MLBAM’s New Tracking System Could Revolutionize Defensive Metrics

On Sunday’s broadcast, F.P. Santangelo mentioned that the Nationals new defensive coach, Mark Weidemaier, will be working closely with new manager Matt Williams to make sure that the Nats’ defenders are always in the best location via defensive shifts. Defense is a huge, and underappreciated, part of baseball, and MLB Advanced Media is doing its best to make sure the right people are being appreciated for their talent.

This weekend, at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, MLBAM unveiled a new tracking technology that will show several statistics to help evaluate how good a defensive player really is.

The system will show many factors of the defensive game, including how long it takes a player to take his first step after contact, his top speed, his acceleration, the most direct path to the point of catch, how far he actually ran, how efficient his route was, and where players are starting as opposed to where they’re ending up.

Here is a video by MLBAM that shows how this data may be used. It is truly remarkable.

Advanced analytics like these will help organizations better evaluate the defensive qualities of a player. It will also help organizations, and coaches like Mark Weidemaier, decide where to shift defenders against specific hitters, given their tendencies.

These are huge advancements in the game that will really help show how good a defender truly is. Unnecessary diving catches will be exposed if the player travels 10 or 20 feet farther than he needed to go get to the ball. If a player routinely has these issues, the route efficiency metric could expose a hole in a player’s ability to read the baseball off the bat. Before this system, that flaw may have previously gone unnoticed.

There is one big factor that we don’t know yet, though: who will be able to access this data. If fans, analysts, and writers are able to access this information along with the teams, it will be a huge change in how the sport is viewed from everyone’s perspective.

For 2014, only Citi Field (Mets), Target Field (Twins), and Miller Park (Brewers) will have the system installed in their ballparks, but MLBAM will be installing the systems in all 30 parks with hopes of taking it live across the league by Opening Day 2015. If this system takes off as I expect it will, it will have a huge and lasting impact on baseball, and that’s a huge reason to be excited.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.