By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) You may have missed the news last week that’s going to change forever how we look at baseball.
It’s understandable if you failed to pay close attention to the eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, but the game improved last week in a way that has general managers and intellectually curious fans drooling. Some insecure longtime scouts will be nervous, however, as will some veteran broadcasters.
I’m looking at you, Hawk Harrelson. You too, Harold Reynolds.
Thanks to a revolutionary system of real-time data-collection via interconnected tracking cameras, three major league ballparks will provide instant information about every single movement on the field. Citi Field in New York, Target Field in Minneapolis and Milwaukee’s Miller Park are already online, up and running for this season. More parks will be ready as this year progresses, and it will be fully implemented across MLB for the start of 2015.
Everything quantifiable, measured either comparably to that of others or as a percentage of an ideal. Seven terabytes per game, accessible by the production truck in time for the first replay and in time to measure the opinion of anyone analyzing what they saw, or – more significantly – what they thought they saw.
As MLB Network’s Brian Kenny tweeted, “Data-haters in sports are about to be left behind … forever.”
In other words, data-haters in sports are about to be left behind...forever.—
Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) March 02, 2014
So no more, “He took a really good route to that ball.” That now becomes, “Here you see what would have been a perfect route to that ball, and Mike Trout does a remarkable job of keeping 94 percent route-efficiency.”
Shots like this - for fielding -says MLBAM, may come as quickly as normal TV-replay lag time. A tv sports bonanza. http://t.co/z2PqcS2gfM—
Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) March 01, 2014
No more, “Yu Darvish is really getting great rotation on his curveball.” That’s now, “His curve is averaging 1700 RPM, which is 100 more than it did in his last start and 12 percent above league average.”
Really wrap your head around this for a second, because I still don’t think enough awareness has been created about how significant this is.
The speed and vector of each movement can now be known for every player and the ball, all at once. We will see virtual heat maps of defensive range that include not just which balls a fielder gets to but how quickly and from exactly how far away. Baserunners will have their speed, jumps and route-efficiency known, too, as we can see who gives away valuable time with sloppy angles rounding the bags and who doesn’t. Which outfielders’ throws are most often true to perfect trajectory? Which hitters generate the highest batted-ball velocity, and on what pitches and where in the zone? We’re about to know.
ICYMI: oh yessss... http://t.co/aVjeDG9kmC—
Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) March 03, 2014
Harrelson’s musty brand of “I’ve been around this game a long time” superiority just got vaporized. Right away we can put many cornpone musings about lively bats and good instincts to the test. Maybe he’s right more than not, even. The point is that actual knowledge is supplanting the mysticism of self-appointed witch doctors.
We’ll soon find out if Reynolds was merely playing a part as a wrongheaded public denier of the value of advanced metrics. It’s possible he’s dropping that whole bit as he assumes the lead analyst role for FOX, or he may be risking a real combination of discomfort and embarrassment as the technology of the game passes him by. For him to be hired by the game’s primary broadcast network just as this is happening suggests either that he’s ready to enlighten himself or somebody at FOX made a terrible mistake.
The response from some is inevitable, predictable and trite. Dumb people are afraid of knowing new things or confronting the idea that long-held beliefs are going to be objectively weighed for veracity. It’s a specious argument that the game is rendered less fun when we know more about what is actually happening. Just like that durn Copernicus with all his highfalutin book-larnin’ ruining the non-stop party that was geocentrism.
Bob Bowman is the CEO of MLB Advanced Media, and he told MLB.com that the new data merely adds more richness to how we talk about baseball.
“This is going to be pretty exciting,” he said. “We think it’s going to change the way we argue about the game, but we don’t think it’s going to settle any debates. We think it starts more.”
While he’s dead on about the last part, he’s kidding himself if he doesn’t think that all this new sunlight won’t chase some old misunderstandings scurrying out of the shadows. Harrelson, for one, is fond of prefacing baseless, grandiose opinions in a way that presents them as immutable, eternal truth.
“That’s the way it is,” he likes to say, sounding like an unsettling combination of Walter Cronkite and Paula Deen. “That’s the way it always has been, and that’s the way it always will be.”
And that’s already wrong.