Indians strong believers in advanced stats

Indians strong believers in advanced stats

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona can remember the first time he watched video of his swing as a player.

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"When I saw it, I was like, 'God, man, no wonder I can't hit,'" Francona said with a laugh.

The year was 1986, and, at the time, the notion of the video room was something of a foreign concept in a Major League clubhouse. Players felt they didn't need video or numbers to tell them what they already knew.

Fast forward to 2015. Before every game, video of that day's opposing pitcher plays on the many flat-screen televisions in the Indians' clubhouse. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway pores over advanced stats with his guys on websites like BrooksBaseball.com after each of their outings. Reliever Cody Allen casually talks about his use of Pitch-f/x data. 

Francona says he "wishes they would've had more of that" when he was a player.

Every team nowadays has a small army of number crunchers who influence front-office decisions, but how much of that trickles down into the clubhouse? How do the coaches and players use this flurry of data to review their performance, spot trends and make adjustments?

Allen regularly uses BrooksBaseball to help identify potential flaws in his mechanics.

"When I'm looking at Pitch-f/x on Brooks, it tracks your release point," Allen said. "So if you've got three months where your release point is high and a month where it's down, and the month where it's down, your performance is down, obviously that's something you need to look deeper into."

When Allen struggled to begin the season, he spent so much time on Dan Brooks' website looking for an answer that he "felt like he was chasing his own tail." His release point was consistent, his pitches were getting their typical movement and he was throwing to his usual spots. Maybe Allen was simply experiencing some bad luck? Baseball is a fickle game, after all. The reliever decided no major adjustments were necessary, and since the start of May, he's posted a 1.50 ERA, with nearly five strikeouts for every walk.

Callaway uses Pitch-f/x data to grade the individual pitches of his hurlers. A pitch can look pretty to the naked eye, but the naked eye doesn't see everything. The numbers see everything through the same unbiased lens. The numbers are what convinced Callaway earlier in the season that Danny Salazar's curveball had made the leap from experiment to quality Major League pitch.

"What we do is, we'll take the best curveballs in baseball, as far as swing-and-miss rate and things like that, and we'll grade them on spin rate and break," Callaway said. "Then we'll compare. Danny's went from below average to above average now."

It's not just the pitchers. Left-handed slugger Brandon Moss is an advocate of sabermetric sites such as FanGraphs.com, and he uses those concepts to better understand himself as a hitter. Traditional stats like batting average are "misleading." Instead, Moss dives deeper to uncover the root of his successes or failures at the plate.

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"If I'm in a slump, is it because I'm not being the player that I am? Or am I just having bad luck?" Moss said. "That's easy to look at if you look at strikeout percentage, walk percentage, batting average on balls in play [BABIP], fly balls/ground balls, hard- and soft-contact percentage. Those numbers tell more of a story as to how I'm actually hitting."

Of course, a balance still needs to be struck. Francona says it's easy for players to overload themselves with data. The top priority for the players, obviously, is still to go out and play. But the numbers can help bridge the gap between the spreadsheets and the field, and they're more prominent in the clubhouse than they've ever been before.

"There's more information than there used to be," Francona said. "So if you're not using it, you're probably missing the boat."

August Fagerstrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.