With the baseball season well underway, Funsherpa chats with ultimate fan, scout, New Jersey resident, and baseball statistician, Robbie Knopf. Discover what drives fans like Robbie and some crazy baseball stats below!
When did your passion for baseball begin?
My family has been baseball-crazy for a long time. My great-grandfather named my grandfather after a player on the New York Giants baseball team! My dad and now me have really grown up around the game, lucky enough to go to games several times per season. I’ve been wearing various baseball paraphernalia since I was baby. My first real experience that I remember was attending a Yankees-Angels game when I was 6 years old (I guess my dad wasn’t a “bring your baby to the game” type) and while I saw other kids around me really dreading the whole stadium atmosphere, I was hooked from the start. I’ve been passionate about baseball basically ever since and that was only amplified when I began doing some baseball writing.
What are some of the great baseball joints in NYC? Any recommendations for places to go for anyone who is not a Yankees or Mets fan?
I’ve honestly never been a sports bar kind of guy, preferring more to watch games at the stadium or at home, especially with friends. I will say that I’ve always liked the area around Yankee Stadium with the shops and bars and everything, and as long as you’re not wearing a Red Sox cap (or in some cases a Mets cap), you should be fine. There’s no real Rays-Yankees rivalry right now (maybe if the Rays can turn their season around this year, it will start brewing), and when they see you in the Tri-State area, they’re surprised that you even exist- the Rays aren’t exactly known for their fans. In general, the fans around Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are pretty civil to most opposing teams, and as long as you don’t do anything stupid, you should be fine.
We understand you are quite obsessed with baseball statistics. What are some of your favorite random stats? Which ones are the key factors for you in rating a player?
The first big question for baseball fans is whether to accept the advanced statistics. Then the second question is how far you want to go. My general rule is to only use statistics that I understand and could calculate myself when possible. That being said, I’ve been known for using some crazy stats. One time I talked about a defensive stat called “held rate” when talking about Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford and I got made fun of quite a bit by the Red Sox blogosphere (although the entire article was a joke). Another crazy stat I have used is extra base taken percentage, a baserunning statistic (and one that I’m about to use again right after I send this in). But the one that I quote the most often that is pretty crazy is BAbip by batted ball type, basically how often groundballs, flyballs, and line drives turn into hits but then I start talking about how often there were extra-base hits and singles and take the data into all sorts of bizarre directions.
When I’m evaluating players, there’s three big things I take into account: results, luck, and potential. I look at the statistics for players and then I have to see how luck affected their statistics, whether in a positive or negative way, to see how sustainable their performance is. But then another thing that has to be taken into account is the players’ potential, or on the opposite edge of the spectrum, likelihood to decline, and attempt to figure out how that will affect their future statistics. An example of a “peripheral statistic” that I’ll look at to try to determine how lucky or unlucky a player was is the BAbip by batted ball type.
Quite often I look at the stats but then completely throw them out the window, at least temporarily, and watch the players and read scouting reports from others to get a better feel for just how good they are now, what they have the ability to improve on, and just how good they have the ability to be someday. I love statistics, both baseball-related and otherwise, but I have finally drilled into my head that not everything is statistics and you have to evaluate players and situations in multiple ways. But sometimes scouting and statistics can collide, as statistics can highlight a flaw or underlying advantage in a player’s game that seeing that player can confirm. Another example is my favorite statistic of all, Pitch F/X data, which measures the velocity and movement (horizontal and vertical movement from the time the ball leaves the pitchers hand until it reaches home plate) and gives you a quantifiable idea of how a pitcher’s pitches move.
Is there anything that you’d like to see change in the way the game is played or run?
There are times in baseball where what happens drives you insane, whether it be a blown call by the umpire or the manager brings in a relief pitcher one pitch too late. But it’s all part of the game. There’s a human element to the game, as many people talk about, and you can’t get rid of that. I’m not a big fan of extending instant replay or anything like that (except for when a big call goes against the Rays).
One thing I would like to see is the game moving a little faster, with less time in between pitches and players who don’t undo and redo their batting gloves after every pitch. There’s nothing better in my mind than fast baseball. It’s nice for the anticipation to build up, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy watching baseball when the games get longer, but keeping it as short as possible keeps the players and fans more into the game and makes everyone happy.
We understand that the owners of the Rays are concerned about the viability of the Rays in Florida. What are your thoughts on this?
The problem with the Rays right now isn’t that they are in Florida, but more exactly where their stadium is. It is in St. Petersburg, 35 minutes to an hour outside of Tampa. Tropicana Field is out of the way, and making matters worse is that it’s an ugly stadium and people don’t particularly like going there. The Rays have good TV ratings and the fanbase isn’t really the major problem. The Rays hope to move to a better location with a nice new stadium closer to Tampa and that may very well solve most of their problems. But St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster has been resistant to letting the Rays leave St. Petersburg, especially considering the first Rays owners leased Tropicana Field until 2027. Right now, it stings me to watch a Rays game and see so few people in the seats, and I hope that the situation will be resolved before too long.
Outside of baseball, what keeps you busy? Any favorite spots for you in the NY area?
Baseball takes up quite a bit of my time, but I somehow take out time to play sports, sing in a couple of choirs, do some improv, and of course hang out with friends. Despite being a Rays fan living in the Tri-State area, I somehow ended up being a New York Giants football fan and I remain passionate about them (although not to nearly the same extent as for the Rays) and go to their games as well when I can. Metlife Field is great and up there with the baseball stadiums for me. I also like heading to the beaches, especially Jones Beach in Long Island, Madison Square Garden (probably saw that one coming), and I enjoy seeing shows on Broadway, and meeting up with family that is scattered across the area.