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SABR convention's "New Technologies in Baseball" panel is exciting glimpse into future of analysis

Aug 10, 2010, 3:19 PM EDT

I’ll spare you most of the details of my trip to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention in Atlanta last week, but in terms of the actual baseball-related stuff the highlight for me was the “New Technologies in Baseball” panel.
Physics of baseball expert Alan Nathan was joined by Fan Graphs and Baseball Analysts writer Dave Allen, former The Hardball Times staffer and current Tampa Bay Rays baseball operations analyst Josh Kalk, Trackman business development director Rob Ristagno, and Sportvision video development director Rand Pendleton.
Allen took the stage sporting epic mutton-chops that, as Rob Neyer pointed out, made him look like Hyde from “That 70s Show.” Beyond that Kalk used props, including a baseball attached to a power drill that predictably malfunctioned and almost crippled Nathan. And last but not least, the technology shown, discussed, and hinted at was mind-boggling.
Over the past couple years MLB.com’s Pitch-f/x has changed the way many people analyze the game by providing previously unavailable details about pitching that turn “velocity” and “location” into a science. Field-f/x is now in the works, with the stated goal being to “create a digital record of all events” happening on each major-league field at all times. In other words, track everything. In truth a lot of the details went way over my head, but my mind was sufficiently blown.
Right now for each pitch thrown Pitch-f/x shows speed, location, release point, and movement. Field-f/x would take that and apply it to everything else, from batters and fielders to umpires and runners. What was the speed and trajectory of a fly ball? How was an outfielder’s jump on the fly ball? How precise was his route? How fast did he get there? What type of jump did the runner get? How quick he did move? Was an umpire in proper position to make a tough call?
And that vastly understates the potential impact because I don’t know or understand enough about the technology involved to do it justice and visual aids really made everything come to life, but I really think we’re on the verge of a huge shift in baseball analysis and the discussion panel has me very excited to see what’s next. If you think the depth of data available on sites like MLB.com and Fan Graphs right now are amazing, just wait until next season.
For more on what goes on at a SABR convention, read my recap.

  1. Detroit Michael - Aug 10, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    From reading various recaps, it sounds like Hit F/X and Field F/X are unlikely to result in publicly-available data, so I don’t see how this is going to change data on Fangraphs.com next season.

  2. Tim's Neighbor - Aug 10, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    This is very interesting. Even if it’s not public now, it will be at some point. I find the tracking of umpires positioning to be neat here. Most people have ZERO clue on umpire positioning (or mechanics or rulebooks, but that’s a different beast). This will at least give us an objective way to monitor umpires. To me, if an ump blows a call, he’d damn well better be in the right position. This can help show which umpires simply blew a call (which happens) and which ones are consistently lazy.

  3. James - Aug 10, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    It’s time for crazy-conspiracy-nutjob-fun-time hour:
    So let me get this straight… there is a technology that allows someone to digitally capture and analyze the movement of a group of people over a huge playing field?
    And then I remember that adage which says that technology only makes it down to the general public until after the military has had it for 25 years. So, if this is being used in baseball, shouldn’t we all realize that the government has been using this to capture and analyze the movements of foreign military, weapons systems, and entire populations… including our own people, for years?
    I’m usually not the wacko who points this kind of thing out, but man, that’s a little Orwellian even for me.

  4. mike wants wins - Aug 10, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    The Twins will use this in 2120 or so…..

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