TV: Chicago Cubs

Flagship: Comcast Sportsnet Chicago

PxP: Len Kasper

Color: Jim Deshaies

Reviewer: Eric Olney

Category: Play by Play
Grade: 50

The division of labor between Kasper and Decades is standard, with Kasper taking the laboring oar on the play by play with Deshaies chiming in.

With more than a decade of experience, Kasper displays adequate polish as a play by play broadcaster. His word-choice is apposite, his cadence is easy on the ear and, for the most part, he focuses on the salient game details. There are times when his instincts lead him astray—for example, the misjudgment of a routine flyball out, his vocal pitch rising to prepare the listener for an extra base hit and then falling suddenly in the awkward moment when it became apparent that there would be no such hit. Also, his enthusiasm and excitement is mostly correlated to the importance of the moment.

That said, Kasper’s cookie cutter approach to broadcasting leaves the listener wanting more. He lacks the intangibles that distinguish the great broadcasters from the rest: wit, the turn of phrase, genuine emotion, or other characteristics that could be described as unique. He fills the space during a three hour game with the appropriate words and tone, but he does little more than that.

Category: Color Commentary
Grade: 50

Jim Deshaies provides the color on the Cub’s broadcasts. A former major league pitcher, Deshaies is at his best when addressing the interaction between pitcher and catcher and between pitcher and hitter. He is an exceptional arbiter of pitch quality of and pitch sequencing, and with many at bats he supplies a nuanced and compelling narrative about what the pitcher, catcher and hitter are all doing. As for the other aspects of in-game analysis—for example, the particulars of baserunning, situational hitting, defensive shifts and player psyche—Deshaies performs adequately, though the level of insight does not match his stellar pitching analysis.

Deshaies is likeable, but at times his delivery is forced and grating, which can distract from the substance of his commentary. Like Kasper, despite having the right words, it feels as though something is missing from Deshaies on an emotional level. Even though he clearly enjoys and respects the game, he ultimately sounds like someone trying to perform the role of a major league color commentator instead of effortlessly inhabiting that role.

Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Grade: 45

The broadcast team is essentially the sum of its parts. Kasper speaks, and then Deshaies speaks. Their styles do not clash, nor do they complement each other. There is nothing unfriendly about their interactions, but neither do they seem especially well-suited to one another. So, Kasper and Deshaies work fine as a team, but there is nothing in particular about their combination that would entice viewership, beyond what each of them individually brings to the table.

Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Grade: 45

Even when the Cubs were winning, beneath Kasper and Deshaies’ outward expressions of excitement undertones of disappointment could be detected at times. It is unclear whether this is endemic to this particular broadcast team, or is instead the result of the Cubs’ 2013 season, which was already lost by midseason. There was certainly nothing egregious about their demeanor—neither announcer ever deviates from the standards of professionalism—but it felt as though 90+ games into a losing season, they had begun to go through the motions.

Both Kasper and Deshaies seem like good people attempting to be enthusiastic about the games, but they lack a sense of humor and the ability to engage in banter. This deprives the Cubs broadcast of the charm and comic relief that benefit other broadcast teams. In fairness, there were some light moments during the broadcasts that were reviewed. For example, Deshaies drew some laughs in remarking on an opposing manager’s overreaction to the home plate umpire’s shrinking strike zone. Likewise, on a road trip to Los Angeles, Kasper peppered the broadcast with commentary about notable California-based musical acts. But overall, viewers should expect entertainment only from the games themselves, as opposed to the broadcasters’ take.

Category: Analysis
Grade: 35

The main knock on the Cubs crew is their deficient analysis of player and team performance. The “statistical analysis” generally consists of tidbits and trifles with too-small sample sizes. Occasionally, the team will take a stab at an advanced statistic. For example, in one broadcast, the crew was attempting to analyze a pitcher’s first half struggles. While the pitcher’s peripherals strongly suggested bad luck, Kasper and Deshaies discursively avoided that reasoning for some time until Deshaies finally noted the high BABIP.

Deshaies tends to overemphasize the manager’s influence on a game, and in particular platoon matchups and managerial decision-making in the late innings. At one point, he observed that “it’s the player’s game until the 7th inning, but the manager’s game from the 7th inning on.” Deshaies’ overall failure to embrace recent advancements in evaluating player and team performance may frustrate more statistically minded viewers.

Category: Production Values
Grade: 55

The broadcasts’ production values are solid. The picture is crisp, and the producer excels at switching and adjusting the camera angles, with the right mix of close ups and wide angles tailored to the game situation. Likewise, the sound mixing and editing work well. The announcers, crowd and noises on the field are all at the right volume, and blend properly in the overall mix. The unobtrusive in-game graphics display the requisite information (score, number of outs, pitch count, etc.) without any distracting bells and whistles. In the games that were reviewed, there were no glitches (loss of sound, loss of picture, cuts to the wrong camera, etc.) Overall, the presentation was seamless and effective. 

Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Grade: 50

Commercialism is not a significant issue in the Cubs’ broadcasts. It exists, but is tasteful and does not materially detract from the viewing experience. For example, certain replays are “sponsored” by an advertiser, meaning that the announcers will introduce the sponsor while the corporate logo appears in the corner of the picture for the duration of the replay. During the broadcasts reviewed, this did not impede either the viewer’s observation or the announcers’ analysis of the replay.

One unique aspect of the Cubs’ home broadcasts is the “guest conductor”—a celebrity or notable person who leads the ballpark in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. Though the guest conductors generally are not selected for their vocal prowess—and the novelty may wear off for regular viewers—this can be an entertaining respite from the game action. The announcers also may interview the guest conductor during the seventh inning. The quality of the interview appears to depend mostly on the guest’s charisma and baseball knowledge. For example, during one of the games reviewed, Kasper and Deshaies did their best to keep the conversation going with an Olympic swimmer who, though good-natured, unfortunately had very little to say.

Category: Overall
Grade: 46

Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies are a likeable duo who supply most of the necessities of an in-game broadcast. Kasper’s play-by-play is pleasing to the ear, and Deshaies’ color commentary eschews the generic “rah rah,” focusing instead on the nuts and bolts of baseball. Deshaies’ pitching analysis is among the best in the game, and is where even seasoned baseball viewers are likely to learn something new watching a Cubs’ broadcast. Nevertheless, there are deficiencies in these broadcasts. The broadcast team’s overall failure to incorporate advanced statistical analysis detracts from the discussion of player and team performance. Moreover, though a certain level of emotional detachment would be understandable in light of the Cubs’ losing season, Kasper and Deshaies lack charisma and chemistry and, as a consequence, have difficulty truly connecting with the viewer.

 

About the author:

Eric Olney is an attorney living in New York City with his wife and daughter.  A lifelong participant and observer of baseball, Eric joined SABR in 2013.

 

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this evaluation are solely those of the author.  As such, the views expressed by the author should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), its board, or anyone otherwise affiliated with SABR.  Likewise, the conclusions included in these evaluations are not to be viewed or interpreted as official endorsements (or lack thereof) by SABR, or of anyone affiliated with SABR, of any particular broadcasters or broadcast organizations.

 

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