Wrigley Field now has a video scoreboard, video replay is used in the majors to review questioned calls and game stats, images and videos are available in the pocket of any fan with a smartphone.
There’s no denying it — baseball has entered the digital age in recent years.
For slightly lower-budget organizations, such as local high school programs, the high end of available technology offers apps for phones and tablets that help them keep a digital scorebook, track player trends, evaluate pitchers — and their individual pitches — and view batters’ spray charts.
“You hit a button, hit the pitch, then a menu comes up and you say, ‘Alright, it’s a fastball,’ and say if it’s a ball or strike, and it’s in this location,” said Shenendehowa pitching coach Keith Lansley. “Then you can mark it a hit, then drag it to this location. It’s as easy as you can get. I don’t know why anyone would not use it, at this point.”
Shenendehowa uses an app called GameChanger, which is endorsed by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball as “the first Pitch Smart certified app,” according to an email from GameChanger. Pitch Smart is “a series of practical, age-appropriate guidelines to help parents, players and coaches avoid overuse injuries and foster long, healthy careers for youth pitchers,” according to m.mlb.com/pitchsmart/. For each age group, it suggests a number of days off for pitchers between appearances, dependant upon how many pitches they threw on a given day.
Lansley said he noticed a parent of a player using the app during a summer league game two years ago. The parent in question was inputting the data for each play, and other parents who could not make it to the game were following along remotely from work or home.
Lansley said that is one of the more attractive features of such an app.
He shopped around, also considering a program called iScore, but settled on GameChanger. GameChanger is free for the team to use, but for fans to follow, they must pay a subscription fee. Shen head coach Greg Christodulu said, though, CapCom, through a sponsorship deal, paid for the fans’ subscription.
As Lansley explored the software, he discovered it was good for more than just broadcasting stats and play-by-play.
“We kind of played with it over the summer and realized this is something we can use, not only to keep the parents happy, but to keep our pitchers healthy and more productive,” he said.
“It really comes in handy come playoff time, because everything’s tracked back. Last year, we were playing Guilderland a second time, and we could look back and see, ‘This is how we pitched to these kids.’ It becomes a scouting tool, at that point, which is really valuable. Then at the end of the week, we can look and see this kid threw this many pitches in a game, this many in the bullpen, and say his arm’s going to be tired, so we’ll back him off or skip a start. It works both pro-actively and reactively to what you’re doing.”
At Broadalbin-Perth, coach Dan Simonds has been using iScore for two full seasons.
“After the game is when it really starts to pay off for us, because the iScore app allows us to generate something like 60 different types of charts, graphs, reports, spreadsheets, to give us every stat I could possibly imagine, Sabermetric stats and traditional baseball stats,” Simonds said. “We have a certain number of those we publish on our website for the players and fans to keep track of.”
The iScore app also uploads live updates to the team’s website to allow absent parents and fans to follow along. Simonds protects the site with a password to keep opponents from easily scouting his team.
He didn’t do so, though, early on.
“There was one game a couple years ago, I think we were playing South Glens Falls, and they had printed out all our stats, all our reports and charts,” Simonds said. “I was bringing in a new pitcher, and I heard Al Vasak, the coach, on the sideline calling out to his hitters what pitches he throws, when he throws them. He had all that information. Too much technology may not be a great thing all the time. But we learned how to password-protect everything.”
On the flipside, apps allow users to look back at past games and seasons and check spray charts for opposing batters they’ve faced before, and what pitches opposing players were throwing.
Despite all the bells and whistles, some coaches still prefer subtle clicks. Saratoga Central Catholic coach Phonsey Lambert is one who has stuck with the old plastic clicker to keep track of pitch counts, the “eyeball test” to judge a pitcher’s fatigue, and a pencil on paper for keeping book.
“I’m not a computer guy, but I put a lot of stuff on a legal pad,” he said. “I do have a little program I put the stats on, like a spreadsheet. For the most part, it’s almost like how you used to keep score for bowling, on a sheet instead of a monitor. It’s something I’ve always done and enjoy doing.”
He said he expects to see more coaches using the available technology, though, especially as younger coaches come into the game.
“It’s going to make things easier for coaches, having programs to keep track of things,” Lambert said. “It just makes sense, the way technology and the way the game’s moving. I could definitely see that.”
Even sticking to suggested pitch limits would not necessarily ensure a pitcher’s health, so coaches’ judgment must be a part of the process, no matter what technology is available.
Even Simonds still relies on his own eyes instead of how many breaking balls a player has thrown or how many pitches he’s thrown. Where he sees the app really paying off is when he looks back at the numbers to see where a pitcher’s limit was reached.
“This is my fifth year coaching, and we’ve had two kids with arm injuries in the years I’ve coached,” Simonds said. “It’s nice to be able to go back and look at what those kids did and what led to those arm injuries, to figure that out and learn, as we go forward, how far we can push guys in April, how far can we push guys in May. I think having that pool of information is going to make things safer, in the long run.”