Take a stroll behind the backstop at any Cape Cod Baseball League game and you’ll find a host of Major League scouts taking in the action. Some yield radar guns, while others jot down notes on pads.
A few scouts simply sit or stand and watch the action, knowing full well that their professional organization will be provided with all of the advanced analytics needed to evaluate Cape League players before the Major League Draft.
More than 1,400 Cape League alumni have made it to the big leagues, and 140 picks in last year’s draft — almost 23 percent of players drafted — had previously played in the CCBL.
Another crop of players will join the long list of former Cape Leaguers to turn pro when the MLB Draft begins Sunday. While Cape League players auditioned for the scouts in the stands, they were also being watched by TrackMan, an in-game digital tracking solution that captures advanced analytics and real-time analysis for every Cape League game.
“We started working with the Cape Cod League in 2015, so we’re coming up on 10 years almost,” said TrackMan baseball account manager Morty Bouchard. “At every Cape Cod League field, right behind home plate on the backstop, you’ll see a giant one-foot-by-one-foot black box that says TrackMan on the bottom. That’s a single-unit radar and camera that’s an optically-enhanced pitch and hit tracking unit.
“The unit will track the ball coming in off the pitcher and it’ll track the ball coming off the hitter.”
You could spend hours going through all of TrackMan’s different capabilities, but at the core of the company is ball tracking, both for pitchers and hitters.
For pitchers, it will track release speed – how hard the pitcher is throwing it – and spin rate, which is how many spins per minute, or RPM, the ball is moving.
“Having more spin on a pitch doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better pitch, but the more spin you have, the more movement it’s going to have,” Bouchard said.
TrackMan also tracks how the ball is moving, including its vertical break and horizontal break as well as the release height when it leaves a pitcher’s hand.
For hitters, the technology tracks how hard the ball comes off the bat, how far it went and its launch angle, in addition to capturing more in-depth data.
“You can go on and on and on,” Bouchard said. “Basically, it’ll track everything.”
Ball tracking has always been at the center of TrackMan’s mission ever since golfers Klaus and Morten Eldrup-Jorgensen and radar engineer Fredrik Tuxen created the company to track golf balls.
Now Bouchard said the future of TrackMan’s baseball systems is biomechanics and tracking the way players move on the field.
“We have the ball tracking, but now there’s a big need for the biomechanics and skeletal tracking,” Bouchard said. “We had one assistant general manager with a club tell us the skeletal tracking and biomechanics is becoming big and it’s becoming big because of TrackMan. The sky is really the limit.”
Each Cape League game has a system operator that monitors the system to make sure it’s running efficiently in addition to tracking each pitch throughout every game.
The data is then packaged into files and sent to all 30 Major League teams.
“They ingest it into their own computer system and modules and spit out all sorts of charts and player development tools that they use to make draft selections,” Bouchard said. “They’ll use them for future years if they want to pick a player up or trade for a player.”
TrackMan currently works with every MLB team in addition to between 130 and 140 college programs throughout the nation, according to Bouchard, who noted it’s helpful that so many players join the Cape League after previously using TrackMan at their college programs.
“Someone from Vanderbilt, the University of Miami or Florida State or Stanford – a lot of these players are coming from schools that have a TrackMan system,” Bouchard said. “It’s great that they’re able to go from school and working with the TrackMan data and then come to the Cape Cod League and work with the coaches and then go back to their colleges and show their coaches where they’re improving.”
Although the costs associated with installing and utilizing a TrackMan system differs depending on the ballpark and its intended use, Bouchard said the company is willing to work with anybody around the country.
“We’ll work with everybody, whether you’re a big summer league like the Cape Cod League or a small local ballpark that just wants to get a TrackMan out there for fun,” he said. “Every partnership and ballpark is different. We’ll never say no to anyone, we’ll always find a way to work everybody and that’s what I love about TrackMan.”
There’s no denying the importance of advanced analytics in baseball, especially at the professional ranks.
“It’s becoming more and more how they scout, how they recruit and how they prepare for the MLB Draft,” Bouchard said. “That’s the way the game is going. It’s data-driven. It’s what these players are used to now, so it’s good to have players go from the top colleges in the country to the best summer league in the country and stay consistent with the same ball tracking technology.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BradJoyal