Sportvision’s HIT SPEED Data Making Broadcast Debut on Fox Sports Regional Networks
It was one of the scariest moments of this Major League Baseball season.
In the fifth inning of a game against Kansas City on June 15, Tampa Bays Rays pitcher Alex Cobb delivered a 2-1, 91-mph fastball to Royals first baseman Erik Hosmer. Before you could blink, a vicious smack of rawhide on flesh echoed through Tropicana Field and the 25-year old Cobb was down in a heap in front of the mound surrounded by his teammates and trainers.
Within moments, Fox’s Sun Sports play-by-play commentator Dewayne Staats and color analyst Brian Anderson were able to provide viewers with the exact speed with which the pitch was hit back at Cobb — 102.4 mph.
Sun Sports was able to provide that jaw-dropping information courtesy of a new data tool being used on Fox Sports regionals this year, Sportvision’s HIT SPEED.
“I think baseball is the easiest [to incorporate this kind of data],” says Mike Connelly, Senior Vice President, Executive Producer at Fox Sports Networks. “Baseball is a statistically driven sport. For scouts, velocity is a key component for evaluating players. [For broadcast,] it’s just compelling information how fast that ball is coming back at them.”
Fox began experimenting with HIT SPEED on some of its regional baseball telecasts in May and it is now in use on all 16 of Fox’s MLB broadcasts. An extension of Sportvision’s popular PITCHf/x software that has been a part of Fox MLB broadcasts for the past few years, HITf/x, and more specifically HIT SPEED, use the same software-based camera technology used to measure the speed of pitches coming from the mound. Now, its simply used to also track that same ball leaving the bat.
Sportvision has three tracking cameras (positioned at mid-first baseline, mid-third baseline, and centerfield) in every Major League ballpark that measure the area between the pitcher and the hitter and to calibrate the strikezone. That’s how pitch information (location, speed, break) is calculated and distributed by MLB.com’s Stats department and the various ballclubs.
Of course the data is much more valuable and useful than simply tracking terrifying injuries. In fact, Sportvision has been supplying Hit Speed data to MLB front offices since 2008.
“[The teams] have found tremendous value in this data because what it does is it gives you objective measurement of the hit independent of outcome,” says Ryan Zander, General Manager of Baseball Products at Sportvision.“You’re taking out elements like luck, defensive positioning, and really getting an objective view of how good of a hit that was.”
Data obtained via the HITf/x software determines that the faster a ball comes off the bat, the more likely it is to land in play for a hit. In some cases, certain hits correspond with certain hit speeds. For instance, you’re more likely to hit a single when it reaches 85 miles an hour. Doubles and triples are more likely over 95 miles an hour and home runs become more likely over 100 miles an hour.
Prior to this season, Fox Sports Networks approached Sportvision about using HIT SPEED and Sportvision optimized the system for broadcast, marking the first time the data would be used on television.
“We want to cover the game better than anybody else,” says Connelly. “We set a list of priorities and questions and the number one question is: does it bring our viewers inside the game? This fits that exact criteria.”
In this era of sabermetrics in baseball, HIT SPEED is a valuable storytelling tool for broadcasters. For example, if a player is in a slump and goes 0-for-4, but hits the ball at a high speed in all four at-bats, sabermetricians would argue that batter’s average is likely to go up soon and that player will undergo what is called a ‘regression to the mean.’
HIT SPEED is also more than just an offensive statistic. The tracking software reads horizontal direction, which allows teams to better align their defenses based on a hitter’s tendencies.
“We’re just at the surface of what this hit data will end up being,” says Zander. “There’s going to be more storytelling that comes along with hit ball speed.”