Digital Baseball: Baseball stats go to the next level

Apr 01, 2010 By Phillip F. Schewe, ISNS

Baseball fans who revel in the statistics surrounding the game, such as batting averages or the clocked speeds of curve balls, have gotten a windfall of data in the past few years thanks to multi-camera filming of games and new studies of what happens to a ball when it meets a bat.

About three years ago a company called Sportvision began detailed video recording of every pitch in every game at every park in . PITCHf/x, as the system is called, uses one camera high above home plate and another camera high above the first-base line to capture a detailed 3-D trajectory of the on its 60 foot journey toward the plate. A similar system, HITf/x, has now started to quantify initial trajectory of batted baseballs. And coming up next will be FIELDf/x, a system (using still more cameras) to document, at the level of fractions of seconds, where fielders are in relation to a ball as it comes off the bat. FIELDf/x was used last season at the San Francisco Giants’ park on an experimental basis, and is still under development.

Surprisingly, a lot of PITCHf/x and related information is available to the public. Numerous baseball bloggers use the data to analyze pitchers. Scientists have also gotten interested. Alan Nathan, a nuclear physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a dedicated Red Sox fan and has written scientific papers about the physics of baseball and is well equipped to convert massive amounts of dry data into fascinating observations.

For example, New York Yankee ace relief pitcher Mariano Rivera’s entire inventory of pitches over a whole season has been recorded. Nathan’s analysis shows one reason why Rivera is so effective. A chart of his pitches shows that Rivera keeps his pitches at the very edge of the strike zone. A similar chart of pitches that are hit for home runs (thrown by all pitchers) is peaked right at the heart of the strike zone. Lesson: Rivera doesn’t give batters much of a chance.

Using data about the take-off angle for batted balls and for the balls’ landing points, Nathan has deduced that the launch angle for home runs is high -- in the 25-to-35 degree range. The angle for hits (excluding homers) is much lower -- in the 10-15 degree range.

Nathan can use data to dispel theories. Concerning the record number of home runs hit last year at the new Yankee Stadium, one theory holds that prevailing winds assist the homer output. To test this hypothesis, Nathan looked at what he calls “carry,” the ratio of the distance the hit ball actually went to the distance the ball would have gone in the absence of wind or aerodynamic drag -- a distance that can be judged from the initial angle and speed of the hit ball.

The chart of all the stadiums shows that Denver’s park has the highest carry, not surprising since the altitude in Colorado ensures that air will be thinner than elsewhere, and thus offering less drag. Cleveland’s stadium had the least carry. And Yankee Stadium? It comes about in the middle, actually slightly less than average.

Professor Nathan, who reported his results last week at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Portland, Ore., and at a talk this week at the University of Maryland in College Park, believes that the new digitized data flood will lead to a new way to analyze baseball. Fielders, for instance, will be rated not just by the number of errors they commit, but by their reaction time and the efficiency by which they chase the ball. Nathan expects that the multi-camera approach to following trajectories -- whether players or balls -- will soon extend into other sports.

Explore further: Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

Provided by Inside Science News Service

4.8 /5 (5 votes)

Related Stories

How does an outfielder know where to run for a fly ball?

Jan 21, 2010

( -- Faced with a fly ball soaring deep into center field during the 1954 World Series, New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays turned his back on the ball, ran straight to the center field ...

How pitching changes little leaguers' shoulders

Oct 04, 2007

At this year's Little League World Series, new rules for the first time forced players to limit the number of times pitchers could throw the ball, and coaches had to strategize how pitchers were used more carefully.

Recommended for you

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

12 hours ago

( —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Neuroscientist's idea wins new-toy award

Apr 15, 2014

When he was a child, Robijanto Soetedjo used to play with his electrically powered toys for a while and then, when he got bored, take them apart - much to the consternation of his parents.

Land Rover demos invisible bonnet / car hood (w/ video)

Apr 14, 2014

( —Land Rover has released a video demonstrating a part of its Discover Vision Concept—the invisible "bonnet" or as it's known in the U.S. the "hood" of the car. It's a concept the automaker ...

Visions of 1964 World's Fair didn't all come true

Apr 12, 2014

Video phone calls? Yeah, we do that. Asking computers for information? Sure, several times a day. Colonies on the moon and jet packs as a mode of everyday transportation. OK, maybe not.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 02, 2010
Really, so it takes a nuclear physicist to conclude that putting a ball over the middle of the plate has a greater chance to be hit over the fence? Really?

Man, no wonder I never made the majors...I thought you were supposed to throw it down the middle...

It may certainly help give a better defintion to Fielder Range though. That has been a hard category to quantify exactly.

More news stories

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

( —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, ...

Unlocking secrets of new solar material

( —A new solar material that has the same crystal structure as a mineral first found in the Ural Mountains in 1839 is shooting up the efficiency charts faster than almost anything researchers have ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

( —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

Gate for bacterial toxins found

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Aktories and Dr. Panagiotis Papatheodorou from the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Freiburg have discovered the receptor responsible ...