In days of old in baseball, way back in, say, 2007, the marriage of technology and performance was just getting started. Wireless was somewhat available but not part of the scouting system, and the lag time for analysis by players was dependent on how fast an overworked video crew could edit and then burn DVDs to get to players.
Laptops were the exception, not the norm, and flash drives were hard-hit liners to the outfield, not something that could be popped into a hand-held device.
Marrying video to data was unheard of…coordinators and coaches had to take stats and then pair the numbers with video almost by hand. Real-time analysis was still a pipe dream. All that may seem preposterous to the high-tech world of analysis we live in today, where players can analyze themselves and their upcoming opponents on their laptops and iPads, getting the latest data paired with video almost in real time.
Similarly, teams have embraced technology more and more in their overall scouting and player evaluation, making sure that they are getting maximum return on their multimillion dollar player investments.
At the forefront of the technological revolution in baseball is a core of companies: SportVision, which has pioneered many of the video features in analyzing pitching and hitting locations; Stats Inc., which has been a forerunner in providing data feeds; and more recently Bloomberg Sports, which has combined data analysis and video streaming into a series of products for fans, but also for 20 of the major league clubs and for the players themselves.
Of course, all of the technological advances would have never been possible without baseball’s own digital engine, MLB.com, which provides the back end data and the platform for fans to enjoy all the aspects of baseball on the web.
So how does it work with the teams as they find ways to best use technology efficiently today? “The efficiency of having a one-stop shop has been very important to the clubs, along with the much greater speed in being able to find information and generate reports," Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports, said in an interview. “As to specific features, the Scouting application and the availability of video anytime, anywhere have both been heavily utilized.
“The only real challenge has been logistics—they tend to be very busy, so finding a convenient time to show them the product has sometimes been tough," he added. "But once they see it, the reaction has been almost uniformly enthusiastic.”
In today’s new era of technology on the diamond, the amount of data available to players and teams can be daunting. Baseball’s potential combinations of batter vs. pitcher, fielder vs. manager lead to endless permutations. Each player looks for different kinds of data and every team wants to find their own “Secret Sauce” that will give them an edge over the competition. That quest for the edge can detract teams from the immediate task at hand, which is of course winning ball games.
So into that mix are technology companies who can fill the void, create secure systems and then customize those systems to the needs of each team and player.
“With all our research, the customizing of the data is key,” Squadron added. “We have spent endless hours with teams and players, refining our product so that meets the specs of each customer. Some teams may want more detailed pitching data, while others may crave detailed analytics on speed and defense. Whatever the case, we have to come up with a system that works for everyone, and has to be secure so that everyone using it knows that the data and programs that are built are not shared with the competition.”
So what does the use of technology look like in today’s world? On a Tuesday night in St. Louis, Albert Pujols finds out that the New York Mets have switched starting pitchers, swapping out Jonathan Niese for R.A. Dickey. Instead of heading to the stadium a few hours early and waiting for video, Pujols whips out his iPad, pops in Niese as a pitcher and up comes his at-bats, pitch by pitch, linked to video, all in the comfort of his living room.
The same day, the Texas Rangers C.J. Wilson is reviewing the lineup he may be facing that night against the Toronto Blue Jays. He remembers, but not quite, a pitch sequence he saw in a scouting report against Jose Bautista. He opens his iPad, looks up Bautista and the sequence comes to life.
That night, in the Blue Jays clubhouse, Jose Molina is getting ready to pinch-hit against veteran Arthur Rhodes. Molina knows of Rhodes but needs a little brush-up. He goes back to the clubhouse, pulls out his iPad and in a flash downloads the 10 Rhodes at-bats he thinks will be in a similar situation to what he is about to face. He then returns to the dugout (MLB bars tech pieces from the field) and is ready to go.
Fiction or fantasy? Not at all. All the players mentioned are using Bloomberg’s tool to better prepare for the game and opponent at hand, almost in real time.
“The players have been a great test to see how far we can go with the product, and that test will continue to open the door as to how technology can help any athlete in any league, and make the fan experience more compelling and fun as well,” Squadron added. “Whatever hesitancy there was with players, when they see what can be done on a tool…their iPad…that they love makes the process run very smoothly, and once the sell-in is done they are hooked. It is great to see how the process evolves.”
Of course, baseball is still a game of human frailty and execution. It is not a video game or a version of Wii. It is a multimillion dollar business.
However, the use of technology to make those humans best prepared is becoming more prevalent, and its evolution is becoming as much a part of the game as pine tar and rosen bags, just with video.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand.