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Volume 20 No. 41
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Sportvision: We’ll remain MLBAM partner

Chicago-based Sportvision Inc. has received a direct challenge from MLB Advanced Media’s new effort to develop a player tracking system in conjunction with TrackMan A/S and ChyronHego Corp. But Sportvision thinks it will survive the new arrival and remain a long-term partner of baseball’s digital arm.

The MLBAM initiative, announced at the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, involves combining camera and radar technologies to create the ability to measure the speed and path of every player on the field as well as the ball. The effort seeks to build upon more than five years of work that Sportvision has already conducted with MLBAM on its camera-based Pitch f/x, Hit f/x, and Field f/x products.

Sportvision’s Pitch f/x has become a widely used benchmark for measuring pitcher performance. By marrying the new MLBAM data with video, the as-yet-unnamed system seeks to create new measures such as “route efficiency,” which tracks how direct a path to the ball a fielder takes. Other indices will gauge batted-ball speed and fielder acceleration and reaction time.

MLBAM executives said they would continue to use Sportvision products for the 2014 season but were noncommittal about any time after that. Hank Adams, Sportvision chief executive, remains a firm believer in his products and their long-term prospects.

“We’ve been aware for a while this was coming and that they were looking at other solutions. But we like our approach and are confident in it,” Adams said. “I suspect we’ll be a partner of theirs in some fashion for the long term.”

Both the new MLBAM product and Sportvision’s Field f/x remain in embryonic states, holding the promise but not yet the full realization of providing reliable, objective defensive metrics that have long eluded baseball executives. Sportvision’s product is installed in San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, Boston’s Fenway Park and Milwaukee’s Miller Park. MLBAM’s system will also be tested this season in Miller Park, providing a side-by-side comparison, along with Target Field in Minneapolis and Citi Field in New York, with a leaguewide rollout planned for 2015.

Much of the difference between the two competing systems comes down to the use of radar technology. MLBAM is using TrackMan A/S, best known for its work in golf with the PGA Tour in tracking ball flight and swing mechanics with radar, to buttress its video-based work. Adams said Sportvision has looked extensively at radar-based technologies for its f/x systems, but has not embraced them.

“We know radar well. We’ve looked a lot at it. But it has its limitations” within baseball, Adams said.

MLBAM is promising to release much of the data generated by its new player tracking system to baseball operations personnel, broadcast operations and the public during the 2014 season, but those plans are not complete. MLBAM is still developing fair access rules for teams, as well as a process to verify the analytics it’s creating.

'Where Sportvision and MLBAM do agree is an interest in creating a true and complete digital record of the sport.
“Right now, nothing’s changed,” with Sportvision, said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. “The more, the better, and we’re looking forward to getting a lot of feedback from teams.”