Friday, April 3, 2015

By Greg Bird, Columnist - 

Are you confused by DRS, UZR, and dWAR? Do these defensive stats frustrate you? Get ready for a whole new way to look at a player’s defensive prowess. Welcome to the era of Statcast. Beginning this year Statcast will be installed in all 30 stadiums and MLB Advanced Media will begin storing 17 terabytes of data a season about… well about everything!

I hope this article helps get you get ready for the exciting amounts of information we will have on all of our favorite players. At the Sloan Analytics Conference Commissioner Manfred announced all of the data Statcast collects will be available to fans beginning on opening day in all 30 parks. It is available in the Premium MLB At Bat app for your phone or tablet, through, and also through many regional TV broadcasts. It will be available to everyone, fans included, in real time. Be ready to see this on your TV screens and in your baseball discussions.

What does Statcast do? Basically through an array of cameras and radar it tracks every single player on the field and the movement of the ball. Statcast records all of this along with all speed and trajectory data related to the ball and each player for every game during every play. Everything that happens during a baseball game will be recorded in detail for all time. 

This means there are many new terms and ways of talking about players that we need to be prepared to understand. You may hear any one of these: “Chris Iannetta’s pop time was [c] seconds and he threw that ball at [d] MPH.” “Mike Trout’s first step was [w] seconds after contact, his route to the ball was [x]% efficient and he released the ball in [y] seconds at a speed of [z] MPH.” “Calhoun accelerated out of the box in [m] seconds reaching a top speed of [n] MPH. “Aybar scored on that single from second leading off [q] feet, accelerating in [r] seconds to an average speed of [s] MPH.” These are just some of the things you will hear. I use variables because we have very little idea what these numbers will be or what will even be a good number.

Phrases like these will become commonplace and will likely lead us to completely new statistics we otherwise would’ve never dreamt up. It will take time for this to take hold but the baseball vernacular will begin to change. We will finally be able to quantify what “a plus arm” really looks like. We will now know if that “web gem” was just because the player got a bad jump, took a bad route, and made up for it with his speed or because it was truly an amazing catch beginning to end. Statcast will finally tell us who is faster, Trout or Bourjos, and who really runs the bases better. The technology will certainly end some arguments but it will also start new ones we haven’t even thought of yet.

Some specifics we will know are routes to the ball and routes around the bases. Computers will calculate the player’s optimum route from their starting point to the ball. Statcast will then use the player’s actual route to compare and give us a percentage that represents their route efficiency. We will know every player’s acceleration in seconds to their top speed which will be expressed in MPH both for fielders and baserunners. In the field we will also know exactly how much distance each fielder covered to the ball and how long it took them to take their first step in seconds. 

When a player throws the ball from anywhere we will know the balls velocity in MPH and how long it takes for them to release the ball. On stolen bases we will know how long each catcher takes from when the ball hits their mitt to when they release it in their pop times. Additionally the exact path of the ball can be traced for us on the screen and is recorded in data form. 

There will probably be much more data available but for now this is what we know we will have in Statcast’s first year. This is an overwhelming amount of data that we’ve never really had about players. This data will serve to vastly improve defensive metrics and base running statistics. I believe many current metrics will disappear as they are replaced by new ones. If the current ones do continue to exist then the 2015 season will be the dividing line from which we won’t be able to compare stats from the pre-Statcast era.

Another thing that is very intriguing to our baseball operations department is that Statcast is going to be rolled out to all of the minor leagues as well. There is no exact date as to when that will be completed but it is being installed throughout this summer. We don’t know if it will be publicly available. We do know it will completely revolutionize player evaluation and development at the lower levels.

We are entering a new era of baseball. What we have previously known about defense and base running has been left to the trained eye of the scout. We have discussed players with imprecise terms. We have argued about who was a better defender, who has a better arm, who runs the bases better. Starting in 2015 we will be able to quantify everything. We will know who’s faster, who takes good routes, and who has a better arm and by how much. Welcome to the Statcast Era.
Love to hear what you think!

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