When it comes to trendsetting technological advancements, no sport does it better than Major League Baseball.
Much of the credit for the sport’s tech savvy approach goes to the vision of commissioner Rob Manfred. The boss of baseball fully grasps just how critical embracing technology is to the long term health of the game.
“I think that the next big question for us, is how we make sure that baseball is passed on to the next generation,” Manfred said, per R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports. “I think that technology issues … are a huge part of that. We’re making very extensive efforts to use technology.”
From the introduction of virtual reality goggles to the rise of the burgeoning MLB Advanced Media empire, these tech initiatives have not only made baseball far more accessible for fans but have also fundamentally changed the landscape of the sport.
The Introduction of Virtual Reality
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The San Francisco Giants are taking their fans inside the game.
This season, the National League West Club will have five sets of virtual reality goggles at the @Cafe in AT&T Park, which will allow fans to watch full-immersion videos, per Nashelly Chavez of the San Francisco Examiner.
“You’ll be in the dugout, on the field,” Giants Executive Vice President Mario Alioto said, per Chavez. “You’re practically a member of the team.”
That’s a great deal for fans as this team has a knack for winning rings during even-year campaigns.
The Gradual Implementation of Protective Helmets for Pitchers
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Being a big league hurler is one dangerous gig.
With line-drive comebackers looming as an ever-present danger, MLB and the MLB Players Association continues to search for the best gear to protect their pitchers.
The latest option is a hat designed by Boombang, which looks “more [like a] visor than [a] helmet, per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh Pirates closer Mark Melancon gave the headgear a thumbs up when he tested it out at the beginning of spring training.
“I was really impressed with the feel of it,” Melancon told Brink. “Proportionately, it’s very evenly distributed. It felt like a regular hat.
However, as Melancon admitted, the styling remains a real impediment to its widespread adoption: “Just because the looks, I mean, being frank, it might not be something that I wear during the season.”
The Continued Growth of PitchF/x
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PitchF/x is an absolute staple for baseball nerds everywhere.
For the uninformed, FanGraphs provides the quick rundown of this tool in all its greatness.
PITCHf/x is a pitch tracking system, created by Sportvision, and is installed in every MLB stadium since around 2006. This system tracks the velocity, movement, release point, spin, and pitch location for every pitch thrown in baseball, allowing pitches and pitchers to be analyzed and compared at a detailed level.
If you’re looking to put that torrent of data to use, there’s no better place to start than BrooksBaseball.net. When it comes to the big leagues, that site tells you everything about everyone—like the staggering fact that the opposition hit .029 against Clayton Kershaw’s curve ball last July.
The Tablet Invasion
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The tablets are coming.
Beginning Opening Day, MLB skippers will have the option of rocking specially designed tablets rather than their trusty notebooks.
Per A.J. Perez of USA Today, MLB has struck a deal which will allow the managers to use the devices for analytical and replay purposes. The tablets will also come loaded with the MLB Dugout app which includes a centralized advanced scouting platform.
The Implementation of Instant Replay
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Since its introduction at the outset of the 2014 season, MLB’s instant replay system has been a roaring success.
Simply put, the system, which allows managers one challenge per game and a second if they get the first one right, has ensured that far fewer calls are botched. What’s more, the umpire crew chief can even initiate a review of his own from the seventh inning on if he sees fit.
But not everyone is on board with replay.
“Now you sit there for five minutes and wait for a replay. And half the time, you can’t even tell,” Hall of Famer Goose Gossage complained to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post.
“Who’s died in the last 100 years because of a bad call? They say, ‘Well, they lost a World Series and the kid lost his perfect game.’ I said, ‘Who died?’ Leave the human element in the game. You cannot take the human element out of baseball because it is the fabric of the game.”
Don’t even get Goose started on those dang tablets.
The Emergence of StatCast
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MLB AM is the brain trust behind some downright brilliant products.
The league’s tech arm is responsible for the aforementioned MLB.TV and who could forget the ubiquitous At-Bat app? As Manfred explained to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols of ZDNet.com, the “app averaged 30.8 million users a day during the baseball season and its average user is under 30.”
Now, let’s add Statcast to the list of awesome inventions.
The tracking system is as good as it gets when it comes to video technology, as Paul Casella of MLB.com explained:
“Statcast collects the data using a series of high-resolution optical cameras along with radar equipment that has been installed in all 30 Major League ballparks. The technology precisely tracks the location and movements of the ball and every player on the field at any given time.”
In other words, Statcast offers effectively limitless opportunities to explore anything—and everything—that happens on the diamond.