Friday, July 10, 2009

Zen Dayley: A lot more numbers in that Church of Baseball

This is not about the Blue Jays specifically, but no doubt people noticed who was the first player quoted in The New York Times' piece on the new camera and software system Major League Baseball will be using to track baserunning and defensive play.
" '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' 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.' "
Be that as it may, what The Times is describing as "probably become the largest single advance in baseball science since the development of the box score" (emphasis mine) sounds like Seamhead brain candy.
"... 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.'

"... Bob Bowman, the subsidiary's chief executive ... 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.

" ... '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 other words, broadcasters might have to bone up on more than who won a Gold Glove several seasons ago when they talk about fielding. The comments from Wells and Rolen, with a combined 10 Gold Gloves between them, do shed some light on the ballplayers' attitudes.

It is refreshing to see Wells espouse a belief that such information can be helpful. Maybe some ballplayers who are raised in the information age would better accept the hard data if it was placed in front of them, showing what aspects of fielding and throwing they're deficient in. For instance, it might help a right fielder work on throws from certain angles, like after he's cut off a ball in the gap as opposed to charging in on a ground ball single.

It's sort of pertinent to Wells. He won three Gold Gloves in a row, but this season, his Ultimate Zone Rating is dead last among everyday outfielders.

Rolen, who is still an above-average third baseman, also expresses something about the game. Some people believe much of baseball is best left to the imagination. That's fine and dandy like sour candy. However, no one should be begrudged the desire to take things on more than faith.

Digital Eyes Will Chart Baseball’s Unseen Skills (Alan Schwarz, The New York Times)


Anonymous said...

Vernon is NOT the fielder he used to be..of course neither is Andruw Jones, a man he was once considered the 2.0 version of. Rolen, on the other hand is the best fielding 3rd baseman we have seen in our lifetime. Well, at least for those of us whose lifetimes just missed out on Brooks Robinson.

sager said...

Poz was pretty prescient with his post earlier, which was about Nike confiscating the Jordan Crawford footage.

Confiscate all these absurd “statistical analyses” when it comes to “baseball defense.” Those things are stupid. And in years past these things have made Derek Jeter look bad. Can’t have it. Send out the Brute Squad. Make those basement-dwelling-nerds have over their slide rulers and spreadsheets peacefully or else take them away! UZR, my butt.