— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 22, 2017
The home run was estimated by the Mariners to have traveled 440 feet. Estimation represents the absence of certainty, a certainty that was promised by Statcast. It’s a relic of a darker era we thought we had left behind, like an outbreak of a disease long extinct. We, the baseball fans of the world, were promised we would never again have to estimate home run distances, and this is important to us because we NEED to know how far every baseball traveled!
Sadly, all heroes are fallible. For reasons unknown, Statcast could not track that home run. This is not the first time Statcast has failed us, though it may be the most glaring example. When Statcast was first unfurled, we were told it could measure everything that happens on a baseball field within a fraction of an inch. While Statcast introduced us to route efficiency, exit velocity, and launch angle, there is still so much that has not been measured. Here is a partial list of the broken promises of Statcast:
Pop-up Abandonment Reaction Time (PART)
One of the earliest lessons youngsters learn in little league is that when a ball is hit in the air you should try to catch it if you are in the field. This is true at all times with one major exception: the pitcher, regardless of athleticism or proximity to the pop-up, should almost never try to make the catch. This actually makes for interesting entertainment. At no other time is a ball hit for which a fielder is running away from it. Naturally, some pitchers take this more seriously than others. PART would analyze which pitchers are quickest to do their duty and get out of the way of a lazy, 40-foot pop-up.
Position Establishment Route Efficiency (PERE)
Baseball players have always been a superstitious lot. Many of their superstitions manifest themselves away from the eyes of fans or cameras, such as eating a certain pregame meal or wearing lucky socks. The most visible of superstitions can be witnessed as players take their positions for the start of a new half inning. Some players go out of their way to stay away from the mound, step on a certain base, or avoid other imaginary obstacles inconveniently placed on the field of play. Statcast should introduce PERE to measure which players take the most direct and indirect routes to their position on the field during each half inning. Inquiring minds need to know whose superstition makes for the most ridiculous path from the dugout to the field.
Umpire Decision Pop Time (UDPT)
Umpire Nestor Chylak once said, “They expect an umpire to be perfect on Opening Day and improve as the season goes on.” With Satcast this can now actually be possible! As commissioner Rob Manfred continuously looks for ways to improve the pace of play, umpires could analyze the speed with which they make decisions. Obviously getting a call correct is tantamount, but with data on decision pop time umpires could shave hundredths, or even tenths, of seconds off their decision making! When added up over nine innings this could round up to a minute of time shaved off of games! No need to thank me, commish.
Mound Visit Speed (MVS)
Most baseball fans know there are two types of mound visits. 1) The pitching coach actually wants to talk to a struggling pitcher, and 2) The coach or manager has given up on the current pitcher and wants to give someone else time to warm up. The first is all about psychology. (Tangentially, how many pitching coaches have actually taken any psychology classes?) The coach wants to get to the pitcher before he can get any more stuck inside his own head. He needs to get to him and say magic words of wisdom, or whatever it is they say, as quickly as possible. MVS would tell us which coaches are most adept at getting to their pitchers as quickly as possible. The second type of visit, however, has nothing to do with the man standing on the mound. In a way, this requires even more psychology: “We both know you stunk today, and I don’t want you in the game anymore, but try not to screw up this batter.” Regardless, a good slow walk to the mound can let a reliever in the bullpen throw two or three warm up pitches. MVS can measure who can walk the slowest without incurring the wrath of the umpire (which could also be timed with UDPT).
Expectoration Exit Velocity (EEV)
Ballplayers spit a lot. They spit sunflower seeds, gum, tobacco, and probably other things we don’t even want to know. There are three reasons why we need EEV: 1) it would probably be some sort of clubhouse competition/bonding thing, 2) it seems like it would be a big deal on Twitter, and 3) Statcast should be able to measure this kind of thing, and if it can do it then we HAVE TO HAVE IT because we are petulant toddlers when it comes to statistics.
Statcast is only just beginning to ignite the next data revolution in baseball. But in the sentiment of Nestor Chylak we expect not only perfection from Statcast but improvement as well. The next steps forward in measurement aren’t exactly clear, but the more ways in which we can describe how hard Aaron Judge can hit a baseball, the better.Next post: Trailing 30 (July 24, 2017)
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