MLB’s collision between Statcast, data gathering, and the 20-second rule

MLB scouts collecting all that data (Photo: perfectgame.org)
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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will do anything to speed up baseball, including the use of a 20-second clock. Pity those poor statisticians if it happens…

Major League Baseball (MLB) needs people – lots of them. And if the 20-second rule ever goes into effect, MLB is likely to become one of the biggest employers in the United States. Here’s why…

For reference only, the following is excerpted from an ad that appeared on Fangraphs a while back. As you scan through, notice the use of the word reporting…

“The MLB Oakland Athletics are currently seeking a full-time Junior Analyst in the Baseball Operations R&D department. The Junior Analyst will have responsibilities that include performing statistical analysis and reporting

  • Produce statistical analysis and reporting for the front office and coaching staff.
  • Conduct research projects for various departments within Baseball Operations.
  • Collaborate with the research and development team on statistical modeling techniques and projects.
  • Assist with the capture and analysis of ball and player tracking technologies.
  • Assist the staff with ad-hoc analysis and reporting.”

Every big-league team besides the A’s employs a team within their team to “report” data to their Analytics Division. This, of course, becomes propriety information that is shared with no one.

Statcast will need more than Chyron Hego cameras

This means that Statcast is on its own and must hire people to work in their reporting factory. Lucky for Statcast, they use a combination of two different tracking systems — a Trackman Doppler radar and high definition Chyron Hego cameras.

This radar captures pitch speed, spin rate, pitch movement, exit velocity, launch angle, batted ball distance, arm strength, and more.

But as we know, MLB’s TV captains, Fox and ESPN, have so much more data they feel compelled to show us, even if it means split-screens are raping action on the field.

So, what I was wondering is – what’s going to happen with the collection of all this extra data when there are only 20 seconds to perform the task?

Here’s your assignment – you have 20 seconds – Go!

Consider the person who answered the above ad and is now hired by the A’s. Here is a brief and incomplete list of the data to be gathered during a single MLB at-bat – all in twenty ticks of the clock.

  1. What is the count when a batter hits a ball in play?
  2. What was the pitch he hit – fastball, slider, etc.?
  3. Where was the pitch located?
  4. To what area of the field was the ball hit?
  5. Was it a ground ball, fly ball, or line drive – and if it was a liner – was it a hard or soft line drive?
  6. Was anyone on base when the ball was hit – if yes – how many runners were there and what stations were occupied?
  7. How many outs were there?
  8. Was his team ahead, behind, or was the game tied when he came to bat? Was the lead or deficit one, two, three, or seventeen runs?
  9. Was the at-bat recorded as an out, a hit, base-on-balls, hit-by-pitch, sacrifice (fly or bunt), reached on a fielder’s choice, or reached by fielding error?
  10. Did runs score on the play? If yes, does the batter get an RBI?

No human being can record that much data, and even more, I didn’t list, in 20 seconds. And let’s remember, this is only for the batter.

Specialized data would also be needed to report on pitchers and fielders for every MLB game played that day.

This chart shows the growth of personnel devoted exclusively to analytics:

MLB alone now employs 150 statisticians, data collectors, computer techs, etc. And there is every reason to believe the trend will continue.

Is MLB at the point of ridiculousness?

Back to the salient point, though. If the individuals assigned as data collectors can’t do their job in twenty seconds – and I believe we’ve proven they can’t – then one of two things will happen.

Teams will need to hire an army of people with main tasks divided up into smaller pieces. This will require money spent in an area not devoted to player payroll.

Or, the amount of data collected (yea – rah) will be reduced by force of the 20-second clock, and we can go back to watching our favorite team play MLB games – with our own two eyes.

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MLB's collision between Statcast, data gathering, and the 20-second rule
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MLB's collision between Statcast, data gathering, and the 20-second rule
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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will do anything to speed up baseball, including the use of a 20-second clock. Pity those poor statisticians if it happens...
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Reflections On Baseball
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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.