Revolutionary New Data System Coming to Miller Park | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Over the weekend, MIT hosted the eighth annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. The purpose of the conference is to discuss the role of analytics in sports and has been deemed by Bill Simmons as “Dorkapalooza”. Think of it as a Comic-Con for sport nerds with everyone drooling over O-Swing% instead of Mass Effect cosplay. According to Chris Cotillo, the Brewers were one of thirteen MLB teams that were represented at the conference. Cotillo followed that up by tweeting this on Saturday —

That, in and of itself, is not news, but what came out of the conference later that day was huge. And the Brewers are right in the thick of it.

Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media, took to the stage at the SSAC to announce a new tracking system that’s being called “revolutionary”. Simply, the system places a handful of cameras around a ballpark. Through these multiple angles, a play, and player, can quickly be dissected like never before. It’s the now familiar Pitchf/x system on steroids, plus so much more. The new system also breaks down base running and defense routes in exciting new ways. So how do the Brewers factor into this equation? Well, Miller Park will be one of three stadiums (Citi Field and Target Field being the others) wired with this technology starting in 2014.

At this point, it’s unclear how prominent this new system will be next year. The FS-Wisconsin broadcasts could use the new gadgets, or Miller Park could only be a part of a beta-test before the system goes league wide in 2015. So while I can’t speculation on these specifics, I can break down exactly what the system can do. Let’s start by looking at the Pitchf/x system on steroids.

This tweet from Brian Kenny is what first grabbed my attention —

Quite the leap forward from simply seeing the path of the ball highlighted. While using the system this way will open up a treasure trove of new data, it’s ability to track base running and defense might have the biggest impact on a casual fan.

Here’s another tweet from Brian Kenny that shows the systems base running metrics –

The new system will not only highlight a player’s speed on the base paths but also how good of a route he ran between the bases. For years, coaches and announcers have talked about how important it is for a base runner to hit the inside corner of the bag. Now we will be able to see, and quantify, exactly how much of a difference that can make on a close play at the plate.

Finally, the aspect of the new system that got the most love yesterday was its ability to measure defense. Here’s a tweet from Zachary Levine that shows part of the system’s defensive capabilities –

But to get the full effect, check out Dave Cameron’s piece for Fangraphs and watch the embedded video. I want to believe the new system was selected for Miller Park solely to track Carlos Gomez’s outstanding defense.

As many have suggested, the new system could help break the common public perception that all diving catches are great defensive plays. With speed and route efficiency now easily available, and visualized, it can be shown that a good defender could have gotten to a ball while on the run, and it was a poor defender (whether by route taken, initial step, top speed, etc.) that had to dive because he barely got to the ball. There’s hope that this wealth of data could lead to a better understanding of defensive metrics, which could make WAR and other calculations more accurate.

While there’s still more unknown than known about the new system, its announcement has created quite a buzz. It’s exciting to see Miller Park getting in on the ground floor. Who knows how a year’s worth of these stats could affect the Brewers analysis of their players? As Dave Cameron said at the end of his piece for Fangraphs, “this is perhaps the most concrete promise yet of a future with comprehensive data that could revolutionize how baseball is seen and discussed”.

I, like many others, can hardly wait.

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