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Friday, September 18, 2009

Will MLB’s Latest Tech Disserve Game?

By Diane M. Grassi

As the end of the 2009 Major League Baseball (MLB) season approaches, technological advances, still in their infancy, were instituted in 2009, intended for the game’s future progress; that according to MLB.

Most fans, however, are probably unaware of the new computer technology, mandated by MLB, and its use throughout 2009, that will be precedent setting for seasons to come.

Firstly, the MLB umpires’ evaluation system from 2001–2008, known as QuesTec, was replaced in 2009 by a technology called the Zone Evaluation® system; a supposed upgrade. QuesTec made use of computerized camera technology in an effort to force uniformity between umpires’ strike zones, as well as MLB’s insistence that umpire inconsistency contributed to the undesirable lengthiness of games.

However, only 11 major league ballparks, out of 30, were ever set up with the QuesTec technology for the 7 year period, and its technological accuracy was continually questioned by pitchers, umpires and clubs alike. Many felt that the strike zone was too small and varied from stadium to stadium, and especially between those ballparks that had no such technology at all. And through it all, MLB was fervent in its declaration that QuesTec was merely a tool for the umpires.

During the 2008 MLB season, the PITCHf/x camera system was installed in every major league park – with certain exceptions made for the last year of Yankee and Shea stadiums in New York, as both the Yankees and Mets relocated to new stadiums in the 2009 season. The object of the PITCHf/x system was to gather data from the stadiums in order to composite requisite information for the camera system technology to go live in 2009.

Data was collected during the 2008 season by the PITCHf/x system that included tracking nearly all pitches thrown for the entire season for supposedly all 30 teams, totaling approximately 700,000. And that data is now being used as the base measure to evaluate MLB umpire accuracy for 2009.  – Unfortunately, the umpiring data for the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field was not included; unaddressed publicly by MLB. –

PITCHf/x takes 25 pictures of the ball in flight between the pitching mound and home plate. Sportsvision® software then uses a ‘best fit’ algorithm in order to calculate compensation for different variables of the ball’s flight path, including the position of the ball when it crosses the plate.

But here is where the disparity arises, as a strike is not called at the front of the plate but where it crosses the plate as it makes its way into the catcher’s glove. The camera, however, starts reporting data 5 feet in front of home plate; reminiscent of the ill-timed traffic light camera that incorrectly tickets a driver for going through a red light while traveling through the tail end of a yellow caution light in an intersection. – 

MLB Rule 2.0 defines the strike zone, and presently remains in effect as follows:
 
The Strike Zone is defined as that area over home plate, the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Yet, the calls in that strike zone have given way to a technology that cannot be assimilated by the naked eye. Thus, judging an umpire’s accuracy by a standard that may not even be humanly commensurate is foolhardy at best.

Moreover, many players and team personnel reportedly were unaware until the 2009 season got under way that a new camera system was even being used for the strike zone, let alone in all 30 MLB stadiums.

During QuesTec’s reign, an umpire who failed to reach a 90% accuracy rating in a game was notified by MLB that he had called a “bad game.” And such game ratings of 90% or lower averaged over the course of a MLB season would make an umpire ineligible for post-season assignments.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations, commented at the beginning of the 2009 season that the Zone Evaluation system “Has given us much more data, much more granular, and it provides many more camera angles for the pitch track. We only had one view with QuesTec. Now we have multiple views… that will allow us to pull up various trajectories.”

In 2009 when umpires arrive at ball parks they receive a printout of how many balls or strikes they called right or wrong for the game the day before, according to Zone Evaluation. Yet, in the early part of the 2009 season, umpires had a learning curve needed to get acclimated to the new system, not to mention in combination with the two new ballparks in NYC. Therefore, umpires’ season averages for accuracy may be markedly different from 2008 when QuesTec was still in use or from the upcoming 2010 season, after having used the new system for a year.

And even though the World Umpires Association – the union for all MLB umpires – approved the change from QuesTec to Zone Evaluation, any objection it has will be addressed for certain during the negotiations with MLB over their next Collective Bargaining Agreement, expiring after the 2009 season.

Umpires’ quality of accuracy was documented as quite high with QuesTec, as they proved there was little difference in their calls between parks that had QuesTec technology and those that did not. Therefore, the need to upgrade such technology by MLB seems less about reining in umpires and more about diminishing the human factor in adjudicating baseball games.

For after PITCHf/x, the upcoming HITf/x will be used for scouting in the not too distant future by MLB teams and it also will be a supposed tool that will measure every aspect of every player’s mechanics. Such technology will put sabermetrics to shame and will again rely upon technology which again, the naked eye cannot see on its own. “Every moving event within an actual game will be tracked,” according to Sportsvision’s General Manager of Baseball Products, Ryan Zander. It will track the pitcher, the ball and the fielder with individual stats.

And it will beg the question of MLB of whether or not umpires and advance scouts will be less and less depended upon as the years go on. Furthermore, such data will eventually be available to fans via paid subscription through MLB Advanced Media, (MLBAM) its internet and electronic media property, which brings fans MLB.com, the MLB Network and its MLB.TV computer subscriptions for live games over the internet.

The Sportsvision software will utilize 2-4 cameras for HITf/x which has been gathering data throughout the 2009 season, while presently installed at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park. It is expected to be installed in all 30 MLB stadiums throughout the 2010 MLB season, with the intent of gathering enough data to eventually go live by the 2011 season.

Future Hall of Famer, NY Yankee Derek Jeter, was scouted in high school at Kalamazoo Central High, out of Michigan, by Dick Groch, and was eventually selected in the first round of the 1992 baseball draft by the NY Yankees with their 6th pick. Back then, Groch did not carry a laptop computer, and cell phones were several years away from reaching the mass market. Yet, Groch was still remarkably able to successfully do his job.

What may come as a surprise to many was that Groch had to convince NY Yankee management not to use their 1st round pick on a player other than Jeter, as he did not have stats which necessarily jumped off the page. Yet Groch insisted that, “The ceiling is only left to the imagination,” when it came to Derek Jeter.

Fast forward to the 2010 season and beyond, should a Jeter-like prospect become available. He may never have a shot to ever play in MLB, for not only will he not necessarily fit the statistical profile, but scouts may no longer be considered useful to MLB clubs.

And what a shame it would be for the game of baseball to lose those intangibles which contribute to the elements of its mystique. And it is through its imperfections that allow for a new script for every game played, making us ever more appreciative of its outcome and yet continually indebted to the human element in its sport.


Copyright ©2009 Diane M. Grassi
Contact: dgrassi@cox.net

Yankee 49 Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:15 AM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Flynn Posted: September 18, 2009 at 10:34 AM (#3325633)
Fast forward to the 2010 season and beyond, should a Jeter-like prospect become available. He may never have a shot to ever play in MLB, for not only will he not necessarily fit the statistical profile, but scouts may no longer be considered useful to MLB clubs.

And what a shame it would be for the game of baseball to lose those intangibles which contribute to the elements of its mystique. And it is through its imperfections that allow for a new script for every game played, making us ever more appreciative of its outcome and yet continually indebted to the human element in its sport.


Oh what a complete load of crap. Why does Primer print this luddite rubbish by people who don't post on this site?
   2. Walt Davis Posted: September 18, 2009 at 11:14 AM (#3325637)
You don't post the entire piece in the excerpt.
   3. Fly should without a doubt be number !!!!! Posted: September 18, 2009 at 11:22 AM (#3325638)
Especially not an entire piece of #### like that.
   4. Mr. Bouton's Greenie Fetish Posted: September 18, 2009 at 11:24 AM (#3325640)
You don't post the entire piece in the excerpt.


This isn't an excerpt, as Ms. Grassi didn't actually link to anything except this page. So, "Self-linking scum" does not apply.
   5. Mr. Bouton's Greenie Fetish Posted: September 18, 2009 at 11:29 AM (#3325641)
A quick google search returns this:

Yet, to Ms. Grassi, it is the issues that are paramount, as opposed to the messenger, while maintaining intellectually honest and original fact-based reporting and research without an agenda.


Which seems a direct conflict with this:

Fast forward to the 2010 season and beyond, should a Jeter-like prospect become available. He may never have a shot to ever play in MLB, for not only will he not necessarily fit the statistical profile, but scouts may no longer be considered useful to MLB clubs.


Ms. Grassi is either being intellectually dishonest or has a very poor understanding of the subject.
   6. The Voice of America Posted: September 18, 2009 at 12:08 PM (#3325653)
Cool, so are they going to put those cameras at high school fields too?
   7. Chris Dial Posted: September 18, 2009 at 12:17 PM (#3325654)
Seriously, can we stop the insults?

Let's be a kinder, gentler Primer, at least until you know the person.
   8. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: September 18, 2009 at 12:19 PM (#3325656)
Quick googling suggests Grassi is something of a fringe paleo-conservative reporter. Here she is boldly taking on the NAFTA Superhighway, and reporting on broader secret plans to hand over control of the US Interstate system to ferriners. She appears to be anti-war and anti-free-trade, as well. Most of the sports columns I found were related in some way to trade or immigration law, so this is a weird one.

EDIT: I guess there's a certain strand of anti-modernity running through these articles and through the paleo-con community generally, which would be consistent with a strong form of technology-skepticism.
   9. Fly should without a doubt be number !!!!! Posted: September 18, 2009 at 01:09 PM (#3325683)
Let's be a kinder, gentler Primer, at least until you know the person.

Let's not post your poorly formatted screed on Primer in its entirety, at least until you know the site.
   10. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: September 18, 2009 at 01:42 PM (#3325721)
Also, from Jeter's own bio, his HS accomplishments:

After batting .557 with seven homers as a junior, Derek hit .508 (30-for-59) with four home runs, 23 RBIs, 21 walks and only one strikeout in 23 games his senior year. He got on base 63.7 percent of the time and tallied an impressive .831 slugging percentage. Derek collected several awards at season's end, including the Kalamazoo Area B'nai B'rith Award for Scholar Athlete, the 1992 High School Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, the 1992 Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year and USA Today's High School Player of the Year.

So Jeter's slash line his Senior Year was something like .508/.637/.831 while stealing 12 bases with a 100% sucess rate, striking out just once and playing SS. I don't know what "statistical profile" he does "not necessarily fit" but it isn't one from a winning team.
   11. TFTIO is familiar with the work of Pablo Neruda Posted: September 18, 2009 at 01:54 PM (#3325734)
"Disserve"?
   12. bobm Posted: September 18, 2009 at 02:04 PM (#3325743)
I think reading this kills off brain cells.

Also: "And it will beg the question of MLB of whether or not umpires and advance scouts will be less and less depended upon as the years go on.". Why do people write "beg the question" when they mean "raise the question"? "Begging the question" is to prove an argument using your assumption to prove the argument.
   13. Fly should without a doubt be number !!!!! Posted: September 18, 2009 at 02:07 PM (#3325746)
Why do people write "beg the question" when they mean "raise the question"? "Begging the question" is to prove an argument using your assumption to prove the argument.

Interestingly, this is begging the question, isn't it?
   14. Dale Sams Posted: September 18, 2009 at 02:18 PM (#3325761)
Apparently all roads lead to Jeter.

One second my brain is going numb from strike-zone technobabble and then we're talking about Derek Jeter.
   15. Tricky Dick Posted: September 18, 2009 at 03:25 PM (#3325837)
reminiscent of the ill-timed traffic light camera that incorrectly tickets a driver for going through a red light while traveling through the tail end of a yellow caution light in an intersection.


Oh no, does this happen a lot? I go through yellow lights at intersections with a red light camera quite a bit.

A few points in this article (like over what part of the zone is the strike called?) may be legitimate. But even if there are some flaws in the electronic technology, I would much prefer the uniformity and objectivity of the technology over the inconsistency and occasional bad umpires I see behind the plate.

However, the article devolves into the ridiculous too. If scouts used a horse and buggy to go scout Cy Young, maybe scouts shouldn't drive a car to see a player now.
   16. The Lovesong of J. Alfredo Griffin Posted: September 18, 2009 at 03:49 PM (#3325856)
Randall, oh sweet Randall, your soulmate is calling. Hurry before Swineman gets to her first.
   17. puck Posted: September 18, 2009 at 04:16 PM (#3325877)
Hit f/x won't be live until 2011? Damn.
   18. Tripon Posted: September 18, 2009 at 04:17 PM (#3325879)
I think it'll be live in New Yankees stadium in 2010, but won't be introduced league wide until 2011.
   19. zenbitz Posted: September 18, 2009 at 04:46 PM (#3325911)
Robo Ump Now!
   20. John Northey Posted: September 18, 2009 at 04:46 PM (#3325912)
Bizarre conclusion in that article. Since MLB will put camera's everywhere to measure everything in ML stadiums that scouts won't be used to find prospects who play in hundreds of thousands of parks throughout the world but instead count on results from a measuring system that isn't available in those parks. Uh... what?

It is too bad for the plate umpire and advance scouts who will lose their jobs or have them greatly reduced in importance but the same was true the day TV was invented and expanded with video on cell phones and other portable devices (as players now can scout other players themselves quite easily). That's life.
   21. Padraic Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:00 PM (#3325928)
Why do people write "beg the question" when they mean "raise the question"? "Begging the question" is to prove an argument using your assumption to prove the argument.

As a philosophy minor who loved the initial use of "question begging" to mean "assuming that which you wish to prove," I must admit, sadly, that usage patterns have made the above acceptable. For all intents and purposes, outside of a few PHIL classes, "beg the question" does mean "raise the question."
   22. Jeff K. Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:32 PM (#3325970)
Kalamazoo Area B'nai B'rith Award for Scholar Athlete

This is ####### awesome.

Especially when the other awards are the 1992 High School Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, the 1992 Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year and USA Today's High School Player of the Year.
   23. Jeff K. Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:40 PM (#3325984)
Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such films as "Itching: Nature's Warning That You're a Ho", "The Ten Commandments", "Pulp Fiction", and "It's a Wonderful Life".
   24. puck Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:44 PM (#3325990)
For all intents and purposes, outside of a few PHIL classes, "beg the question" does mean "raise the question.


Do you mean for all purposes, or only for intensive purposes?
   25. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:48 PM (#3325995)
This isn't an excerpt, as Ms. Grassi didn't actually link to anything except this page. So, "Self-linking scum" does not apply.

Two questions:

1. How did she actually submit a link to a page that didn't exist before she submitted the link?

2. Who the hell with the keys cleared this? I know that we discussed the self-linking elsewhere, but it never occurred to me that the people with the keys didn't even look at the article being linked.
   26. Jeff K. Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:48 PM (#3325998)
I believe you mean all intensive porpoises. Learn English, nimrod!
   27. Jeff K. Posted: September 18, 2009 at 05:50 PM (#3326003)
1. How did she actually submit a link to a page that didn't exist before she submitted the link?

She didn't. Submissions with no link default to link to the comment thread. It's not hard to do when you're posting your own links, like I used to do with the Blogpark when Spivey or I would write something original.
   28. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: September 18, 2009 at 06:22 PM (#3326046)
She didn't. Submissions with no link default to link to the comment thread. It's not hard to do when you're posting your own links, like I used to do with the Blogpark when Spivey or I would write something original.

OK, so it's just something that's not normally done that way for newsblog entries, but is always there.
   29. Completely Unbiased 3rd Party Lurker Posted: September 18, 2009 at 06:33 PM (#3326074)
She didn't link to her own blog, she just wanted to share her article. The name-calling is out of line. It would have been nice if she'd been familiar with the protocol of BBTF, by which we can all agree posting an entire article in the excerpt is not how it's done here, but so what? Self-linking is the far worse crime, in my completely unbiased opinion.

As to the content of the article, I think her point is that Major League Baseball has made a concerted effort to add elements of computerized objectivity to umpiring and scouting, areas that have traditionally been judged solely by the human eye. I wonder what MLB is hoping to learn? It doesn't seem to me that forcing umpires to conform to a computer-and-camera-generated strikezone is any better than letting an umpire define his own strikezone as long as he enforces it consistently.
   30. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: September 18, 2009 at 06:41 PM (#3326093)
It doesn't seem to me that forcing umpires to conform to a computer-and-camera-generated strikezone is any better than letting an umpire define his own strikezone as long as he enforces it consistently.
Well, yes it is. Because there is a stike zone in the rule book, and that's the one MLB is trying to get umpires to follow.

And players should have to go game-to-game knowing that sometimes a pitch is a strike and sometimes it isn't. It's pretty shameful that being consistant in a made-up zone is the best one can hope for from umpires.
   31. Swedish Chef Posted: September 18, 2009 at 06:48 PM (#3326111)
I must say I have a hard time keeping track of just what forms of Ludditism that is cool around here.
   32. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: September 18, 2009 at 06:59 PM (#3326132)
The technology stuff was a little interesting, because I haven't seen the information compiled together before.

But the sudden change to Jeter's intangibles and USA Today Player of the Year Award not being drafted was bizarre.
   33. Completely Unbiased 3rd Party Lurker Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:04 PM (#3326136)
It's pretty shameful that being consistant in a made-up zone is the best one can hope for from umpires.


We're going to have to agree to disagree on this. I'd rather have umpires trained to be decisive and consistent as opposed to trying to fit the strikezone to whatever they think the camera in that particular ballpark has decided it should be. Human beings are going to be wrong sometimes, and I like that about baseball. Umpires being wrong once in a while is one of the good things about baseball. All I ask for from the plate ump is consistency and impartiality.
   34. Gaelan Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:05 PM (#3326137)
As a philosophy minor who loved the initial use of "question begging" to mean "assuming that which you wish to prove," I must admit, sadly, that usage patterns have made the above acceptable. For all intents and purposes, outside of a few PHIL classes, "beg the question" does mean "raise the question."


We have this conversation here every few months which I take as evidence that many people know that "beg the question" does not mean "raise the question." There is no reason to descend to the illiteracy of journalists.
   35. Padraic Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:29 PM (#3326161)

We have this conversation here every few months which I take as evidence that many people know that "beg the question" does not mean "raise the question." There is no reason to descend to the illiteracy of journalists.


True, but unless you want to be a strict prescriptivist, you have to deal with this kind of stuff. Language is fluid. It's good to point out that true and original meaning, but that doesn't mean that meaning is static.
   36. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:34 PM (#3326170)
It doesn't seem to me that forcing umpires to conform to a computer-and-camera-generated strikezone is any better than letting an umpire define his own strikezone as long as he enforces it consistently.

I don't think the article is very well written as we're having too much discussion on what it meant, which suggests the article is unclear.

My takeaway, for what it's worth, is that the computerization with strikezone calls at least has its affected MLB employees approving/disapproving it via collective bargaining whereas scouts have no such outlet. Anyone with a decent knowledge of the MLB clubs should at least understand that not every club wants to do scouting the way every other club does it, but they sure as heck would like consistency in umpiring. So I'm as confused as to what the point of the article was.

And if I use the words "Derek Jeter" in my article I have a better chance of getting picked up by a large periodical.
   37. Mike Fast Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:35 PM (#3326171)
I've written a response to this article at the Hardball Times:
http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/blog_article/is-sportvision-ruining-baseball/
   38. Gaelan Posted: September 18, 2009 at 07:39 PM (#3326175)
True, but unless you want to be a strict prescriptivist, you have to deal with this kind of stuff. Language is fluid. It's good to point out that true and original meaning, but that doesn't mean that meaning is static.


True. While the meaning of language changes, unless you're willing to accept the narrowing of human horizons, it's good to point out that not all changes are for the better. Language changes are not neutral, some changes improve our ability to express thoughts, while other changes impede our ability to express thoughts. It's pretty clear where this falls.
   39. Completely Unbiased 3rd Party Lurker Posted: September 18, 2009 at 09:26 PM (#3326319)
we're having too much discussion on what it meant, which suggests the article is unclear.


Agreed.
   40. Walt Davis Posted: September 19, 2009 at 01:32 AM (#3326478)
the protocol of BBTF, by which we can all agree posting an entire article in the excerpt is not how it's done here, but so what? Self-linking is the far worse crime, in my completely unbiased opinion.

The "don't post the entire article in the excerpt" "rule" is not so much based on "protocol" as it is on copyright law. Now if the author owns the copyright and also posted the article, then there's no legal problem -- it's just strange and pointless.
   41. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: September 19, 2009 at 01:50 AM (#3326488)
Why do people write "beg the question" when they mean "raise the question"? "Begging the question" is to prove an argument using your assumption to prove the argument.


Because the correct meaning involves a use of "beg" that zero people on earth use except in technical philosophical arguments, AND a use of "question" that zero people on earth use except in technical philosophical arguments.
   42. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: September 19, 2009 at 02:06 AM (#3326499)
I think there's a subtle difference in intended meaning when you tell someone "they're begging the question" (the above philosophical meaning) and when someone uses the turn of phrase "it begs the question" (which is I guessed has become equivalent to "it raises the question.")

I think the former is still legitimate and used often even in circles outside of philosophy departments, or at least it ought to be.
   43. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: September 19, 2009 at 02:44 AM (#3326509)

True, but unless you want to be a strict prescriptivist, you have to deal with this kind of stuff. Language is fluid. It's good to point out that true and original meaning, but that doesn't mean that meaning is static.


I posted this elsewhere, but the "new" meaning has been around for at least 150 years. It's not an example of changing language, but an example of a co-existing high and low usage. This debate has been going on a long time, and will likely still be going on 100 years from now.

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