Folks at Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) recently released a series of videos showcasing their new and shiny player tracking metrics. The videos were taken at Citi Field when the Mets faced the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this season.
The examples used are four close plays during those series. The first two are a pair of caught-stealings involving Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips trying to take second base off Kyle Farnsworth/Anthony Recker and Jon Niese/Travis d'Arnaud, respectively. Through the eyes of advanced technology, the MLBAM crew tracked the runner's lead distance, first step, acceleration, and speed; the pitcher's velocity, spin rate, and extension; and the catcher's pop time and arm strength.
While both attempts resulted in an out, Recker's defensive effort was a lot more impressive than d'Arnaud's. According to the data recorded, the Mets' backup catcher caught a slower pitch (89 MPH from Farnsworth versus 91 MPH from Niese) and had to deal with a faster runner (18.71 MPH max speed from Hamilton versus 17.45 MPH from Phillips). But Recker more than made up for it with his superior pop speed (0.6 seconds to 0.7 seconds), arm strength (78.84 MPH vs 74.22 MPH), and, most importantly, an accurate throw.
The other two videos break down a pair of ground balls up the middle off the bat of Jon Jay, one of which resulted in a beautifully turned double play, while the other was a two-run single. The MLBAM crew tracked the same data from the pitcher as the two above-mentioned plays, while adding the batted ball's velocity, the defender's distance from the direction where the ball was hit, and the defender's first-step quickness. The key difference between these two plays is Ruben Tejada's superior reaction, as it took him 0.15 seconds to make his first step, compared to 0.32 seconds by Omar Quintanilla.
These examples show us, again, how big a difference a few ticks of a second make in baseball. As for the overall purpose of advanced player tracking technology, baseball front offices will undoubtedly welcome and implement it into areas of scouting and player evaluation, especially with a larger sample size. Fans' take on this, however, similar to the mixed reaction to sabermetrics and advanced statistics, may remain split. Breaking down every play into precise data can make the baseball viewing experience much better to some, but less enjoyable to traditional fans who rely on the eye test and value the so-called human element™ of the game.