I remember it well. I was sitting next to Vinay Kumar at SABR presentation last summer in Atlanta when he pulled out an iPad, touched the screen a few times, and started watching a baseball game on a crystal-clear screen. I said “I’ve got to get one of those!” and went to the Apple store pretty much right after I got home. My baseball watching habits have never been the same.
MLB.com has built a terrific app (At Bat 2011 will be launching soon) for watching and following major league baseball. I have a few other iPad apps, such as the Fangraphs app, of course, but most of them were built for the iPhone and don’t look as good on the iPad’s higher resolution screen.
I’ve been waiting for the next generation of baseball apps that take advantage of the iPad’s screen resolution and size, and I think I found the first one today. It’s called Pennant, and it’s dynamite.
Pennant takes the play-by-play logs collated by Retrosheet—most every game since 1952—and provides a unique graphical interface for viewing them. You begin by scrolling through a graphical list of teams (presented in several different ways) and tapping the team you’d like to explore. Next, you come to a well-designed timeline of that team’s record year by year. Tap a year, and you are given a similar timeline, but one that shows the outcome of each game, as well as the team’s place in the standings day by day.
And then the real graphical fun begins. Each game is represented by a wheel, like this one:
The lines in the wheel represent the type of hit on each play (the length of the line signifies single, double, triple and home run). If you scroll your finger along the wheel, you can watch the score change and you can also see the detail of every play (which is highlighted). On another screen, you’re given a list of everyone who played in that game, and when you hold your finger on a specific player’s name, his at-bats are highlighted in the wheel.
The app has other neat features, such as sliding your finger along each day and watching the standings change. Simply put, it’s a terrific way to explore games and seasons past. In my book, it’s the first terrific baseball app for the iPad (outside of MLB.com’s).
Having said all of that, I wish there were some other features. For instance, it would have been great if the designer had incorporated something like run expectancy or win expectancy into the wheel. Right now, you have to infer game states as you scroll along. Also, the designer really should add actual game standings to the app, instead of a simple ordinal ranking of teams. It’s good to know that the Braves were leading the NL on the last day of the 1957 season, but how close was the race? Was it a do-or-die game? There’s no way to tell. Too, the graphics that highlight a team’s performance in various offensive and defensive stats are very difficult to interpret—in fact, they look outright incorrect in some years. This part of the interface should be improved.
One last thing: you have to be connected to the Internet to work Pennant. The data isn’t stored on your iPad. That makes sense; we’re talking about a lot of data here.
But that’s the beauty of the app world. Apps are created and then improved. This is a fantastic app as is, and it will certainly get better. You can purchase it from the iTunes store for $4.99.