The dog days of summer are upon us and major league baseball teams are prepping for their final playoff push. Every contender seeks a competitive edge in their race for the pennant. Big money organizations like the New York Yankees crack open the checkbook to bankroll big trades, while others scour farm teams for that diamond-in-the-rough youngster who can provide a needed boost.
Baseball is a statistician’s nirvana, where literally everything is measured, recorded and analyzed in hopes of increasing the likelihood of victory. Foot speed, earned run average (ERA), fielding percentages, and even how fast the ball comes off the bat are all tracked. Want to know how well a batter matches up against a left-handed pitcher with runners in scoring position with two outs in the eighth inning of day games played in the month of August in Houston? It’s all there, and technology is what makes it possible.
Baseball and technology have a long shared history, going all the way back to 1912, when Washington’s Walter “The Big Train” Johnson and Brooklyn’s Nap Rucker, two of baseball’s fastest pitchers, came together at the Remington Arms Co. bullet testing range in Bridgeport, Conn., to see who threw a faster pitch.
Their throws would be measured via a chronograph, a 2-by-2-foot large, 15-foot long tunnel wrapped in copper wires and ending in a steel plate. Johnson beat Rucker, 83 mph to 77 mph. While the event made for a good headline, the test had some serious shortcomings, foremost being that it measured ball speed at the end of the ball's flight, after it had already lost several notches of mph.
Two years later, in 1914, Johnson’s pitching speed was measured against a speeding motor cycle with a final rough calculation of 99.7 mph. Today, scouts and other personnel use radar guns to measure pitch speeds, much to the delight of the fans. We enjoy watching a pitcher “paint the corners,” but go wild when a guy throws 100 mph or better on a regular basis. (The fastest ever recorded pitch is 105.1 mph by Aroldis Chapman.)
Today, technology is making an even bigger impact on the Nation’s Pastime in some surprising ways:
Eye-tracking technology is being used to identify a player’s weaknesses in the field and at the plate, and then to develop a personalized training program to improve their performance.
Virtual reality coupled with algorithms enables players to put themselves into simulations eerily close to actual game scenarios. Batters and pitchers are intensely studying one another, looking for weaknesses and ways to exploit them.
Smart shoes utilize athletic-positioning technology to measure foot position and pressure so that players generate more power from their legs. With better use of their legs, pitchers can throw harder and batters can swing more smoothly.
Scouting and recruiting players has never been easier, with cloud-based analytical tools and social media to rapidly transmit assessments. It’s no longer necessary for scouts and coaches to travel to evaluate a player. They can use the internet to view an endless array of online athletic profiles from the comfort of their offices, and then share evaluations with other management members.
Neuroscience is an experimental research technique that combines magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography with specialized software. Coaches can examine a player’s brainwaves to see how they react to different pitches and situations.
Fans are also big winners in baseball’s marriage with IT. Smart stadiums are now utilizing tiny sensors located throughout the park to communicate with phone apps and give fans a “personalized stadium experience.” Special offers, seat-upgrades and food coupons are all delivered with the flip of a switch, and fans can take advantage of such offers with just a few clicks. Fans can follow team and player social media accounts to open “special access” to behind-the-scenes happenings, letting them engage more frequently with their favorite stars. Like it is doing to every facet of our lives, IT is changing baseball for the better.
My claim to baseball fame is hitting three home runs in a little league game. After my third round-tripper, a small-town reporter asked if I had any specific practice routines that helped me hit home runs. I said, “No. Just try to hit the ball as hard as I can.” Imagine what I could have accomplished with IT on my side!
About the Author — Calvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. "Hammerin' Harper" went on to hit the longest home run in the history of South End Youth Baseball, blasting a slider 395 feet over the left-field fence at Peters Park in Boston.