Major League Baseball's Sports Analytics Deliver Next-Gen Stats

By Bob Wallace April 24, 2015

Get your next-gen stats here!

Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MBLAM) this week launched “next-generation” stats league-wide that it hopes will captivate TV fans, help commentators and attract those at the game – all while providing precious data for use by teams to evaluate the performance of their players.

Century-old (tried-and-true) performance stats have been augmented in recent years by numbers that give a more analytical view of pitching, fielding and batting. As was demonstrated in the baseball movie classic Moneyball, some MLB clubs started much earlier in the collection and analysis of player performance data – sports analytics - than others.

MLBAM is providing “next-gen” stats about performance on the field to enhance the fan in the stands and TV viewer experience. Frankly, both need improvement given the slow pace of the game, long duration of contests and the very limited camera angles that fans have endured over a 162-game regular season that already spans six months.

The stats are impressive, especially in the way they are displayed. Check it out (compliments of MLB).

Sports Analytics Spread

MLBAM created Statcast which it explains collects data using a tracking system made up of high-resolution optical cameras and radar equipment that has already been installed in every ballpark.

This tech-enabled tracking system precisely tracks the location and movements of the ball and every player out on the field at any time. Contrast that to the NFL’s approach which is based on RFID chips in players’ shoulder pads from league partner Zebra Technologies which also sells its solutions to businesses outside of the sports world.

Image via Shutterstock

It’s little surprise that analytics have made their way from the corporate world for decision making to the sports world for the same reason and for fan experience enhancement. Vaunted tech university MIT has been holding an innovative and comprehensive sports analytics conference featuring execs from pro and college sports, TV networks, technologists and vendors for nine years now.

In fact, at the most recent MIT conference, the highest honor – the Alpha Award for best Analytics Innovation/Technology - was given to MLBAM for its Statcast player tracking system.

The Stats – What’s New?

Here are two examples of what Statcast can provide viewers and game commentators:

  • Just how fast does a batted ball come off a slugger’s bat?
  • How much ground did an outfielder cover running down a deep fly toward the wall?

Here are some more, in greater detail:

  • What’s the “perceived velocity” of any pitch? This stat is the actual velocity adjusted with the release point. A pitch thrown from closer to the batter should appear faster than one released a few inches or more closer to the mound.
  • Delivery time and pitch “spin rate.” Statcast constantly measures the distance from a pitcher’s release point to the front edge of the pitching rubber. The company’s systems calculated the time it takes from the pitcher’s first movement toward home plate and the ultimate spin rate of that pitch.
  • Hitting data. Statcast also measures the velocity, launch angle and vector of the ball as it comes off the bat. From there, it will also track the hang time and distance that the ball travels, as well as a projected landing-point distance on home runs, according to MLB.com.
  • Base-runners and defensive stats. Statcast technology tracks baserunner’s first step times, top speed, and acceleration to analyze why a player was safe or out in stolen base attempts—this can also  analyze attempts to catch a ball in the outfield. The company claims it monitors “how far a player traveled on a given play, how efficient his route was in tracking a ball, transferring the ball from his glove to his throwing hand and the velocity of the ensuing throw.”

The Bottom Line

There may not be a better place than in a long-running, individual number-driven pro sport like Major League Baseball for next-gen stats. At the very least, they promise to help better engage fans watching games on TV.

Looking beyond numbers on a TV screen, however, sports analytics – fueled by these additional metrics – can greatly assist in the coaching of players and the evaluation of current and prospective players. Building a baseball team based largely on analytics is well beyond the concept phase, as the Oakland A’s player-turned-GM Billy Beane did this over a decade ago.

And as Brad Pitt’s character’s daughter in the movie sang: “just enjoy the show.”




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

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