Every ballpark has them. Three cameras: Center field, behind home plate, and on the first base side. These aren’t your everyday TV cameras though. They track every pitch, send their info to a computer, which converts it through some process that’s probably way over our heads, and spits out the ESPN K-Zone, or FOX Pitch Trax, or Root Sports’ creatively named StrikeZone.
More importantly though, they are sent to MLB.com’s Gameday. Every single pitch is tracked for type, rotation, break, speed, and location—accurate within one inch.
With info about every pitch you can get all kinds of stats: What percentage of each pitch has been thrown in the game? How fast were the pitches? How far did they drop? How consistent were the release points? What is John Bowker’s average?
They’re all there (Bowker bats .500 against low and inside sliders). There are even hot and cold zones for pitchers too.
On May 9 last year, Jeff Karstens was on the mound in the top of the first inning. He threw an 89mph sinker—low and inside—and Juan Uribe grounded it through the left side of the Pirates’ infield, scoring Aaron Miles from third base.
It was a good pitch and one that Karstens probably would have thrown again had he been paying attention to Gameday. To that point in the season, Karstens had faced 28 batters with runners in scoring position. Overall, they were hitting .250 with nine RBIs. None of those runs had been knocked in on pitches in the lower half of the strike zone though.
But hey, that’s baseball.
Major League Baseball tried out the Pitchf/x system during the 2006 playoffs and has continued its use in every game since 2007.
But wait, there’s more!
So now Sportsvision, the company that figured all this stuff out (they’re the ones who put that yellow first down line across the football field too) is moving beyond this and into one of the most elusive statistical areas out there: Defense.
Building off Pitchf/x is Fieldf/x. This means the cool computer tracking stuff doesn’t stop when the ball reaches home plate.
Andrew McCutchen is on first base. Neil Walker at the dish. With Pitchf/x, we can see that Roy Halladay threw a 90mph fastball, low and inside (this is where you don’t throw a pitch to Walker… at least that’s what the data says).
But add Fieldf/x and we see this: Walker’s bat speed, how fast the ball was moving off the bat, the path of the ball, the distance it travels, and its landing point just short of the outfield fence. We see McCutchen’s reaction time, his top running speed (really fast), and how far he is ahead of Walker around the bases.
We also see the left fielder’s reaction time, his path, and speed to the ball. Once he gets to the ball we see his arm strength—based on speed of his throw to the relay man—how fast the relay man makes the turn, and how long it takes him to get the ball to the catcher who is standing between ‘Cutch and home plate.
If you like stats, your head may have exploded by now. But let’s take a step back. What Fieldf/x is doing is tracking every single player on the field, as well as the ball itself. Defense and base running are now just as possible to analyze as any other aspect of the game.
They have been testing this system out for a few years now, the Giants have been the lucky guinea pigs, and it will cost around $5 million to install in every MLB stadium. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any word on when it will be officially deployed, when the info will be available publically, or when it’ll be incorporated into Gameday (you know it will), but hopefully it isn’t too far off.