More WBC talk and Statcast technology continues to grow

The World Baseball Classic begins Monday. And while there have been rumors this could be the last WBC, that seems unlikely. Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he is committed to the event for future competitions.

While the WBC seems to have strong interest around the world, it’s been lacking in the United States. One reason is that Team USA has not fared well in this event. In three WBCs, Team USA is 10-10, has made the semifinals once and has never played for the championship. A better showing this year could produce more interest in this country.

By the way, Japan has reached the semifinals in all three events, winning the WBC twice. Korea and the Dominican Republic have made the semis twice, with the DR being the defending champion. Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands joins the USA with one semifinal appearance.

The United States is expected to do well this time, but it may have trouble winning its first game against Colombia. Team USA will face White Sox left-hander José Quintana on Friday in Miami in Pool C play. He went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA last year. The good news for the USA squad is even if he is on his game, there is a 65-pitch limit on pitchers in the opening round of games.

Team USA has a strong squad, but it could be even better. Players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw could be on the team, but they are not.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com makes five predictions in this column. He predicts the WBC winner and also which pitcher from Japan might become the next to impress in this event and later enter the major leagues. Pitchers like Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda and Koji Uehard have all pitched in the WBC before they became major league players.

Statcast elevates its game: In the last two years, Statcast technology has been able to provide baseball fans with a mountain of information and data. Everything from home run distances and pitch speeds to outfielders’ first-step speeds, arm strength on throws and route efficiency. It has produced batter exit velocities and launch angles.

jones-catch-white-farleft-sidebar.jpgJust for instance, this clip from Statcast records some of the Orioles’ longest homers of 2016. This clip shows the data behind a great catch by an outfielder. This one from late in the 2015 season shows the velocity on two Orioles relay throws to cut down a Nationals runner at the plate.

There is plenty more to come from Statcast technology, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote about yesterday. Some that love baseball will be intrigued to see and learn more. Others simply don’t want or have time for all this data and information, and that is fine, too.

Passan writes that one of the next frontiers for Statcast is to produce data to better explain a catch made by an outfielder. We can learn exactly how tough the catch was with exact data.

“Catch probability is a single number, presented in percent form and based on just two measurements: the distance an outfielder runs and the time a batted ball is in the air,” Passan writes. “In the Sloan presentation, they show Matt Kemp taking a circuitous 65-foot route to a ball that hangs in the air for 4.3 seconds and making a diving catch. It looked tough. In reality, it’s a routine flyout, caught 75 percent of the time. The slide that shows Billy Hamilton, on the other hand, has him covering 71 feet in 3.7 seconds and flying to glove a ball tracked down just 7 percent of the time.”

Many find defensive metrics confusing and hard to understand. Do they really provide us concrete information? To me, catch probability does, is more precise and easier to understand, and it will be interesting to see this at work. By the way, Statcast can produce such data in just 10 to 12 seconds.

To me, this could lead to another kind of leaderboard. We already know the homer and RBI league leaders during the season. How about the leading outfielder in catches made just 20 percent of the time. Or 10 percent of the time or less? Which outfielders get to balls more often that others? I personally would find this more useful than the harder to grasp Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Rating statistics.

To each his own here. Plenty of fans will have no interest in this, and how we each see and evaluate the game and its players is an individual thing. But Statcast has produced some amazing data and video in its first two years. It is only going to become bigger, better and more amazing for those that want to see the game in a new light.

For more on catch probability, click here.

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