When ESPN began the TMI Blog, it peaked my interest. Here is the world leader in sports beginning to incorporate advanced statistics and analysis into their baseball coverage. Fantastic! Well, my optimism had already been tempered a bit because of the "Hot Stove U" series where you were supposed to learn 30 things you needed to learn for the upcoming season. As it turned out, you learned 10 things you needed to know, 7 that are nice to know, and 13 things that pushed baseball analysis back 15 years (those numbers are unofficial, by the way). It allayed my fears, however, when I saw that the blog was going to be a combination of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, Sky Andrecheck, and Tom Tango. You can't go wrong there, right? After a few weeks of reading, I've decided that this may not have been the best idea.
1) The name is terrible. "The Max Info"? Really? They paid for that idea? They could have sent me $20, and I could have created a better title. Yes, I get it. TMI is IM code for "too much information", and this is a little play on words (or acronyms). Cute. And "The Max Info" is supposed to strike the reader in a reverse psychology type of thing, and the reader will realize this isn't "too much information" but the "information you need to know". See what I mean? This is way too involved. Come up with a catchy title, and add the information. The problem, anyway, is that most baseball fans will read it, associate it with "nerd sabermetricians who ruin baseball", and actually think it will be TMI, or extraneous information.
2) It hasn't exactly been just a combination of the people I mentioned above. In fact, it's been more of a showcase for the guys in the ESPN Stats and Info Department, and that's fine. It's ESPN's prerogative, because it is their website, to use their own people. Unfortunately, I worry about the associations people will make. Essentially, this blog promotes all of these statisticians as equals, and if you've read the blog, you've probably realized that the ESPN guys are still a step or two behind. But most readers will read the ESPN guys, understand them better, and agree with them, ignoring the other guys because they're talking about WAR and VORP. Which leads me to my third (and really most important) point.
3) Sabermetricians are bad promoters by trade (apparently). They are really smart people who have done absolutely marvelous work, but it appears that most of them have no idea how to market their ideas. It's unfortunate that you would have to "market" information, but everyone knows this is a marketplace. Go back and read the FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus stuff. Now imagine that you're a regular baseball fan who likes to watch baseball but doesn't pay attention to much more than the Sunday Night game. Or imagine that you're a 19 year old who is first hearing about this new analysis. Go back and read those same posts again. Would you understand it? There are no explanations of wOBA and WAR or how anyone came up with them. Why would anyone listen? ESPN, on the other hand, does a much better job. They're explanations, though (as stated previously) flawed, are more apt to gaining a wider audience, and if they're sticking with the ESPN writers, there's a problem.
Here's what you do -- EXPLAIN. And explain often. I realize it's a bit tiresome to keep reiterating over and over again the definitions and explanations of each of these statistics, some of which have been around for a decade or more. In my opinion, writers need to do it anyway and even on their own sites, but they need to do it especially ON SITES WHERE THE READERS HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. I can understand if you don't do it on your own sites. That's fine. People come to your site because they generally already know what you're talking about. I think it would still be helpful if you explained every once in a while anyway, but I get it. When, however, you write for a site with a different clientele while trying to promote yourself to a clientele that needs to be won over, you should probably go above and beyond trying to get your point across. The burden of proof is on you. The effort needs to be made by you (yes, they should make some effort, too). You are speaking Latin, and they're speaking in the vernacular. RBI is vernacular. All baseball fans understand it and what it means. wOBA is a foreign language. Don't dumb it down. Just make it so that even beginners will understand. In order for them to learn, you must teach. Eventually, you won't have to explain so much, but we're not there yet.
But here's the conundrum (remember, it was in the title). Though I don't think the blog has really done very much for the promotion of sabermetrics (I can't really say for sure because I don't have access to financial records, but with some tweaks, they might actually make more money), it still has promotional value. I saw a statistic somewhere that 99.4% of the people watching the World Series last year had never heard of Baseball Prospectus, and the TMI blog, and the Hot Stove U series, has undoubtedly decreased that number. And that's a great thing. The more people that know about these sites and these statistics, the better. I just think the blog and the people contributing to the blog could do a better job because it's a fantastic opportunity for everyone -- ESPN, the writers, sabermetricians, and the general audience.