Well, this is something. At the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this morning, Bob Bowman — CEO of MLB Adavanced Media — announced that they are creating an entirely new model to capture data at the MLB level. And it sounds pretty great.
Here’s a video example of what MLB hopes to be able to do with this data.
And a few comments from people involved with the building of this product.
For instance, on a brilliant, game-saving diving catch by an outfielder, this new system will let us understand what created that outcome. Was it the quickness of his first step, his acceleration? Was it his initial positioning? What if the pitcher had thrown a different pitch? Everything will be connected for the first time, providing a tool for answers to questions like this and more.
There will be something for everyone, far beyond what has been available in the past. Miller Park in Milwaukee, Target Field in Minnesota and Citi Field in New York will be operational for this tracking in 2014. The plan is to start rolling out the rest this season so that all 30 ballparks are operational by 2015 Opening Day…
“There’s a speed component to the game from an offensive side, too. You can start to see how quickly they get down the baseline as they make contact, and as they hit a ground ball, or as they hit a double into the gap. If they didn’t score, we always say that the game is a matter of inches, well if he gets thrown out or he is safe at home, you can actually go back and measure it from an evaluation tool, and say, did he get a big enough lead, was he running hard enough, did he take the right angle, you now have the ability to measure that, which we’ve never been able to do.”
Five-time All-Star Steve Sax experienced the new data and said it will be a game-changer for players.
“Players today have really been able to take advantage of technology, and they’ve been able to see video before, during and after the game,” he said. “But this really does take it to a whole new level. They’re going to be able to measure distances, they’re going to be able to see it from different angles, and they’re going to be able to take their knowledge of what they’re doing, instantaneously, to a different stratosphere.
“This technology is outstanding to hitters, but it can also be a great help for baserunners. Not only for the players, but for the coaches as well. This tool can be utilized in gauging distances where it could never have been done before.”
This is what people have been imagining for years, and we’ve seen glimpses of what this kind of data could do with PITCHF/x from SportVision. However, FIELDF/x has yet to turn into a fully realized product, and it sounds like MLB has decided to go in a different direction, as this new data stream is being collected in partnership with Trackman, who use a radar-based system instead of the camera-based SportVision model. According to Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal, live tweeting the discussion from Sloan, PITCHF/x will remain active in 2014, but beyond that, its status is “TBD”. MLBAM’s announcement makes it seem like this is an entirely new product, not an add-on to existing F/x technology already in place.
Obviously, the big question from a public standpoint is what kind of access is MLB going to allow to outsiders. PITCHF/x gained hold in part because it was released publicly, but HITF/x was proprietary to the teams themselves, and FIELDf/x was certainly going to be as well. By creating one single data stream that incorporates all the aspects of that promised technology into one data feed, it seems that there could be an all-or-nothing outcome with this new system, where MLB either allows outside analysts access to the entire dataset or restricts it almost entirely to broadcasters and the teams themselves. While no concrete answers have been given to these questions, Bowman’s comments do make it sound like they plan for this data to have a high profile, higher certainly than tools like HITF/x have had during its existence. We’ll cross our fingers and hope that this new tracking system is both a tool for the advancement of understanding for team employees and general fans and analysts alike.
I’d expect to hear plenty more about this system in the days and weeks to come. While hopes for a system like this have been hanging around for years, this is perhaps the most concrete promise yet of a future with comprehensive data that could revolutionize how baseball is seen and discussed.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.