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Statistics in broadcasts? Fine, as long as you’re not just “throwing obscure percentages” at viewers

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There’s a story in the New York Times today discussing advanced statistics and how some broadcasters are trying (in some cases failing; in some cases wondering how to try) to integrate them into the telecast of ballgames. It has a particular focus on the Astros’ broadcasting team of Robert Ford and Steve Sparks, who are tasked with explaining the team’s new direction and management philosophy to Astros fans, much of which does include advanced metrics.

The story uses Indians’ broadcaster Tom Hamilton as a counterexample — someone who is loathe to go that route. His quote:

But some old-guard broadcasters have resisted adding obscure percentages and acronyms to their banter and game descriptions. Tom Hamilton, 58, who is entering his 24th year as the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians, said he believed listeners would rather hear stories from the clubhouse than statistics from spreadsheets.

“Nobody after a game is going to remember numbers you throw at them, but they might remember a story about a player,” Mr. Hamilton said.

This, in my view, evinces a total misunderstanding of how stats can and should be meaningfully conveyed to ballplayers.

Because, actually, Hamilton is right: if you just rattle off numbers at viewers, they won’t make any impact. Indeed, if I ran a broadcast team which I wanted to go a bit deeper into advanced statistics, I’d fire them if all they did was rattle off “obscure percentages and acronyms.” That’s boring. Rather, I’d want them to explain the concepts behind the numbers, even if they never mention the numbers themselves.

There’s no real need to tell viewers some BABIP stat if you’re explaining the idea that many pitchers have bad/good years because they have bad/good luck on balls in play and apply that to the guy on the mound. There’s no need to list the WAR leaders as long as you’re explaining to them that a players’ all-around play — defense, baserunning and offense — matter when comparing them to others. Yes, you note that those things are measured and, sure, if you’re comfortable with them and your listeners trust you you can eventually go down the road of listing leaders and stuff. But the key idea is to get at what those stats are describing, not the numbers themselves. You can hip your viewers to these ideas — many of which are totally intuitive — without throwing math at them.

I don’t care if a broadcaster ever even cites WAR or whatever. As long as he’s intelligently explaining baseball and is able to simply and entertainingly convey the concepts, it’s all good.

Orioles re-sign Paul Janish to minor league deal

SARASOTA, FL - FEBRUARY 28:  Paul Janish #15 of the Baltimore Orioles poses during photo day at Ed Smith Stadium on February 28, 2016 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Orioles signed free agent shortstop Paul Janish to another minor league deal on Saturday, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The contract includes an invite to spring training.

It’s hardly a surprising move for the Orioles, who have released and re-signed the 34-year-old infielder to multiple minor league deals over the past two years. A perennial Triple-A player, Janish slashed .242/.282/.303 with four doubles and a .585 OPS in two campaigns and 28 games with the Orioles. While he won’t be in line for a full-time role in the majors this season, he profiles as a solid defender and should give the team some infield depth alongside fellow veteran infielders Robert Andino, Johnny Giavotella and Chris Johnson.

Drew Smyly brings youth and experience to Mariners rotation

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Trades don’t surprise Drew Smyly anymore.

At age 27, the Seattle Mariners left-hander has been dealt twice. The first swap sent him from the team that drafted and developed Smyly, the Detroit Tigers, to the Tampa Bay Rays in midseason 2014. That trade landed star pitcher David Price in Detroit.

“I was surprised by that one,” Smyly said.

The most recent trade involving him came in January, when the Rays shipped Smyly to Seattle for three prospects in one of many moves by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Smyly immediately joined the Mariners’ projected starting rotation, and is having fun getting to know his new teammates at spring training by way of manager Scott Servais’ clubhouse icebreakers.

Servais thinks Smyly is a solid fit as a still young yet experienced pitcher.

“One, being where he’s at in his career age-wise and service time, he’s kind of at the point where, put him in the right environment … very good defensive outfield, he’s a fly ball guy, maybe he does step up and take the next step,” Servais said. “Getting out of the American League East certainly should help him, but there’s no guarantees. Our division’s pretty tough.”

Servais suggested that another Arkansas native, ex-big leaguer Cliff Lee, might have helped sell Seattle on Smyly. Lee is a former Mariner and the two share an agent.

Smyly went 7-12 in a career-high 30 starts last season in Tampa, but won five games from July 30 to the end of the season after starting out 2-11. From May 21 to July 18, he lost seven straight starts.

“Pitching’s tough, you know,” Smyly said. “To manipulate the ball, to make it do different things, to put it in the strike zone with hitters that know what they’re doing. … I just had a rough stretch but I show up at the field every day, play catch and work on my craft and you know, that’s going to turn around one day.”

The 32 home runs Smyly surrendered in 2016 figure to be reduced in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

“It can only help,” he said. “But it’s still going to be up to me to execute pitches and pitch well.”

Smyly is set to join the U.S. World Baseball Classic team shortly. Before that, he’ll make his first spring training start in the middle of next week.

“It’s an honor to be able to put your country on your chest and play with some of the guys on that team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it big time.”

NOTES: Servais plans to roll out what figures to be Seattle’s opening day lineup in the spring training opener Saturday against San Diego. It’s OF Jarrod Dyson, SS Jean Segura, 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, 3B Kyle Seager, OF Mitch Haniger, 1B Dan Vogelbach, C Mike Zunino and OF Leonys Martin. … Servais said Cano and Cruz will play a little more than is typical for early spring games, as the two will depart for the World Baseball Classic in early March. … LHP Ariel Miranda will start Saturday, then RHP Chris Heston Sunday, RHP Yovani Gallardo on Monday and ace Felix Hernandez on Tuesday.