The game of baseball– like the game of life, is forever changing and evolving every single day. New wrinkles to face that require adjustments to be made. New curveballs are thrown at you to see how you deal with it. New trends circling around the league that you either become a part of or fall behind watching everyone else hop on the train.
Sure, there’s new equipment, new training methods, and new facilities. But do any of those transcend the game the way one major change has? And I am not talking about juiced balls or three-batter minimums. I am talking about the ever-expanding use of technology to understand the game and quantify everything about it to a form that we have not seen in sports in the history of their existence.
If there was ever a “nerd sport”, baseball would certainly fit the bill. The number of variables that go into a game and the number of possibilities that come with every single game, inning, and pitch are so unique that you will never find two games exactly the same as long as you live. With that comes the use of analytics and biometrics to quantify the game in a way so concrete and precise to players and coaches yet so fascinating and intriguing by statisticians. Numbers give everyone involved in the organization a black and white picture of their successes and areas they need improvement.
And only recently has this trend found its way into on-field preparation. Sure, owners, accountants, general managers, and scouts have used these numbers for years. Why? Because the numbers don’t lie. Numbers don’t care about your feelings. Either you are selling enough hot dogs or you are not. Either the guy you’re scouting can hit 90+ consistently or he can’t. But people like Bill James paved the way for the game to become a model for quantitative analysis. And that is what is making teams, coaches, and players better.
Pinstriped Prospects sat down with former Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell to discuss the introduction of the technology that is used today and how it is used by teams to better the way coaches manage the game and how players play the game.
When asked about the importance of the technology and how much he uses the numbers, he said: “You can have all of this information, all of this technology, but it’s how you use it, and it has to be a very clear and concise path to how you’re going to use this technology”. With all of the new information comes figuring out how to best interpret it and frame it in a way that is easy to teach to players and communicate to personnel throughout the organization from an on-field perspective. That maybe even more of a challenge than getting and analyzing the information. Using it to effectively better your players in a clear manner is just as important as the information itself.
Not only is the information being used to coach players, but it certainly has become prominent in evaluating players too. No more is the deciding factor the “eye test” when looking at players. With the availability of such information, teams want to know with certainty what they can get out of a player, and the abundance of information makes that more distinct than ever.
Wharton School of Business’s Abraham Wyner elaborated with former big leaguer Brendan Harris on this subject. He wrote “The valuations of baseball players have also undergone changes with shifts in the importance attached to specific skills. For example, teams are seeing enormous value with pitchers in particular that they never really gave much thought to [earlier]. So, they’ve redirected their effort in that area. The other effort is in things that we used to not be able to quantify and didn’t care about, and those, in particular, are fielding, base running and stealing.”
Recognizing what technology and analytics can do has made teams want to explore even further. Just how much of this game can be put into concrete numbers and hard facts? By the looks of it, nearly every major aspect of how the game is played. And that is what gets teams and organizations excited. Like an explorer just reaching the shore of an unknown land. Knowing that as of right now, teams are just scratching the surface on just how much the technology can improve their players and the way their coaches teach the game. And with the right interpretation and analysis of these new numbers, they can reach new heights previously seen as plateaus. A whole new world awaits their arrival.