Statcast made its long anticipated 2015 debut this past Tuesday and was showcased on MLB Network during the Cardinals-Nationals matchup. Since this system was first shown in 2014, fans have been awaiting its arrival. It captures and provides access to information that doesn’t exist anywhere else and casts a more granular eye on defensive metrics. With this Statcast technology in place at all 30 stadiums, each day will provide an astonishing amount of data and an endless stream of enhanced video.
The sophistication and potential power of the system was never in question. As a confirmation of that fact, MLBAM was awarded the Alpha Award at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Without a doubt, Statcast is in a unique position to usher in the next statistically-driven revolution in baseball. It also has the chance to unite those who stick to the old school methods and the sabermetrically inclined. That revolution can happen only if the people know about it, and thus far that campaign hasn’t been without its flaws.
The question that is still on everyone’s mind is how will this information be disseminated? While this may seem trivial, it’s essential to the future of MLB. In 2012, the median age of people who watched nationally televised baseball games and MLB Network was 54 years old. Obviously baseball’s executives would love to see that number decrease. The long-term economic health of the game depends on it. Because of this, it’s imperative that MLB showcase the excitement that Statcast brings to the game. For this to happen, MLB must increase their social media presence and bring the videos to the people. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case thus far.
Up to now, this has been the best source for all Statcast data. Most notably, MLB has added has added a Statcast feature to its gameday tracker. On its website, and on the MLB phone app, there is a new featured titled "feed" which will give viewers detailed play-by-play information.
It’s an amazing feature, one that will add a brand new statistics vocabulary to the everyday conversation. As these numbers become more widely known, the average fan will understand that a ball with an exit velocity of 115 mph is elite while less than 75 mph is putrid. Just as every fan can feel the excitement of a 100 MPH fastball from the arm of Aroldis Chapman, so too will that fan feel the excitement of Giancarlo Stanton crushing that fastball and it leaving the bat at 115 MPH.
While Statcast will undoubtedly help MLB attract viewers to its site, the rollout hasn’t been as seamless as one would have hoped. As of Friday, there were a good number of videos tagged with Statcast, yet few since its debut on Tuesday. It would have been great if the system had been ready for national use immediately on Wednesday, as everyone was talking about it, but that didn’t happen. The hype of this system is legitimate, and for MLB not to capitalize on that interest is a shame. The videos that are available to the public record a truly incredible amount of data, some examples of which can be seen below.
In the current age of social media, these videos are remarkably easy to share over multiple platforms. However, like the rollout of this system, MLB’s use of them across social media has been less than desirable and needs to improve.
Of all the major social media networks available, Twitter is the easiest way to pump Statcast video out to the public. MLB’s account has 4.47 million followers, a significant number to be able to reach quickly. In early 2014, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on Twitter’s demographics and concluded that 37% of people aged 18-29 who were "online" used the site. This finding makes MLB’s twitter account extremely important to its goal of attracting a younger demographic.
Yet, according to TweetStats, out of the four major team sports in the United States, MLB’s account is the third least utilized. The NHL’s account averages 42.7 tweets per day, while the MLB, NBA, and NFL average 47.9, 64.6, 64.8, respectively. Statcast offers a golden opportunity for MLB to raise its Twitter profile with content-rich tweets that are easily sharable.
In addition to the official MLB Twitter account, Statcast has its own Twitter account. As of Friday night, Statcast had tweeted out only a small number of videos but was at least engaging regularly with other users. But alas, the account has only 9,400 followers. That figure is so incredibly low it's almost not even enough to justify its own account. Beyond the Box Score’s Twitter account, @BtBScore, has about 18,500 followers and reaches a far greater audience than the one operated by MLBAM. It’s a dedicated platform able to post immediate video replay with Statcast data for a magical result. In time, it can become an extremely easy way for fans to share and interact with the new technology. One can only imagine the amount of traffic this capability could generate if properly presented to the public.
Even without the videos, Statcast is already becoming part of every day reporting. On April 22nd , Justin Maxwell hit his first homerun as a San Francisco Giant, which was then measured by the tracking software.
Per @statcast numbers, Maxwell got a 97 mph fastball and hit it 109 mph. Homer went 430 feet.— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) April 22, 2015
That wasn’t something that beat reporters tweeted last season, but it is something we can expect to become a permanent fixture going forward.
According to that same Pew Study, 87% of that 18-29 demographic uses Facebook, more than double the rate of Twitter usage. MLB’s Facebook page has roughly six million likes. Yet once again, Statcast is barely visible. The page has a couple of videos concerning Statcast, but they are buried under loads of other content. Statcast has the ability to produce a continuous stream of sharable content that can reach millions of users in seconds. The first video on their page that mentions Statcast is on April 21st, meaning that someone would have to scroll past three days worth of posts to find the tagged video.
Most videos look exactly the same unfortunately, making it even harder for users to find Statcast-related material. MLB will need to find a way to ensure that it is quick and easy for fans to locate these replays.
Vine may seem like an annoying app that is only shortening the general public’s attention span, but it’s been a remarkable tool for another league. The NBA has embraced this way of sharing information, and it has paid off tremendously. It has roughly one million followers on the social media site, while MLB has yet to crack 250,000. Early this January, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the NBA’s dominance of the video sharing site. Of all MLB has to offer, Statcast is uniquely suited for the use of Vine. By creating easily sharable content and pumping out a consistent stream all day, Vine can greatly increase MLB’s online presence.
Statcast has yet to make its way to regional networks but is set to later this season. This is the biggest roadblock standing in Statcast’s way. The reason that we don’t have access to the new replays is because they don’t exist. For the time being, it seems that the only way Statcast video will be made public is through special segments on MLB Network. The addition of Statcast to regional broadcasts will help MLB reach the last faction of viewers that have yet to be introduced to its wonder.
This new technology is spectacularly impressive; the amount of data it can measure and record in a matter of seconds is astounding. Its technological prowess is likely unmatched in the sports world, but its introduction to the public hasn’t been without its missteps. The major operational rollout flaw was that the system wasn’t ready for national release immediately after its debut. Once ready however, the system will drastically change the way people consume and talk about baseball. Terms like exit velocity and route efficiency will become commonplace and add to the understanding of the sport.
MLB’s work will not be over once Statcast is a daily occurrence. These Statcast replays must reach more than just the current fan base. Through the use of social media, MLB must use this opportunity created by Statcast to reach a broader and younger audience. If the new This campaign is any indication of MLB’s new strategy, then there’s little doubt that they will seize the moment. While the debut was less than ideal, MLB still has an incredible chance to reach millions of new fans.
Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.