tiger games ahead of the present review, but have actually traveled to the pleasant peninsula that is Michigan with a view towards truly understanding what it is to watch Tiger baseball*.

*That my wife’s family happens to live on same peninsula, and that we had been planning to visit them this past weekend, ought to be regarded as mere coincidence.

As I say, I watched parts of about three or four broadcasts on FS Detroit for the purposes of this review — including the May 24th game, at home versus Tampa Bay, with particularly close attention.

The FS Detroit broadcast team is composed of play-by-play man Mario Impemba and color commentator Rod Allen. Regarding the studio hosts, there are either one or 100 of them. But they’re all giant, large men with strange haircuts, is what I can say about them.

So far as analysis goes, there’s a marked difference between that which Impemba and Allen provide.

Impemba, the play-by-play man, appears to read almost verbatim from the Game Notes supplied by the team’s media relations department. In the May 24th game, for example, he cited Miguel Cabrera‘s average with runners in scoring position so far this season, Evan Longoria’s performance against Justin Verlander in just 14 career at-bats, and Wade Davis’s rookie-leading win total last season (as a signifier of that pitcher’s success).

While it’s inarguable that these things are true, it’s also difficult to regard them as anything besides what they are — namely, trivia. As I hope I’ve stated at least once in these broadcast reviews, it is absolutely not the case that a broadcaster needs to cite advanced metrics in order to satisfy the curious fan. In fact, those broadcasters who best do their jobs — Bob Uecker, for example, or Vin Scully — frequently omit statistical analysis almost entirely from their game narratives.

The point is, small-sample stats add little to a broadcast. They either (a) mislead the audience into believing that said stat is significant in some way or (b) annoy those who have some notion of sample-size reliability. In the best case scenario, they are mere content fillers.

For his part, Rod Allen appears to be a case study in the possibilities of observational — as opposed to statistical — analysis. At one point, for example, Impemba made a comment about a slump that Longoria was in — like, 5-for-30 or something. That could be a legitimate slump, of course, but it could also be the product of randomness. Going 5-for-30 gives one a .167 AVG; going 9-for-30, a .300 AVG. If only four hits separate a player from a .300 AVG, it’s prudent not to conclude too much from the numbers.

However, at one point, Longoria swung sort of clumsily at a 3-1 pitch (a fastball, I think) low and out of the zone. Allen noted it, saying something like, “That’s not a pitch that Evan Longoria, when he’s going well, swings at.” For me, that’s a valid comment, and it illustrates something that merely citing a player’s last 30 at-bats can’t.

In the time that I watched, Allen made a number of these simple, but elegant, observations. On the first pitch of the game, for example, Justin Verlander threw a fastball at 91 mph. Per FanGraphs, Verlander is averaging 95 mph on his fastball — i.e. a pretty different speed. Allen made note of this, however, saying that Verlander and Tiger pitching coach Rick Knapp had specifically discussed the virtues of throwing the fastball at different velocities — especially earlier in games. This is the sort of information that a team-oriented (as opposed to national) broadcast should offer.

Allen also noted that Damon’s success with Tampa Bay this season — relative to his 2010 with Detroit, that is — might have something to do with the fact that he (i.e. Damon) is in his second full year of DH-ing. Though I can’t seem to find the research just this minute, I recall a study which found that the offensive penalty for DH-ing is actually pretty similar to the penalty for pinch-hitting. Therefore, that a batter might perform better in his second year of DH-ing seems wholly plausible.

My brother-in-law, with whom I watched a number of these games, assures me that Allen and Impemba sometimes get a little goofy in the press box. He cited a recent episode, for example, when Allen described Brandon Inge as a freak, after the latter had made an acrobatic play. Apparently, there was an amusing exchange between Allen and Impemba after that.

Because he watches more Tiger broadcasts than I do and because he’s my brother-in-law, I’ll believe him. However, in the four or so games I watched, there wasn’t much in the way of spirited banter. Which, that’s not to say there’s no chemistry between Impemba and Allen, but just that they add little beyond what the game itself provides.

At one point, Impemba noted all of the players on Tampa Bay’s roster — including starter Wade Davis — who hail from Florida. I don’t recall him building on that thought, however.

Finally, it should be noted, that Mario Impemba looks like one of the Fratelli brothers from 1985’s adventure-comedy The Goonies.

Regional Flavor
The animated tire in this commercial has an impressive baritone:

Final Thoughts
Allen and Impemba are watchable — which, that’s not an insignificant accomplishment. The latter does fine in terms of calling the game, but adds little else. Allen is actually a pretty competent analyst, and seems able to ground his observations in a larger analytical context.

Grade: 3 (out of 5)

Now, here’s a poll!

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

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12 years ago

Allen seems to catch a lot of flak from Tigers fans who think he’s dumb and adds nothing of use to a game broadcast, but I quite often enjoy him. He has some pretty good observations, including one he had yesterday or the day before about Longoria’s swing which he lated elucidated with video. It was informative and much more interesting, to me, than Mario reading off Longoria’s stats since returning from injury.

I find Mario to be bland and much prefer his predecessor, Josh Lewin. I think Lewin and Allen would have been an amusing play-by-play/color man combo.

12 years ago

If you watched him enough, Lewin had a capacity for being slightly irreverant, both toward his partners and the team he was covering.

Nothing overt, and those with a sense of humor probably found it amusing, but I wonder if the stuffed shirts who do the hiring did not like it.

Just spitballing, because I agree, I find him to be a very good broadcaster.

12 years ago

Did Lewin get fired with the Rangers? I wasn’t aware of that. I thought he was pretty popular there, at least amongst the fans.

Paul Sporermember
12 years ago

I don’t think Lewin was *fired* per say, so much as he was redistributed within the Dallas/Fort Worth media market (to radio, I believe). It’s a damn shame they went away from him in favor of John Rhadigan.

I also agree with the notion that Lewin/Allen would be a great combo. That said, I do like Impemba/Allen just fine. I started off not much caring for Allen, but now I love him.

Despite not being married to any of your kind, but having watched 120+ telecasts a year for several years now (6+), you’ll have to take my word that there is in fact plenty of the playful banter between the two that puts Allen in his wheelhouse and loosens Impemba up a bit.

I certainly won’t let the homerism overwhelm to the point that I’d rate my favorite team’s guys atop the list, but I do think they are a solid duo that should easily rate upper half among the league’s 30.