(Photo credit to the Flickr Creative Commons)
As the World Series continues with a matchup between two of the biggest analytics teams – the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros – players are becoming more familiar with the prevalence of analytics in baseball at younger and younger ages.
In the minor leagues, teams are implementing shifts more than ever and installing TrackMan radars at almost every ballpark. Just about every MLB team employs a video analyst for each MLB affiliate to help sift through data and assist with the preparation of advance scouting reports. But it goes much farther back than that.
In the fall of 2013, Perfect Game USA and TrackMan reached a partnership that allows the advanced radar systems to be deployed to Perfect Game’s high school showcase events and tournaments. Players are now able to easily obtain data such as exit velocity, spin rates, and launch angles easier than ever before.
There is an issue though.
Players who decide to play baseball at the college level are mainly met with an absence of analytics. Currently, the vast majority of college teams are using a four-coach system – head coach, two assistants, and either one volunteer assistant or a director of operations – who is mainly in charge of budgeting, travel expenses, and camps.
This means many of these top high school players who had the luxury of looking at advanced metrics in high school are suddenly without them. In fact, of the top nine baseball conferences (The American, ACC, B1G, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, Mountain West, Pac 12, and SEC), only 29.6% of the teams have anyone that is full time and does any type of work with analytics at all. This means working with video scouting, game analysis reports for the coaching staff, and/or working with databases.
In fact, there are only two people in those nine conferences that strictly look at databases. Evan Short is UCSB’s Director of Analytics. His bio explains that he “will be responsible for identifying new technologies and information-intake methods to foster data-driven growth for the program in order to supplement player evaluation and development.”
The only other full-time analyst is Blake Beck of Auburn, their Player Development & Data Analyst. Beck coordinates all the video analysis for the team and also runs the TrackMan database while piecing together reports for the coaching staff.
However, even though those two are the only ones that are dedicated analysts, there are several others that work with data. In fact, 29 full-time staff members in the nine major conferences work with analytics in some capacity. The majority of them have the title of Director of Baseball Operations, which deviates from the typical duties of someone in that position. Video Coordinator is the second most common position for a staff member to be using analytics since their job is to run a video software and prepare video and scouting reports for coaches.
Of all the teams to have analysts on staff, only two teams had multiple. UCSB and Texas both have two on staff. UCSB has a Director of Analytics and an Assistant Director of Baseball Operations/Video Coordinator. Texas has a Director of Player Personnel and a Video Coordinator.
There are currently 71 teams in the nine major conferences without anyone working with analytics. That leaves 27 teams that do have someone that currently works with data. Teams that did not use someone in analytics last year had a combined win percentage of .562. Teams that do, have a winning percentage of .574 since they joined the staff. This is an uptick in wins and shows that the analysts have made a pretty significant difference in the culture around how teams look at how to win.
Finally, the prevalence of analysts in college baseball is definitely growing. Last season, there were 20 analytics staff members. However, this season there will be at least 29. That is a 45% increase in the use of analytics in college baseball. Teams in every situation have been hiring analytics personnel including Houston who enjoyed a 42-21 record last year to Rutgers who had a miserable 19-34 record in the Big 10 last season.
As fall ball continues to get underway, expect to see more analytics staff members hired in major conferences. More and more teams are embracing the role that analytics plays in competitive baseball. And as more college teams accept analytics, more players will be ready when they take that next step into professional baseball and look at data and video as a part of an everyday routine.