During this tech boom, is it a coincidence that the tech savvy San Francisco Giants are in the World Series for the third time since 2010? In this post, we take a look at the relationship of technology, leadership, big data analytics, and baseball. In particular, we explore how Major League Baseball manages its player/patient population, and the trends they are following since converting players from paper medical records to EHR.
The New Frontier in Baseball Data: Medical Analysis and Injury Prevention
Baseball teams are very secretive about how they use their data. Teams, like the San Francisco Giants, employ a slew of data analysts and data tools, but every team is reluctant to share how data is used, and where they derive insights. According to the 2014 SABR Analytics Conference, the new frontier of baseball data is not just about scouting players, but keeping players healthy and injury-free. The new area of research, just in in its infancy, is marrying baseball statistics with medical injury research.
Medical analysts are the new data darlings of baseball operations.
Chris Marinak, Sr. Vice President of Major League Baseball, implemented MLB’s switch to electronic medical records, and believes medical injury research will provide new insights over the next five or ten years,
I actually joined MLB in 2008, and I was shocked to see that we didn’t have a system for tracking injuries or medical information at a de-identified level. We were literally keeping a lot of paper documents and putting them into a filing cabinet. It was time for us to get into the 21st century.
So starting in the 2010 season, we rolled out an electronic medical records system working with the players’ association that allows our medical staff to enter in medical information on every single player injury and the treatments that those players get. And then that information is all stored in one place, so that when you go from one team to the next, it flows along with you.
Marinak says the ancillary benefit is that MLB now has an injury tracking system where they can track trends in the industry.
- What are the most common injuries?
- How many collisions at home plate?
- How many concussions?
- How many UCL surgeries?
This data is analyzed at a de-identified level to find the drivers of lost time, and the injuries keeping players off the field. “So we can hopefully keep them healthier,” according to Marinak.
Baseball is a Data Driven Industry
Baseball is a sport that has always been hungry for statistics. Sabermetrics, the study of baseball’s in-game play, has been around since the middle of the 20th century. But in 2002 and 2003, Sabermetrics became “Moneyball” as the Oakland As advanced to the playoffs with their analytic approach to assembling a competitive team, despite a lack of competitive dollars.
Video, Biomechanics, and Data
With the advent of new technologies, PITCHf/x data and Sportsvision video in 2006, the world of baseball was set to explode with big data and predictive analytics. Detailed data became accessible for every hit and pitch in a game.
Batting and pitching biomechanics also started to be video analyzed at the high school level. In 2009, my son clocked an official bat speed of 101 miles per hour, one of the fastest recorded bat speeds in the country for any amateur or professional player.
Bat speed is recorded via a static ball test, hitting off of a tee; exit speed is recorded hitting a pitched ball.
An injury sidelined his play, so he started experimenting with this new PITCHf/x data. His early web-based program would let you compare MLB pitchers and batters, and team matchups. Having baseball experience would help him provide insights for an individual player’s performance enhanced by data visualizations like heat maps.
Although PITCHf/x stated its data could not be used for commercial purposes, it didn’t take long for the financial world to play ball – Bloomburg Sports was born in 2011. The company’s latest technology (recently sold) has the capability to create every imaginable data point from video captured from play performance, whether that video is captured live or from a stream.
Do you want to know how many times a player licks his lips before fielding a ball? – Dan Cohen, Bloomberg Sports
Tracking Body Movements
Dr. Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute says they look at what a person’s body is doing and that’s what biomechanics is, “Tracking where the ball went is all good, but we look at how did their body get there. The new thing teams are embracing is biomechanics.” More information will come from wearable tech and self-tracking technologies.
MLB is doing a lot more tracking of player movements utilizing Trackman and through studies at MIT. Marinak says having more of that information publicly available will be important to innovation, but right now it’s just too big, “A game’s worth of data in Trackman is 7 terabytes. So we’re talking about big data at a massive scale.” He cautions that how this data is treated will be different because it is medical information, and keeping a player’s medical information needs to be private.
Dr. Stan Conte (formerly with the SF Giants and now with the Los Angeles Dodgers) is a leading expert in medical injury research in baseball. He says they focus on “changes” in the data. He explains medical data is dirty data, so it is very difficult to analyze.
The data is getting better, and with more data, we’ll be able to go into areas that we hadn’t thought about before. – Dr. Stan Conte
But now that PITCHf/x also tracks every defensive play, it has been reported that the San Francisco Giants do defensive shifts better than all MLB teams. Is the team’s proximity to Silicon Valley, and its innovative CIO Bill Schlough, its World Series advantage? Or is it their overall focus on innovation?
The only team with “innovation” built into their mission statement.
The San Francisco Giants are dedicated to enriching our community through innovation and excellence on and off the field.
In 2004, the SF Giants were the first to offer Wi-Fi throughout their stadium. Today, approximately 35% of fans are online at games. The stadium’s “fat pipe” allows fans to easily upload content via the Giants app or social channels like Faceboook, Twitter, and Instagram.
In 2009, SF Giants CIO Bill Schlough introduced dynamic ticket pricing (DTP), allowing the price of game tickets to go up or down depending on popularity and availability. Other teams now use DTP, and the idea has spread to restaurants, movie theaters, and the performing arts.
Healthy Eating: Let Them Eat Kale
— #OctoberTogether (@SFGiants) June 24, 2014
This year, the SF Giants opened a 4,320 sq. ft. edible garden and restaurant, affectionately called the “kale garden”, that sits overlooking center field. In addition to providing healthy fare for fans and players, the innovative garden will be used as an open-air classroom for students during the Giants’ off-season, where Bay Area youth will go to learn about sustainability, urban farming and healthy eating.
Gaining respect early as a technology leader was key for Schlough’s career, as the Giants let him run his own department with the ease and precision he wanted to do it in. It’s tremendous the impact Schlough has had on the Giants, but eventually that impact will affect the MLB as a whole. – Justin Kasser
Now, let’s play ball!
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