November 4, 2016
Well, it has finally happened. After 108 years struggling to return to the World Series, the Chicago Cubs are champions once again. As a Chicago-based company, we couldn’t be more thrilled. After being down 3-1 in the series, the Cubs battled back to win three in a row and secure the title in the 10th inning of Game Seven. It was an incredible series and probably some of the most exciting baseball we’ll ever see, and while there were a hundred factors adding to the suspense, it’s easy to overlook some of the technical aspects that made these games so fun to watch.
For example, how do we know Chapman threw the fastest fastball ever? What technology are we using to track, categorize, and display these pitches during the game?
PITCHf/x — The Baseball Tech that’s Changed Baseball
The PITCHf/x system was created by Sportsvision, and after its debut in the 2006 MLB post-season is now installed in every MLB stadium. PITCHf/x records the speed and trajectories of each and every pitch with tremendous accuracy. Furthermore, this is the data used by broadcasters to reproduce the pitch and determine whether it was a strike or a ball. Most impressively, however, is that the data can also be used to determine the type of pitch it was, whether a curveball, fastball, slider, or more.
How It Works
Three camera are mounted in the stadium to record the balls traveling from the mound to the plate. By doing so, these cameras can track the speed and location of the pitch with a margin of error within one mile per hour and one inch.
To determine the type of pitch, PITCHf/x uses a metric known as BRK or “Break.” BRK measures the distance that the pitch deviates from a straight line between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. If, for example, a pitch was to have a very low BRK metric and a high speed, we can reasonably deduce that that pitch was a fastball. Alternatively, if the pitch has a moderate speed and a large BRK metric, this pitch could be described as a curveball. A third metric, PBX, measures the influence spin and drag have on that particular pitch. Categorization is useful, but it’s not perfect. For the most part, pitches are categorized by algorithms, and those algorithms have been known to be inaccurate at times.
But, pitch classification is different from the raw data. All the hard numbers of every pitch thrown in a MLB stadium for years has been dutifully recorded by PITCHf/x. Through it, we can gain a new level of insight into the sport and pass that down to future generations of players.
The Cubs Are World Champions
For over a century, the Cubs have been saying, “maybe next year,” but now that statement takes on a whole new meaning. Congratulations to the Cubs on your victory!
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