MLB Advanced Media’s Statcast To Make Live Linear-TV Debut
Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s highly sophisticated Statcast tracking system will make its linear-television debut tonight as part of MLB Network’s Showcase game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals (7 p.m. ET). The technology promises to revolutionize both how the sport is presented and consumed by viewers.
Statcast — which debuted a year ago in just three ballparks — uses both optical tracking to monitor player movement (through support from ChyronHego) and radar tracking for information on the ball (from TrackMan). A series of HD cameras — spaced 15 meters apart — are installed in the stadium to capture stereoscopic video, and a 3D Doppler radar system pulls in about 2,000 samples per second of the entire playing field.
Statcast is made possible by marrying all of this data together in an environment where a whole new world of analytics can be used to scientifically quantify the talent and performance of players on the field.
Earlier this year, MLBAM completed the full installation of the system into all 30 of the league’s ballparks and are now ready to go wide with this wealth of new data. The plan is to have Statcast available as an analytics and storytelling tool for all its television-broadcast partners, including nationals and RSNs, by as early as June.
“We started this with two tenets: yes, it has to be accurate, but it also has to be repeatable day in and day out,” says Joe Inzerillo, EVP/CTO, MLBAM. “If you can do these things a couple of times a game as a parlor trick, that’s cool, and it’s interesting, but it really has to be every single play and every single aspect of the play in order to really [compose] the picture of what’s happening on the field.”
While Statcast tracks everything from hitting to base running, the tool has really found a home on the defensive side of the ball. Building advanced replays of some stellar defensive catches this season by the Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar and the Houston Astros’ George Springer, MLBAM and MLB Network have already begun making terms like route efficiency and first step part of the baseball vernacular.
“We feel defensive statistics is something that the language of baseball has not really described all that well because it’s very difficult to quantify,” says Inzerillo. “Other sports, just based on their nature, are easier to balance those scales, but our sport is a dynamic, fluid sport, and it doesn’t lend itself to putting down numbers as it does on the offensive side. So we think this is where fans will see the most impressive parts of Statcast.”
Baseball, largely thanks to the fantasy revolution, has been a breeding ground for a wealth of advanced analytics and statistics that have changed the way teams have evaluated their players and clubs. Stats like FIP, wRC+, BABIP, and the infamous WAR made folks like Billy Beane famous. Statcast is not designed to fit into that mold, however.
“Our goal here is not to talk about those,” says Bob Bowman, president, MLB Business & Media. “Those are season-long stats. Nobody talks about a WAR after a game or after a play. Statcast is about being a manager, not a general manager. It’s about who’s in the right place at the right moment.”
For Bowman, three key factors pushed the Statcast platform out for use among the league’s television partners: it had to be accurate, it had to be real time, and, perhaps most important, it had to be presented in video.
“Just putting stats up in a two-dimensional way doesn’t work in today’s world,” he says, “particularly for young people.”
MLBAM brass believes that Statcast can be a stellar live storytelling tool for television broadcasters in building the “what-if” narrative. No play better encapsulates that than Joe Panik’s gem of a double play in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. It has it all: a laced groundball, a staggering first step from panic, and the all-mighty what-if that, if Eric Hosmer had not slid head first into first base, he likely would have been safe. Last fall, the Statcast analysis of that play was not available until the next morning. Under the new system, that what-if conversation can now be confirmed with scientific information in real time.
In addition, this go-forward technology will only improve and become more robust with more and more data collected, because every single pitch and every single play will be tracked throughout this season and beyond.
“As you compile these things, the objective catching of those statistics is really what is important,” says Inzerillo. “In fielding, a lot of people remember the big plays but don’t remember the daily plays. But, based upon the canon when you are putting together an entire baseball season — which is a marathon, not a sprint — all of those things come into factor.”
MLBAM and their partners understand that, yes, this is a whole lot of information for the common fan to process and the biggest challenge throughout the whole process will be identifying what statistics or trends resonate with viewers. There is a widely held internal belief, though, in not underestimating what the fans are capable of.
“We think the time is now for this,” says MLB Network President Rob McGlarry, adding that the plans are to use Statcast on every MLB Network game for the remainder of the season. “Fans and viewers are more sophisticated than they have ever been. You see that in the conversations that fans have about the game. They are ready for this type of discussion and information.”
As for the network partners, education of staff and some additional gear and personnel — MLB Network is adding two cameras and an additional EVS operator in the truck for tonight’s telecast — will be needed to integrate Statcast into the linear-television production. It’s a lot to process, and MLBAM understands that this year will be a feeling-out process for many but the network partners will find the data that best resonates with fans and best analyzes the game over time.
“The way I see it is, we are making a bunch of keys on a piano,” says Inzerillo. “You can mash them, and they sound terrible, or you can actually figure out how to play. At some point, people are going to get more adept at actually selecting the keys that they want to use at any given time.”