We are all familiar with Trackman, even if you don’t know it by the name. Statcast, the system that tracks the pitches thrown that show the strikezone on TV, and the system that tells you the estimation for how far the ball was hit – that’s Trackman. The reason the overall package is called Statcast is because there is another system in place that tracks the fielders movements for defensive purposes – and MLB just bunches it all together as one thing under “Statcast”.

Trackman, however, seems to be going away at the Major League level at least. Eno Sarris of The Athletic reported this morning that teams are installing Hawk-Eye this season and it is supposed to be ready to roll out for the start of the 2020 season.

Trackman, which we’ve seen in Major League Baseball since the 2015 season, uses radar technology. Hawk-Eye uses optical tracking and is considered to be more accurate. And it’s going to track even more than what is currently being handled by Trackman, too. From an email sent out to all Major League Baseball teams, from the article in The Athletic:

We expect this next generation system to significantly improve the accuracy and precision of ball and player tracking and unlock new tracing opportunities like bat swing path tracking and player limb tracking.

In the last 13 years we’ve seen these tracking systems change how the game is being played. And how players are being scouted. And how players are being evaluated. When Pitch F/X, a three-camera system that optically tracked the pitch came about, all of the data was released publicly if you knew where to find it. It was raw data, but if you were smart enough, you could do big things with it. And after that 2007 release, some people did. Josh Kalk and Mike Fast were among the early adopters to publishing great things on the internet around the Pitch F/X data and soon enough they were snatched up by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros to work for them instead of doing things on the internet.

That system, though, was only tracking the pitches. Trackman made their staple in golf, first. But soon enough they made their way to baseball, and teams and Major League Baseball began to use their system instead. Everyone was using it at the Major League level by the end of 2015. It added more than just pitch tracking. And while it was an improvement, it’s not perfect. There are still errors being made, though far less than there used to be as some of the kinks have been figured out along the way.

The new Hawk-Eye system is going back to cameras to track things instead of radar. But unlike the previous camera tracking operation, Pitch F/X, Hawk-Eye uses four times as many cameras (12 in total). If you watch tennis, then you’ve probably seen Hawk-Eye in action. Here’s a look at how it works.

The video above does note that it’s accurate enough to 5MM. But in the article at The Athletic, Eno Sarris notes that the claim now is 2MM (though some peer reviews have said it’s as much as 10MM). For those at home who can’t calculate millimeters to inches in their heads, 10MM is 0.39 inches.

With more expected accuracy, and with more things that will be tracked, baseball will be taking another step forward in the amount of data they are using to evaluate the game and the players.

19 Responses

  1. VaRedsFan

    If you watch the ESPN Sunday Night telecast (and maybe other ESPN broadcasts too). They will show a 3-D replay of a close pitch, and if it catches the zone or not. It’s really cool, and I believe that it will be the version of robo-ump that they use when the time comes.

    Reply
  2. RedInIND

    Cool. Now let’s focus on consistent balls and strikes within a ¼ of an inch.

    Reply
  3. Michael Smith

    Interesting and It must be one hell of a system to top trackman. I worked as a golf professional for years before I moved to my current industry and Trackman was revolutionary for club fitting and teaching. Also one hell of a back story. The guy who invented the system first was creating missle tracking technology for the navy and used to hit golf balls to test the radar system.

    Reply
      • Michael Smith

        Your welcome at @mark and @tbd

        When I first started using trackman back in 2010 for fittings and lessons it was mind blowing. It altered a lot of the things we taught. I could tell a student this is why you want to buy this driver, with this shaft and show them how it optimized their launch angle, spin rates to get maximize control and distance.

    • Doug Gray

      There are a few known flaws with what Trackman is doing in terms of pitch tracking. A good example is the “strikezone” you see on TV. First, it’s generally blindly accepted as accurate, but it’s not. Breaking balls can and would exploit that system for strikes if it went live as the strikezone right now according to just about everyone I have spoken to about it. Of course, pitchers can and do exploit umpires, too. There’s also some stuff that it’s not tracking properly with spin/axis on certain pitches, too – which Eno’s article touched upon.

      I still love it and think it’s great. But there are some known issues with it, too.

      Reply
  4. MARK MOORE

    Time for the robot strike zone. Consistency matters more than ego.

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    • ToBeDetermined

      Mark
      Wouldn’t they still need a home plate umpire to judge safe/out calls at home. Would he just sit back there like he does now and do nothing, other than take foul balls of his body parts, till a play at the plate ?
      Or do you think the new system would simply make those calls also.

      I could here it now from the announcers.
      The umpires for today’s game are Hal 692, Hal 457, and a rookie Hal 1043

      Reply
      • MARK MOORE

        Just the wildly inconsistent strike zone

      • Mike

        If you don’t want feedback, don’t take comments. It’s not about you it’s about the topic. Boring.

      • Doug Gray

        You posted five Z’s. That’s not feedback.

  5. SultanofSwaff

    You guys beat me to the strike zone comments. It’s beyond obvious that if we can get within 2-5mm that it should be used.

    The limb analytics will be super interesting with pitchers. I wonder if there will be meaningful data that correlates pitch count/fatigue/injury risk.

    Reply
  6. matthew hendley

    I thought the article was good, I learned things. Beyond player improvement it could be used as a tool to better evaluate umpires as well.

    Reply
  7. jreis

    thanks Doug. I say tennis is the only sport that has replay right. it is fast and actually kind of fun for the fans. glad baseball will be adapting it.

    Reply
  8. CFD3000

    I am a little old school in terms of umpiring and the human element. But there are some aspects of baseball that are simply binary. Either a pitch was completely off the plate as it crossed the plane at the front of home plate (a ball) or it wasn’t. Human umpires are really good at evaluating that – but not nearly as good as these tracking systems. It’s time for a digital (and consistent) strike zone. The umpires will still have plenty to do, and baseball will still be an amazing game. If Hawk-eye gets us one step closer I’m all for it.

    Reply

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