New player technology changes the way coaches, players and fans understand America’s favorite pastime.
The modern-day baseball player has access to technologies that record every movement, distance and heartbeat — anything that can elevate his game. In the post-Moneyball era, however, coaches and fans are equally interested in a player’s performance stats.
That’s because the numbers can indicate everything from how well a player hits against a certain pitcher to whether the player should cover another position.
“There was a time a number of years ago where the original thinking was that Chase Utley was a remarkable second baseman,” said Vince Gennaro, president of the Society for American Baseball Research.
“We only learned later that he was much better positioned in that hole between first and second against left-handed hitters.” It’s insights like this, gathered from careful player tracking technology, that are changing the game.
This season, MLB Statcast, one of the most impressive athlete tracking technologies, is available for public consumption. Now, anyone can access information to help better understand the game–and how to stack a fantasy lineup.
MLB Network analyst Brian Kenny even described Statcast as “a revolutionary technology that will change the way fans around the world view our national pastime.”
Here’s how it works: Statcast combines two different systems in order to operate effectively in ballparks.
The first is TrackMan, which records the trajectory of the ball as it is pitched, hit or thrown around the diamond.
TrackMan does this by installing proprietary 3D Doppler radar hardware and software networks around MLB stadiums that track 27 different data points per play.
The second system tracks the players and comes from ChyronHego. It uses two sets of cameras spaced approximately 50 feet apart to capture stereoscopic video to create the illusion of three-dimensional depth from two-dimensional images.
These ChyronHego cameras help create Statcast’s 3D environment, which mirrors the human visual system.
This means the Statcast videos have 3D graphics that help fans easily see the movement of the ball or player, helping fans better understand a player’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities.
These 3D graphics are available in all Statcast videos and can be seen here.
Using these two systems, Statcast technology tracks a baseball player’s every move and all the baseball’s movements on the field.
For pitchers, this means Statcast records everything from the velocity of a pitch and the exact release point in relation to the rubber to the rotational data of the ball itself.
For hitters, the technology measures the velocity, launch angle and vector of the ball as it comes off the bat. Statcast even tracks the hang time and distance of a struck ball and the projected landing point of home runs.
Statcast tech really shines when it comes to displaying speedsters on the base paths and defensive gems.
For base-runners and fielders, the top speed to acceleration to first-step times are all recorded and tracked. This creates a wealth of previously unavailable information that can now be used to measure a fielder’s efficiency and a runner’s speed on the base paths.
All the information combined gives fans an insider look at their favorite players and teams. And they aren’t the only ones who have benefitted from the technology.
“It’s already changing the game,” said MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci. “Major League teams are using this to evaluate players and even to evaluate draft picks.”
Assessing player performance with these statistics is the next step toward transforming how teams manage their rosters.
For instance, a player who is known to make frequent diving catches in the outfield may actually be exposed for having a limited range and poor “route efficiency” when compared to another outfielder who has a better range and, therefore, does not have to dive to make a similar play.
Coaches may learn that the player who dives for the ball gets a late jump, has slow acceleration, exhibits poor route efficiency or is just flat-out slow.
It’s those types of insights that help a team pass on paying a well-known player big money, instead signing a lesser-known but statistically more impressive player to a bargain contract.
As with any new technology, however, there will always be those who are aware of its limitations and value the good old “eye test” method of evaluating players and their intangibles.
In a Washington Post article, Manager Matt Williams discussed the roll out of Statcast tech on its first night being used in a regular season game on April 22, 2015. He saw the technology as a great tool for scouting and evaluation, within reason.
“It’s a good tool for the folks watching tonight that they can see real-time why a play was made or not. Who had a good beat on it or not,” he said.
“The intangibles, nothing can measure that,” he continued. “It’d be interesting to see everybody’s reaction to it because it’s something new and a different way of looking at the game than most people are used to looking at this.”
Despite the debate over the merits of the technology as a viable assessment method, one undeniably positive aspect of the MLB making Statcast available for fans are the impressive visuals it generates.
Here are the five best videos from the season so far:
5. Some very detailed spin-rate stats of Mike Bolsinger’s pitches.
4. Michael Taylor shows off impressive route efficiency.
3. Yoenis Cespedes annihilates a home run ball.
2. George Springer saves the day by robbing a home run to win the game.
1. Giancarlo Stanton has insane bat speed, exit velocity and just overall power.