“The last refuge for the baseball aesthete has been the sport™s less quantifiable skills,” writes the New York Times’ Allen Barra. “Outfielders™ arm strength, base-running efficiency and other you-won™t-find-that-in-the-box-score esoterica.” Sadly for the Larry Bowas of the world, baseball execs are about to pay witness to defensive data Barra calls “probably become the largest single advance in baseball science since the development of the box score.”
A new camera and software system in its final testing phases will record the exact speed and location of the ball and every player on the field, allowing the most digitized of sports to be overrun anew by hundreds of innovative statistics that will rate players more accurately, almost certainly affect their compensation and perhaps alter how the game itself is played.
Which shortstops reach the hard-hit grounders up the middle? Which base runners take the fastest path from first base to third? Which right fielders charge the ball quickest and then throw the ball hardest and most accurately? Although the game will continue to answer to forces like wind, glaring sun and the occasional gnat swarm, a good deal of time-honored guesswork will give way to more definite measurements ” continuing the trend of baseball front offices trading some traditional game-watching scouts for video and statistical analysts.
The camera system has been quietly tested and refined in the San Francisco Giants™ ballpark this season by Sportvision, the Bay Area company that developed the yellow first-down line for football broadcasts and car-tracking software for Nascar races. Sportvision has worked with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the league™s Internet subsidiary, in the venture that will eventually cost upward of $5 million to install the system in all 30 stadiums, according to executives involved with the project.
In San Francisco, four high-resolution cameras sit on light towers 162 feet up, capturing everything that happens on the field in three dimensions and wiring it to a control room below. Software tools determine which movements are the ball, which are fielders and runners, and which are passing seagulls. More than two million meaningful location points are recorded per game.
A half-century after Branch Rickey harrumphed, œThere is nothing on earth anybody can do with fielding, all these pixels and bits will almost certainly revolutionize the analysis of baseball glovework.
I can’t wait for the above innovations to become part of the baseball mainstream. We desperately need a legit way to judge exactly who is faster retrieving a ball hit over his head, Nick Evans or Daniel Murphy.