Over the weekend, at the Sloan Sports Analytics conference right here in Boston, MLB Advanced Media made an exciting announcement regarding some new technology. The advancements will help track all aspects of the game, and could revolutionize the way we watch the game. Check out the video below for a cool example of how the as-of-now unnamed technology will work.
Maybe it's just because it was what was highlighted in the above video, but the defensive aspects of this has me the most excited. As advanced stats have made their way more and more into the mainstream of baseball discussion, it's become increasingly clear that teams are looking to find more well-rounded players, who can hit and play defense. While teams have had Field F/X technology, it hasn't been made available to the public, who have been left to use various defensive metrics with a combination of scouting reports to judge defensive chops. Though this technology will only be used in a select group of parks this season, the hopes is it will be everywhere by 2015, and by then they will have hopefully found a way to successfully make it publicly available. It's an exciting development, and one that should help us more greatly appreciate some of the league's best defensive players. As it relates to the Red Sox, there are a few players who jump to mind as to how this technology will enhance our appreciation of their game.
Barring some surprising progression made by Grady Sizemore this spring, Bradley is going to be Boston's Opening Day center fielder. While he struggled with the bat against his first taste of major-league pitching, he has the tools to be a fine enough hitter right away, and to develop into an above-average one at some point. It's his defense, however, that is what has scouts talking, and what is placing him firmly in every top-100 list this winter. Keith Law, for example, says Bradley's defense
He could also save 10 or more runs a year on defense, enough to make Red Sox fans say "Jacoby who?"
What's interesting about this is, by all accounts, the young outfielder is exactly a speedster like Ellsbury was. He's certainly not slow, but he earns all of his praise by being an extremely smart and instinctual defensive player, rather than just relying on his legs. This new technology will allow us to quantify that more precisely, rather than turning largely towards the "eye test." It will be fascinating to see just how high Bradley's route efficiency numbers will be on a consistent basis.
Playing along side Bradley this year will be Victorino, potentially giving Boston two Gold Glove-caliber players covering two very large portions of Fenway's outfield. Last season, the right fielder was one of the better defensive players in baseball by the available defensive metrics, finishing in a tie with Juan Uribe atop the UZR/150 leaderboard, as well as being worth 2.2 defensive wins according to Baseball-Reference. While these metrics are far from gospel, especially with a one-year sample, watching him play everyday backed up these claims, as he navigated Fenway's incredibly difficult right field with relative ease. He covered the massive area in a way that hasn't been seen in a very long time. This technology could help us truly appreciate how well he plays in Boston's right field, especially a few years down the road when he can be compared to his successor, who will more likely than not be an inferior defensive player. Seeing just how much range he has covered on plays in which he goes all the way to the corner, or seeing just how strong his throws to third and home are will help back up the high praise he received from the metrics this season.
>Photo Credit: Tim Fuller-USA Today Sports
While the previous two guys are already firmly established as top-notch defensive players, the jury is still out on Bogaerts as a defensive shortstop. The narrative has shifted a bit in the past year or two, as it's become much more likely that he will stick at the position, but it's not certain how good he'll be there. This will give us a better idea at just how far he's come from the time when it was all but certain he'd eventually move to either third base or the outfield. This new technology will be able to tell us how quick he's reacting to the ball off the bat, and how quick his release is. He'll never be the rangiest shortstop, but MLB AM's new technology should let us know if he's making up for that in other areas, and whether or not he's justified the confidence the team has shown in him being able to stick at the position.
Over the course of the season, and onto the next one, there will likely be more announced about this development. There is going to be more to it than defense - for example, we'll be able to see just how hard the ball is coming off Mike Napoli's and David Ortiz's bats - and hopefully videos like the one featuring Heyward will be released to give us a better understanding. For now, though, there is plenty to be excited about. In a few years, we should have a much better idea of what makes a great defensive player. As the roster stands right now, Jackie Bradley, Shane Victorino and Xander Bogaerts were the three names who came to mind when this announcement was made.