MLB Network features revolutionary real-time tracking
By Paul Casella
Have you wondered how fast the ball comes off of Giancarlo Stanton's bat? How much ground Andrew McCutchen actually covers in center field? Or just how fast Billy Hamilton really is? Thanks to Statcast, a revolutionary tracking technology, we can finally get definitive answers.
Statcast is already being utilized by Major League front offices, while fans have had the chance to see its groundbreaking abilities in breakdowns of last year's All-Star Game and postseason, as well as on a few highlight clips this season. The technology will continue to be incorporated into every MLB Network Showcase game, and used to analyze player performance both on the Network and MLB.com.
Here's a quick primer on what exactly Statcast can do and what it will mean for Major League Baseball:
What is Statcast?
Statcast, a state-of-the-art tracking technology, is capable of gathering and displaying previously immeasurable aspects of the game.
Statcast collects the data using a series of high-resolution optical cameras along with radar equipment that has been installed in all 30 Major League ballparks. The technology precisely tracks the location and movements of the ball and every player on the field at any given time.
The result is an unparalleled amount of figures and information, covering everything from the pitcher to the batter to any defensive players -- and everything in between. Statcast has been deemed by MLB Network analyst Brian Kenny to be "a revolutionary technology that will change the way fans around the world view our national pastime."
"Our hope is that this, for baseball, will be one of the largest advances in instant replay that we've seen in the last 50 years," said Bob Bowman, Major League Baseball's president of business and media.
What can it measure?
The better question for this category may very well have been what can't Statcast measure?
Starting with the pitcher, Statcast can obviously measure the simple data points such as velocity. That said, Statcast digs a whole lot deeper, also providing the perceived velocity -- a number derived from the velocity of a pitch at the exact release point. After all, a 90 mph pitch delivered from a 54-inch release point will seem faster to a hitter than a pitch of the same velocity released from two inches closer to the mound.
Speaking of that release point, Statcast will measure the distance from a pitcher's release point to the front edge of the pitching rubber on every pitch. It will also calculate the time it takes for a pitcher from his first movement to delivering the pitch toward home plate, as well as the ultimate spin rate of that eventual pitch.
Moving on to hitters, Statcast is capable of measuring the velocity, launch angle and vector of the ball as it comes off the bat. From there, Statcast will also track the hang time and distance that the ball travels, as well as a projected landing-point distance on home runs.
As one might expect, Statcast has even more wide-ranging capabilities when it comes to tracking baserunners and defensive players. From top speed to acceleration to first-step times, Statcast will be able to break down exactly why a player was successful or unsuccessful in swiping a base or making a difficult catch in the outfield. Among other things, Statcast can also monitor how far a player traveled on a given play, as well as how efficient his route was in tracking a ball, transferring the ball from his glove to his throwing hand and the velocity of the ensuing throw.
Why it matters
Statcast will not only change the way fans watch the game and evaluate players, but it also figures to have a profound long-term impact on Major League front offices.
While fans can employ Statcast in their endless debates about which pitcher's breaking ball is nastier or which outfielder's catch was better, executives will have the luxury of evaluating players using never-before-seen metrics.
"It's already changing the game," said MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci. "Major League teams are using this to evaluate players and even to evaluate Draft picks."
Verducci pointed to Astros starter Collin McHugh as a prime example. The Astros selected the right-hander off waivers from the Rockies in December 2013 despite the fact that McHugh sported an 0-8 record to go along with an unsightly 8.94 ERA at that point through his first 15 Major League outings.
Apparently, however, the Astros had liked what they saw when evaluating the spin rate on his curveball, so they took him off waivers and encouraged him to throw it more. The result was a breakout season for McHugh, who tallied a 2.73 ERA over 25 starts last season and is off to a 2-0 start with an even better 1.54 ERA through two outings in 2015.
"Statcast will provide us, and Major League front offices, with the tools to dig deeper into advanced metrics," Kenny said, "altering the perception of a player's value and helping us to appreciate the unique athleticism a player possesses."
It will also add an element to the way fans evaluate players. Instead of just looking at the leaders in Triple Crown categories or even advanced sabermetrics, fans will now be able to seek out players with the fastest average speeds on the basepaths, the best route efficiencies over the course of a season or the strongest throws from each position.
"The context of it gets better as you acquire more data, so we can say things like, 'That was the fifth-fastest run to first base' or 'That was the best route efficiency this season,'" said Joe Inzerillo, executive vice president and chief technology officer of MLB Advanced Media. "Those types of statistics will wind up being developed over time, and then, on a historical basis, a decade from now we'll be looking back saying, 'That was the highest route efficiency that's ever been captured in baseball.'"
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.