Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How the Astros use Technology to be Better at Baseball

The Houston Astros use Trackman, MLB Statcast's tech, in order to track the spin rate on their pitches. Spin rate is the number of times a ball spins before reaching home plate. By analyzing the spin rate of their pitches and adjusting how they throw them, they have been able to become better pitchers.

This technology helps teams analyze how the ball is likely to move while it is pitched, and when added to a number of other factors can help make a player better.  This technology utilizes three cameras to give a complete analysis of every pitch thrown over the course of every game. Two focus on the area between the pitcher and catcher from the first and third base lines, and the last focuses on the height of the strike zone for the batter.  By capturing an image once ever 60th of a second it creates a 3D model of each pitch thrown.  This allows teams to see the balls pitch trajectory, release point of the pitch, spin rate, and where in the strike zone the pitch hit. 

Lance McCullers specifically used this technology in accordance with the Astros analytics team to model his change up after Felix Hernandez's all time pitch. By adjusting the release point of the pitch and the spin rate, McCullers has been able to develop a one of the games most effective change ups.  The Astros coaching staff has taken a similar approach to starting pitcher Collin McHugh's curveball. The analytics team took the high spin rate on this pitch and thought how it could be adjusted to make him better. The coaching staff worked with him on changing his release point to use the spin rate to his advantage and has completely changed the way that he pitches, making him an asset to the Astros.  This analytics is a big part of why the Astros made the playoffs last year and has helped them create a great young pitching staff. (Spin rate for McHugh and McCullers versus average MLB can be seen below)

(Graphic by Steven Ruiz for USA TODAY Sports. Data:

However, there are some problems that can result from changing how a pitcher releases and throws a baseball. By forcing a pitcher to change their methods a pitching, the pitcher may ultimately become worse. This can be seen in the career of Dontrelle Willis, who was forced to change from his unusually high leg kick to a shorter stride, to prevent injury. But he was never as good once his methods changed, which ultimately ended his career in baseball.  The problem this could create is over analyzing how a pitcher plays the game, and trying to make something too perfect.  By doing this teams make take out a certain human aspect essential to the game.


  1. I think that this Trackman technology is very interesting and I have not heard about it before. This technology can be beneficial for all major league baseball teams and I'm curious to know if any other teams have adopted it. Also, I'd like to know how a pitcher would be able to reduce their spin rate on the ball and use this technology effectively. In addition, it would be interesting to see of this Trackman could be used for the benefit of hitters and if they could use this technology to track the ball better out of the pitcher's hand.

  2. Taylor, I found your article very interesting. I have heard of Trackman technology being used in a very similar way with golfers on the PGA tour. I would like to know if the higher the spin rate the better or the lower? The picture featured comparing Astro's players spin rates to the league average is sometimes lower and sometimes higher. Additionally, is the trackman capable of providing any other possible data points other than spin rate? Is it used for hitting and swing speed? Can the balls path from being pitched and being hit be recorded and analyzed? With the golf trackman they are able to show where the ball is projected to land and the path it takes along with the swing speed of the golfer and the ball's spin rate. Also are the spin rates typically the same for each style of pitch? For example are all curve ball spin rates similar? As you mentioned I believe it would be difficult to take the data and then manipulate it with a pitcher. If they are used to a certain style of pitching it could be hard to go and then change it. The data might just be useful for statistics and not necessarily change.

  3. Hello Taylor,
    I would like to start by saying this is a very appropriate topic to write a blog post about. I have not heard of the Trackman technology; but, I think that is beneficial for not only major league baseball but every major league sport. I think that it is very smart how the Houston Astros are using the Trackman technology to compare their pitching staff in comparison with the rest of the league. I believe that if the entire major league baseball organization adopted this type of technology that there could be some major advancements to the sport of Baseball. Additionally, the Trackmen technology could be used to analyze the spin of footballs in various conditions. Potentially, this technology could have been a major factor in the scandel involving Tom Brady and the New England Patriots football team. In conclusion, I would like to say thank you for writing about this article. I think that it is a very appropriate topic to write a blog post about. In-addition, this technology has the opportunity to bring some major advancements in professional sports.

  4. Personally, I think this technology is going to change the game of baseball. Pitchers can now use this technology to completely analyze their pitches and make improvements which will overall improve their personal ability, as well as bring the team to success. Because the pitcher is such a crucial position in baseball, this technology is going to make a huge difference on the game for any team that decides to use it. This technology can analyze the balls pitch trajectory, release point of the pitch, spin rate, and where in the strike zone the pitch hit. These are all important factors that ultimately determine how good and accurate the pitch ends up being. If a baseball player and his coaches can use this information, analyze it, and make changes to improve their pitches, the player will be able to improve his game tremendously.

    Even though there are many positive impacts that can come from this technology, it also has flaws. Like Taylor mentioned, it is possible for a pitcher to become worse from using this technology to change their pitching style. Because pitching is such an individualized part of the game, each pitcher develops their own style and does things differently than others. This being said, if someone is trying to change the way a player has been pitching his whole life, it could throw off his game and actually make him worse off. That is why I do not think this technology should be 100% relied on and definitely needs to be used in a process of trial and error once suggested improvements are established.

    Overall, I think this technology is great. The capabilities of this technology are simply fantastic and will be so beneficial to pitchers and the game of baseball overall. This is going to be the beginning of the next era of professional baseball. Pitchers now have opportunities that they never had before and this technology is going to make it big once it becomes well known. The Astros may be the only team that currently implements this technology, but I am very confident other professional teams will also start to use this technology. If a team could improve their pitcher’s accuracy, it would improve the entire team as a whole. This being said, I am very confident that this technology is going to become extremely popular in the MLB in the future.

  5. The use of information technology (IT) has been increasing immensely in the world of sports, especially in the MLB. They have implemented the use of iPad Pros in each dugout to enhance efficiency, expanded coaching decisions by bringing in instant replay, etc. This IT is very resourceful for the game of baseball and can help players improve their skills to the highest level.
    I think that Trackman will, essentially, improve the MLB because to the prevention of injury. In the situation mentioned in the post involving Dontrelle Willis, being able to analyze the motions of players can end up saving careers further down the line. This could also help market the MLB.
    A couple of things that weren’t mentioned in this post that I feel could add insight to the conversation refers to the offensive side of the baseball. Since pitchers are able to critique their pitches based on spin rate and accuracy, then what’s to say that a batter couldn’t study how a pitcher will critique his pitches. If a player can study the rotation of certain pitches, then he will be able to pick up on the rotation of the ball faster during gameplay, better preparing him for the pitch. Next, I would like to mention the market side to the MLB. Since the increase of IT to the MLB has occurred, fans have become more averse to the game because of the elimination of human error. Will the increase in IT eventually destroy the market for the MLB? Overall this post was very interesting and insightful.

  6. Spin rates are becoming more and more important in all levels of baseball. In the MLB, teams use technology to measure the spin rates. A pitcher's quality of pitches is directly related to spin rate. A 90 mph fastball and a 100 mph fastball is separated by a few hundred spins before it reaches the plate. Any sort of off-speed pitch moves more, making it more effective when the pitcher is able to put a lot of whip into the ball creating a higher spin rate. As a pitcher myself, coaches have always preached to me about spin rates. The way you release the ball can effect your spin. If it comes off your hand and drags along your thumb, you lose spin, hence decreasing velocity. It is important to make sure the ball is coming out of your hand in a proper way to get the best out of each pitch. When throwing a curveball, I try to snap my wrist hard creating a high spin rate downward forcing the ball to move more. I think teams using technology to measure spin rates will prove to be very helpful. If they can see that the spin rate is not as high as it could be, coaches can diagnose an area in which the pitcher can work towards to improve their spin rate and ultimately the quality of their pitches.

  7. I think technology within baseball is a very interesting topic to write about. I blogged about how iPads are now going to be allowed in the dugouts during games. I think this change within baseball is showing how much influence technology has in our lives. As you said, technology can make a pitcher worse than they actually are but baseball is still willing to take the risk of including technology. Baseball isn't the only sport to start to include technology within the metrics of the game though. The English Premier League instituted goal line technology to be definite when a goal is scored vs. when it's not completely over the line. This inclusion of technology in some of the oldest games of time proves how drastically technology is affecting our lives. And because the technology is lasting, time can only tell how involved technology is going to be in the future.


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