Possibly more than other sports played in public for adoring fans, baseball is a game of strategy and thought. It’s one where storylines exist and can change at any time, leading to memorable games that are discussed for generations.
Mark Simon has built his career telling stories about the game, adding data journalism with narrative skills to expand the drama beyond the diamond.
In 2016, Simon was working for a baseball publication and asked if he could do a player profile on pitcher Ryan Merritt.
“He was like the 15th or 16th or 17th guy on the staff. Due to a series of injuries deep in the playoffs, he was thrown in to pitch what was the Indians’ biggest game of the year, to try and win the pennant against the Blue Jays,” Simon recalls. The idea for the story was to dig into Merritt’s background and see if there were any parallels in his younger days that lined up with his moment in the spotlight.
“I reached out to people from his hometown and eventually got the best man at his wedding and his high school baseball coach. When Ryan was a kid, they used to throw rocks at trees. He could hit any spot he wanted on the tree,” Simon says. “In the game that day, Ryan Merritt pitched pretty well. He was able to put his pitches in exactly the right spot.”
The company where Simon works today, Sports Info Solutions, has a tool that allows researchers to pull data like that, showing the accuracy of a pitcher based on how many times his pitch meets the catcher’s glove.
“He rated in the 80th or 90th percentile for that,” something called pitch framing, Simon said. “That’s a piece of information, a piece of data, I wouldn’t have been able to get as Joe Ordinary Human Interest Reporter. I was able to combine the human interest aspect of the story with the numerical part of the story and combine it into something that, in the end, the baseball editor was pretty pleased with how it turned out.”
Simon spent 16 years at ESPN, including a stint co-hosting the Baseball Today. He’s also the author of The Yankees Index, Every Number Tells A Story.
Now Simon is the host of the Sports InfoSolutions Baseball Podcast, a clearly and simply named show that delivers what it promises by featuring baseball writers, broadcasters and players talking about the game they love.
“We try to have intelligent baseball conversations,” he says. “The other area we delve into with players is how do you do what you do on the defensive side. How are you able to make this catch that nobody else can make, how are you able to field this ball that nobody else can field? How are you able to do that pitch framing thing I talked about? Players are open and willing to talk shop like that because it plays to their strengths.”
This week, It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell is joined by Mark Simon, a statistics reporter for Sports Info Solutions and host of the platform’s baseball podcast. In addition, Simon just launched a media-focused podcast: The Journalism Salute.