Len Kasper is the television play-by-play man for the Chicago Cubs, and a longtime BP reader who raises the bar by bringing performance analysis to the booth. He stops by to talk baseball and broadcasting.
Len Kasper: Hi BP readers, thanks for inviting me to chat today. I'm ready to talk some baseball and more than happy to chat about the hottest team in baseball right now, the Chicago Cubs.
Tom (Arkadelphia): Lou Piniella has expressed a plan to rotate rest for his regulars. Has he said the same for Marmol and Wood who have eached pitched a lot in the last month?
Len Kasper: Hi Tom, Lou would like to give Marmol more rest in particular. He's a guy who has been used a lot lately with all the close games the Cubs have played. Ideally, Carlos could pitch in about 130 games, but we all know that won't work!
Nathan (Chicago): So, what does Brenly think whenever you say VORP?
Len Kasper: I don't know if I've ever dropped in VORP specifically, but I do try to explain some of the stats I mention. I think it's nice that on all our broadcasts, we include OBP on the lower third graphic when a batter comes up. Bob is definitely open to that stuff, which is great.
JWR (North Suburbs): If the Cubs make a deal at the trade deadline, what do you think would help them most to get "over the top?"
Len Kasper: I think it would be a middle of the rotation or (obviously preferably) a top of the rotation starter. The lineup has been off the charts good. The bullpen has depth. Zambrano and Dempster have been tremendous. Gallagher has been solid as the new 5th starter. The key now is for Lilly and Marquis to pitch their best. If that happens, the rotation is fine. If not, there's a need to maybe help that area, especially as you look ahead at a possible playoff series.
JWR (Chicago): Do you read Baseball Prospectus and regularly check out the BP website? In your opinion, what percentage of baseball broadcasters read the sabermetric sites?
Len Kasper: I do check it out a lot. I know of other broadcasters like my good friend Jon Sciambi who read it a lot. Not sure what the percentage is overall.
Scrapper (Itasca): Who would you say is the Cubs' MVP through the first two months of the season? Seems like there are A LOT of viable candidates.
Len Kasper: Probably too many good candidates to name (which is a great problem btw). If I had pick one, I'll go with Carlos Zambrano. He's 8-1 and has gotten off to maybe the best start of his career. You know he's going to give you a great chance to win every 5th day. Offensively, it's just too difficult for me to pick one guy. My honorable mention is Carlos Marmol.
mlochi (san francisco, ca): Are you skeptical about Ryan Dempster's hot start? He appears to have the "stuff" to perform as a high-level starter, but some of her peripheral stats are a bit alarming.
Len Kasper: Early on, his K/W ratio wasn't great and his BABIP was so low that you worried about it leveling off. But his K/W has gotten better, so I'm encouraged. He's been fantastic and if it continues, it's a huge boost for this rotation. He came into the season in fantastic physical shape and was really committed to making this work. I've been very impressed.
Rob (Bloomington, IL): Thanks for doing the chat, Len. What is your take on Lou's recent trend of double-switching Soriano out to get a defensive replacement in during the late innings? Is this something we'll be seeing all year, or just until Sori's legs are back to normal?
Len Kasper: I haven't asked Lou about it, but he's done it now the last 3 games. I guess as long as the Cubs lead late and Soriano's spot isn't due up soon, it looks like it's something Lou will at least consider moving forward. To Soriano's credit, he hasn't complained about it a bit.
mike (chicago): When you or Bob rip a player(well deserved) like he recently did with soriano, do you find it tougher to go into the clubhouse for a day or two? Especially after some thin skins in 2004 helped create your job opening.
Len Kasper: No, we do our same routine every day. That whole 2004 thing has nothing to do with us or what's happening now, in my opinion.
jlarsen (DRays Bay): As a baseball fan, namely a Cubs one, which feeling is worse....Fonzie having a defensive lapse on a game-breaking play or Kerry Wood blowing a save?
Len Kasper: Losing is never fun, but I think when you lose a game in the final inning (or give up the tying run in the last AB), it can be deflating. But think about what happened after that game in Pittsburgh--the Cubs have won 8 straight since. So, you feel bad about it for maybe a few hours and then you think about tomorrow. That's the great thing about this game.
Nathan (Chicago): What baseball books have you enjoyed outside of BP?
Len Kasper: I recently finished Feeding the Monster about the Red Sox and found it interesting. Most of the books I read are non-baseball books. I need to get away from it every now and then. I read so much baseball stuff on-line every single day that there are times when I need a breather.
jerome walton (cf): Which other NL Central team do you see being the Cubs' primary challenger from here on out?
I think the Reds are starting to look the most dangerous myself.
Len Kasper: Still not sure. I thought it was Milwaukee, but then I didn't think so. Now they've put together a nice little run. I didn't really consider the Cardinals when the season started and here they are in 2nd place. The Astros lineup is really good, but I don't know if they can pitch well enough. The Reds have some interesting young talent, but is it better than the Cubs' roster? Anything can happen, but the Cubs have the best team on paper.
Jeralynn (Nebraska): What's your favorite road stadium to visit as a broadcaster? Include any metric you think appropriate: fans, facilities, the ballpark itself, food, etc. And, boxers or briefs?
Len Kasper: AT&T Park in SF is my favorite on the road, followed closely by Dodger Stadium. The SF set-up as is similar to Wrigley Field as any park in the NL--smaller park, intimate setting, festive atmosphere in and around the park. And that view from the booth of the Bay is spectacular. Plus it's a great city to visit.
Rob (Bloomington, IL): What team did you grow up rooting for?
Len Kasper: I grew up in mid-Michigan rooting for the Tigers. One of the thrills of my life has been getting to hang around one of my childhood heroes, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell, who happens to be one of the nicest human beings on the planet and a terrific baseball man.
Brian (Lincoln, NE): You certainly know -- even if you don't brag as much as maybe you should -- that you are one of the most modern-thinking, stat-oriented broadcasters in the field today. Assuming your colleagues are aware of this difference as well, do the so-called New Schoolers and Old Schoolers ever discuss this great difference in philosophy? Could you take Joe Morgan in an arm-wrestling match?
Len Kasper: Brian, the key for me is to know when to pull back a bit. I don't want to just bludgeon viewers with stats because that can get pretty dull, even if you and I are into that sort of thing. It's still a game, one that is played on the field, not on the page. I do try to use the RIGHT stats as much as I can when I talk about what a player has done, but I never want to sit there and act like I KNOW what's going to happen just because the numbers say so. Every once in awhile, I'll set up a situation and it plays out according to the trends but there are other times when just the opposite happens. I guess the big thing for me is that every year I have a clearer view of this great notion: there's so much I didn't know, don't know and will never know. I'm always seeking clarification and I think Bill James has it right--just by asking lots of questions, we add to our knowledge base. We may not always get to the heart of the answers we're seeking, but at least we can ponder the questions. And I always try to keep that in mind. Along those lines (and I know I'm not really answering your question, but...) I really enjoy being around people in the game who feel the same way. Nobody has ALL the answers and if you think you do, you'll get caught in a trap that somebody can easily exploit at some point. So, i just try to view this thing through a gray lense so to speak and understand that a lot of it is over my head. But that then allows me to ask a lot of questions, which is really the essence of what I do.
Rado! (San Francisco, CA): having some technical errors?
Len Kasper: No, just giving a long-winded answer!
Rob (Bloomington, IL): How much more fun has Ron been this year compared to, say, 2006?
Len Kasper: Ron is always fun, but he's in a much better mood this season. He's the biggest Cubs fan I know and he inspires me every day with his amazing spirit and determination.
Glenn (NJ): Old Tiger Stadium or Wrigley Field?
Len Kasper: Wrigley Field. Tiger Stadium was great because that's where I first saw the game in person. But there's nothing like Wrigley and the neighborhood around it.
Glenn (NJ): Old Tiger Stadium or Wrigley Field?
Len Kasper: Wrigley Field. Tiger Stadium was great because that's where I first saw the game in person. But there's nothing like Wrigley and the neighborhood around it. Let me add, the corner of Michigan and Trumball will always have a special place in my heart.
Jack (Chicago): Was the Rockies comeback the other day one of the most exciting games you have ever been involved in? God paying us back for the sun incident in Pittsburgh?
Len Kasper: Yeah, that's a great point. As fans, we tend to remember the games that were blown and then NOT put the amazing comebacks on the positive ledger. You always go back and say, "If we only could have won that game in Pittsburgh!" Yeah, but what about the game we should have lost to Colorado???? It doesn't always even out, but ever team has games they blow and games they steal away.
CubbieAce (Chicago): What are your feeling about Ryan Theriot's start? Do you think he can keep it up?
Len Kasper: Ryan has been very impressive. I think Lou wants to give him more rest this season to avoid the fade he had at the plate in September last season. So far, so good.
Brian (Lincoln, NE): When I first started listening to you doing the Cubs, it seemed like you used the word "carom" more commonly than average. Lately though, I think it may have just been my perception. So, might as well ask: is there anything to my belief that you really like that word? (By the way, you're my favorite broadcaster in sports; just so you don't misinterpret this silly question)
Len Kasper: I'll try to drop careen and deflect a little more often to even it up, OK? I guess there are just certain words that come to mind faster than others. I do try to watch myself on that stuff and not get into bad habits, so thanks for the reminder. I was trying to drop in ladle the the other day and I never got it in, so maybe tonight ("Theriot ladles that groundball and throws to first").
Jivas (Oak Park, IL): Len - I've started a nickname for Carlos Marmol among my friends: The Wolf. The reason is, when he comes in the game I feel like Jules in Pulp Fiction when he finds out that Marsellus is sending The Wolf - totally at ease. Any chance you can help to spread the nickname? (Feel free to develop a more fan-friendly explanation, wolf in sheep's clothing, etc). Thanks!
Len Kasper: Interesting analogy.
My favorite line:
"Zed's dead, baby"
Mike (Chicago): As a cub fan it's kind of funny, but Aramis Ramirez has been here 5 years and I've hardly ever seen him quoted or interviewed. Probably my favorite cub hitter to watch, what's he like off the field?
Len Kasper: Very quiet. I get along with him great. You're right, he flies under the radar. He's one of the best players in the game today and doesn't get enough credit because of what you mentioned.
Jim (Fort Wayne ): Does this year's team really get along as well as it appears on tv? I know winning helps, but the guys actually look like they like each other.
Len Kasper: Yes, but that's overrated when it comes to winning baseball, in my opinion. I don't think it's required that guys like each other in the clubhouse. I fully believe in the idea that winning leads to chemistry, not the other way around. I don't care who you are, when you win, it's a great clubhouse period.
Rob (Bloomington, IL): You and Bob been playing that game where you have to drop in crazy words during the broadcast again?
Len Kasper: I tried it my first year and I dropped it because it felt a little forced. Fun idea to try but I don't ever want to jam stuff in that doesn't fit.
Zigz (Glen Ellyn): If you could see any band play in Wrigley, who would it be?
Len Kasper: Lots of choices, but I'd go with Led Zeppelin. How cool would that be???
mzpejp (San Diego, CA): How do you balance the desire to openly root for the Cubs and the need to appear somewhat objective on the air?
Len Kasper: People know we want the Cubs to win, but the key for me is to always be fair. You have to call it straight when it comes to what happens on the field. I think we're allowed to get excited or frustrated, but I don't want to ever be the broadcaster who overestimates his team and downplays the other just because they're the "enemy" or whatever. If the other team is good, you have to say it and if your team isn't, you can't lie. The numbers simply don't lie and if your team is in last place, you can't hide that fact. Thankfully, the Cubs aren't in last and it's definitely more fun when you're in first.
Dave (NYC): Not that the Cubs need a new GM, (but hey, none of them last forever) but have you found that your style of broadcasting has rubbed off a little on the Chicago print media to the point that if the Cubs ever hired a sabermetrically inclined (a DePodesta type) GM he might be given a little more leeway from them today than he would have five years ago?
Len Kasper: No, my style has no effect on anyone else in the organization or covering the team. I just do what I do because that's what makes me comfortable. I get into philosophical debates with people at the park every day and I enjoy the back and forth. Many agree with things I throw out there and many think I'm crazy. But that's the fun of it. Again, I like to ask the baseball people lots of questions because the answers and theories are much more interesting to me than what I think about it.
Along those lines, the Cubs front office is a joy to be around. Jim Hendry and his team of assistants, including Randy Bush, Oneri Fleita and Chuck Wasserstrom, have put up with my plethora of questions for years and they always take the time to give me thoughtful answers, which I totally appreciate.
My broadcast partner Bob Brenly has taught me more about the game the last 3 1/2 than I can quantify and Ron Santo and Lou and his coaches are always eager to break down the game with me, which I appreciate so much.
cbelford (chicago): Len, are we going to see you at the Sloan show at the Double Door this month?
Len Kasper: My intention is to be there yes. Love their new record, which I've heard. I think it comes out soon. The first track is killer.
Glenn (NJ): What's the sports talk radio sceen like in Chicago? We have "Mike and the Mad Dog" here and after listening to them for a while, I feel like any progress that's been made by sites like BP is completely wiped out by guys like this. Their ratings are off the charts and people feel like they're being educated by these clowns. I don't get it. Is there hope from this medium?
Len Kasper: There is progress and his name is Jon Sciambi. He's not currently doing a talk show, but if anyone ever heard his show in Miami, it was as smart and fun as anything on the air anywhere. Again, full disclosure, he's one of my best friends, but he's also brilliant and so thoughtful about every sports topic out there. Boog, we miss you!!!
Carl (Dayton, OH): Lounge love to Len. Do you see any logical reason for the heavy home/road splits for the Cubs? It seems in years past the Cubs used playing day games at Wrigley as an excuse as to why they weren't winning. Now, playing there seems to send them into overdrive. Your thoughts on that?
Len Kasper: No clue. You guys are the brains here...any thoughts?
Al (Montreal): You mentioned that you'd like to see the Cubs get another mid-level starter before the deadline. What's your take on Rich Hill maybe being that guy?
Len Kasper: I wish it could be him. At this point, he's a long way away from returning. He can't seem to find his command and that's a big problem.
Brad (NY): Do you get a chance to interract much with Fukudome? It seems he has handled the transition to the US really well; would be curious to know your thoughts on his transition.
Len Kasper: He's been a dream, just a total pro. I think he likes playing at Wrigley Field and seems to keep everything on an even keel. No weaknesses as a baseball player that I can tell, aside from the occasional struggle vs. a LHP, but that's not uncommon for a LHH. I just looked and his OBP vs. LHPs is .400, so overall, that's not an issue at all.
jlarsen (The 'Burbs): In regards to your "winning leads to chemistry" remark, I think that's kinda iffy. Look at what is happening with the other 1st place team in Chicago, it seems like it's kinda cut-throat in the clubhouse.
Len Kasper: Here's the thing though, and I haven't followed them that closely, but are you saying that the clubhouse stuff ACTUALLY AFFECTS their play? The Ozzie comments have garnered a lot of attention, but could it be that the environment in the clubhouse has resulted from the play on the field, not the other way around?
Andrew (Dwight, IL): While watching sports broadcasts with friends, one or more of us will inevitably point out mistakes, errors, etc made by broadcasters. Immediately that criticism is followed by "but no way I could ever be a broadcaster!"
Just how difficult is broadcasting day-in-day-out?
Len Kasper: Oh, it's like any other occupation. It requires a lot of prep and experience to do well. It's live TV and mistakes will be made. I said something the other day that I never even realized I said until I saw a replay later, so that comes with the territory. The one thing I strive for is accuracy and I'm not above saying, "What I just said is wrong...this is the correct number" or whatever. It's imperative that I try to get it right and if I end up pointing out my own mistakes, so be it. I think it earns trust with your viewers that you're not just trying to look good by covering up your gaffes.
james (logan square): No offense, but I find it a little weird that you and Sciambi are so tite due to the remarkably similar appearance between you two. Separated at birth?
Len Kasper: LOL!
Sean (Palos Heights): Do you pick the song that plays during the fan cam spot? Are you ever given the AFLAC answer ahead of time?
Len Kasper: Despite popular belief, I do NOT pick the fan cam song. I do give our producer Pete Toma suggestions and many times he picks them, but he's the person in charge of choosing the fan cam tune.
Yes, sometimes I get the answer.
john (ct): Does Santo ever make the HOF?
Len Kasper: I truly hope so. He deserves it.
Colin Wyers (Davenport, IA): How does Soto not get mentioned as a candidate for MVP? For him to do what he's been doing on offense is just outstanding.
Len Kasper: You're right. Like I said, too many candidates to mention. I shouldn't have answered the other question, because now I've offended the 23 Cubs I didn't nominate!
Len Kasper: Thanks for having me along today. Bob and I are having a blast on the air this year. As you can tell if you watch us, Bob is amazing...hip, funny, analytical, laid back. I'm very, very fortunate to be able to sit with him and call games for the best fans on the planet.
I'm not into advice-giving, but here goes: keep asking questions...and when you draw your conclusions, leave yourself some room in case somebody comes up with something either better or something that you can add to the mix. I love checking out the blogs, but I get a little disheartened at all the stubborn vitriol that I read (not here, but just about everywhere else I go on the internet). I know some of this gets emotionally-charged because we're all fans at heart, but I think if we all just try to keep an open mind, it will lead to less...for lack of a better term, meanness. Hope that makes sense. I think if we all were required to attach our real name to our internet comments, the discourse would be more civil. Anonymity can breed some pretty vicious stuff. OK, off my soapbox...talk to you soon!