This week saw the professional debut of both Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman. (Although this is the third professional debut for Strasburg I’ve heard about, after the Arizona Fall League and the start of Spring Training.) Both games were available for viewing on the Internet, and no doubt well-attended. Ultimately though, the Nationals and Reds could rely only on radar gun readings, scouting reports and the game’s statistics to judge how their highly valued prospects performed.
In the future, that might not be the case, owing to the development of PitchSight. Created by L-3 Communications, PitchSight is based on the same technology that allows for QuesTec, but is designed instead for teams to develop and scout their players through all levels of baseball.
While the data available to us from technology like Pitch f/x is remarkable, it is also thus far limited to major league parks. PitchSight, designed to be installed in bullpens and other smaller venues, will allow teams not only to see that same data for all their pitchers—in both games and during bullpen sessions—but also to have a consistent, objective view rather than relying exclusively on the limited resource of scouts and pitching coaches.
I had a chance to speak with Ken Riddle, L-3’s Director of Business Development and Tom Glavine, who of course needs no introduction, about the product. Glavine was quick to emphasize that while PitchSight can absolutely supplement what pitching coaches and others see in a player, it cannot simply replace them. According to Glavine, the data provided by the program is helpful, but ultimately it is up to “guys who know what they’re seeing” to judge how near or far a player is from the majors.
Riddle explained that the company sees PitchSight as technology for major league organizations to install through the minor leagues, in addition to Division I colleges. In addition to its scouting potential, it can also be used to track those players recovering from injuries. While Glavine does not see, as I had wondered, that the tools could be used to foresee injuries, he does believe that it can aid those pitchers returning from injuries, even more so in cases when the pitchers have already used the system and have a baseline set of numbers for comparison.
|Stephen Strasburg pitches in Spring Training, a game that PitchSight might someday cover. (Icon/SMI)|
Of course, besides the obvious question of how much a system like PitchSight will replace scouts and coaches and how much it will supplement them, it raises other points. For one, prior technology to this effect has been used almost entirely in game situations. For PitchSight, which will be used to take data in practice situations, is there a risk of having conflicting data when pitchers reach “the next level” in a game situation?
Glavine, who as a 300-game winner and long-time disciple of Leo Mazzone presumably knows of what he speaks, does think there will be an inevitable difference for game performance compared to that of practice. Despite this, he believes that since a bullpen session is about consistency and improving (or maintaining) mechanics, the data will continue to be useful.
Another question is that if, perhaps literally, every pitch thrown by a pitcher in his professional career is tracked and stored in data, would pitchers be concerned about batters gaining an advantage. Glavine seemed a particularly appropriate person to ask this question, since he (along with Greg Maddux) once raised objections to the camera contained inside a catcher’s mask, for fear it would reveal his release point.
Despite this concern, Glavine thinks it unlikely the technology in PitchSight would provide hitters with an edge, especially with the amount of video that batters now can view. (Interestingly, this was the response of television producers to Glavine and Maddux’s concerns, who told the pitchers that they had “14 other cameras that show your release points a whole lot better than this one-inch camera.”)
It will probably be some time before PitchSight, or similar technology, is universally adopted in professional ballparks across America. But it is doubtless a first step in expanding the use of pitch tracking. The next time a Stephen Strasburg or Aroldis Chapman is making a debut, their teams will of course want to keep scouts in the stands and pitching coaches in the dugout. For equipment like PitchSight will also be present, providing a new set of data and making the game that much smarter.