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savafan
07-10-2009, 01:46 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/sports/baseball/10cameras.html?_r=2&hp

By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: July 9, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — As baseball’s statistical revolution marches on, the last refuge for the baseball aesthete has been the sport’s less quantifiable skills: outfielders’ arm strength, base-running efficiency and other you-won’t-find-that-in-the-box-score esoterica. But debates over the quickest center fielder or the rangiest shortstop are about to graduate from argument to algorithm.

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.

Teams have begun scrambling to develop uses for the new data, which will be unveiled Saturday to a group of baseball executives, statisticians and academics, knowing it will probably become the largest single advance in baseball science since the development of the box score. Several major league executives would not publicly acknowledge their enthusiasm for the new system, to better protect their plans for leveraging it.

“It can be a big deal,” the Cleveland Indians’ general manager, Mark Shapiro, said. “We’ve gotten so much data for offense, but defensive objective analysis has been the most challenging area to get any meaningful handle on. This is information that’s not available anywhere. When you create that much data you almost have to change the structure of the front office to make sense of it.”

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.

Bob Bowman, the subsidiary’s chief executive, said he hoped to have meaningful data flowing by the end of this season from the San Francisco installation, and from all 30 stadiums in 2010. The data could be made available to the public on a subscription basis, Bowman said, although what data is released and in what form could be affected by clubs’ competitive concerns.

Bowman said he preferred the data be more open so that statistically minded fans and academics could brainstorm ways to wring useful information from what would become petabytes of raw data. Software and artificial-intelligence algorithms must still be developed to turn simple time-stamped x-y-z coordinates into batted-ball speeds, throwing distances and comparative tools to make the data come alive.

“It will give fans other things to argue about and discuss, and highlight details of the sport that you hear about a lot but don’t know too much about,” Bowman said. “It has broadcasting applications for graphics, things like that, and also has real-world applications to teams who have to evaluate players.”

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, “There is nothing on earth anybody can do with fielding,” all these pixels and bits will almost certainly revolutionize the analysis of baseball glovework. Even the most traditional fans may appreciate the importance of on-base percentage and other modern offensive statistics, but they still rate fielders by errors and fielding percentage, which are about as computationally sophisticated as a horse clomping its hoof.

The primary job of a fielder is to turn batted balls into outs: an infielder by gobbling up ground balls and throwing them to a base, and an outfielder by catching as many fly balls as possible. But errors (and the rate of not making errors, which is fielding percentage) measure only a fielder’s glaring mistakes — they ignore the more important matter of who reaches balls that others do not.

Fans and team executives have recently developed systems to track how many balls are hit to each area of the field, where fielders are positioned and whether balls are hit hard, but they rely on eyeballed estimates. The new camera-tracking system will assess it all to the inch.

“It’ll be neat to find out what the numbers are,” said Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells, who is known for smoothly tracking down deep fly balls. “It can be another tool to help you improve in areas of the game. People will learn about playing defense, which has gone by the wayside as people have cared so much about offense and hitting the ball out of the ballpark.”

Not that all players welcome the new numbers. A few lockers down, Wells’s teammate Scott Rolen — whose excellent defense and base running would presumably be evidenced by the tracking system — said: “I don’t believe that baseball is a game that can be encapsulated that way. That’s the beauty of the whole game.”

Certainly, some fielding matters will defy quantification, like Derek Jeter’s famous grab-and-flip to catcher Jorge Posada that saved a game in the 2001 playoffs. Yet baseball’s delicate balance between statistics and aesthetics will continue to sway. If nothing else, we will finally know who really is hitting line drives directly at fielders, and who is just making excuses.

“I would say it would be threatening to more scouts than not — here come the stat rats,” said the Houston Astros’ Paul Ricciarini, now in his 35th year of scouting. “It’s the same diamond and same distances between the bases, but the way the game changes from generation to generation, you have to adapt with it. I’m confident that I can be accurate in judging players. But history has taught us that that’s not always the case.”

dougdirt
07-10-2009, 03:21 AM
I simply can't tell you how excited I am for Hit F/X to come out. We already have a sneak peak at it, but when it gets to all of the parks, its going to be exciting. In about 2 years we should have reliable data to work with from it too as all of the 'bugs' should mostly be either taken care of or at the very least, correctable by people far smarter than I.

jojo
07-10-2009, 07:34 AM
I simply can't tell you how excited I am for Hit F/X to come out. We already have a sneak peak at it, but when it gets to all of the parks, its going to be exciting. In about 2 years we should have reliable data to work with from it too as all of the 'bugs' should mostly be either taken care of or at the very least, correctable by people far smarter than I.

Yes! Hit f/x is pretty exciting to think about.

lollipopcurve
07-10-2009, 08:25 AM
Now they're getting somewhere. Should be very interesting to see what gets coughed up.

reds1869
07-10-2009, 09:12 AM
Pretty exciting stuff. On a side note, I highly recommend Mr. Schwarz's excellent book The Numbers Game. It is about the history of baseball statistics and would be right up the alley of most on this board.

nate
07-10-2009, 09:52 AM
I'm waiting for Beer F/X myself.

Eric_the_Red
07-10-2009, 09:54 AM
I've always liked Das EFX.

Roy Tucker
07-10-2009, 10:04 AM
Cool. I'd like to see the technology.

traderumor
07-10-2009, 01:12 PM
The primary job of a fielder is to turn batted balls into outs: an infielder by gobbling up ground balls and throwing them to a base, and an outfielder by catching as many fly balls as possible. But errors (and the rate of not making errors, which is fielding percentage) measure only a fielder’s glaring mistakes — they ignore the more important matter of who reaches balls that others do not.You mean George Grande is wrong when he tells us that the opponent is a better team defensively than the Reds because they've committed fewer errors? ;)