The Athletic’s Eno Sarris reported on Tuesday that Major League Baseball would begin to replace the Trackman system with the Hawk-Eye system later this season. While it seems that for 2019 the transition will be on the backend, for 2020 Hawk-Eye will be taking over for Trackman in the Statcast system for play tracking. I wrote a bit about all of that over at Redleg Nation on Wednesday morning.

Here, though, I want to talk a little bit about how things could play out at the Minor League level. The Cincinnati Reds began to use the Trackman system in 2015 when they had it installed in their Double-A and Triple-A parks in Pensacola and Louisville. The next year saw it expand to Daytona, Dayton, and Billings.

Trackman uses radar to track pitches and hits (up to a certain point, at which the system then uses the exit velocity, spin, and angle of the hit to estimate the distance the baseball traveled). To my knowledge it’s in every minor league ballpark in affiliated baseball. It’s also in plenty of college ballparks, too.

The change at the Major League level could mean a change in the minors, too. Though, unlike the in the majors, it won’t start this season. Or next, for that matter. After that, things may be a bit up in the air. Speaking with multiple sources around baseball, there were differing ideas. Trackman has individual deals with organizations at the Minor League level. That’s not how it is in the Majors where their deal was with MLB and not the individual teams.

At the Minor League level, Trackman has contracts with each organization as a vendor of both software and hardware. The data, by-and-large, is shared between the organizations through Trackman. That means that the Reds, for example share the data from their system at their ballparks with the Cardinals, and vice versa. When everyone is on the same system, and sharing the data, it has plenty of advantages as more data is better than less data.

Some sources indicated, at least as things are right now, that their organizations will be remaining with Trackman. But one source indicated that their organization was considering Hawk-Eye at the minor league level in the near future.

That could get interesting. As noted, teams pretty much share the Trackman data around the minors. If some teams are sticking with Trackman, but others are going to move to Hawk-Eye in the minors, there will be less sharing. On the surface, that’s not good. However, if Hawk-Eye can deliver on what it’s claims are, there could be some value in not sharing all of that information, too.

While Hawk-Eye will track the same things that Trackman does, and reportedly with more accuracy, it will also track other things. Such as swing path and player limb tracking. Those things could be very valuable to a team in terms of scouting, coaching, and correcting issues/flaws with their own players. Likewise, if other teams had that information, it could be useful to them in exploiting those things. Or, if your organization has that data on players coming through your parks, but not everyone else does, it could, in theory at least, give you a scouting advantage in player acquisition if you can see things to “fix” with a player. Much like teams that were early to find and acquire high spin rate fastball guys found an advantage, this could be something that the early adopters of Hawk-Eye could potentially be able to use to their advantage.

All of this, of course, relies on whether or not the technology can do what it claims it can do. Major League Baseball will get to test it out starting later this season. The transition will be rather quick, not a long process like when they switched from the Pitch F/X to Trackman system. One thing that should help is that Hawk-Eye has been used in cricket for a while now, and while the game isn’t exactly the same, it’s got a lot of similarities. The hiccups that may arise could be fewer given that they probably arose in cricket and have been corrected already.

In the article at The Athletic by Eno Sarris on the changes, Major League Baseball was not willing to comment on any forthcoming changes. No sources that I spoke with were willing to comment on the record about them, either. Where the Cincinnati Reds will go in the future at the Minor League level with their play tracking at the Minor League level is still up in the air. It seems that there could be some benefit with each.

Where things get a bit more interesting, and ultimately leads me to believe that the Reds, and other teams will all eventually move to Hawk-Eye at the Minor League level – assuming it can deliver on what it says it can – is that they, and most other teams, have also moved forward with high-speed cameras like the Edgertronic ones in order to get better looks at how players are using their limbs/bodies in their execution of their mechanics. If Hawk-Eye can indeed provide limb tracking, and it can do so at an acceptable rate, this just seems like a no-brainer idea to make the switch.

4 Responses

  1. Pokey Reese's Red Hot Bat

    Hawkeye has been used in cricket for nearly two decades but only, as far as I’m aware, for ball-tracking and the more complicated ball projection. The limb tracking sounds less proven. If that has been used (and it may have been done for biomechanics) it hasn’t to my knowledge been made public and has been closely guarded as proprietary information.

    What I think this signifies though is the first tentative step towards automated calling of balls and strikes. Hawkeye has an established track record in international sport over the last decade of being used to impartially determine line calls.

    In cricket Hawkeye is used to determine leg before wicket decisions – or to translate into baseball parlance whether a HBP would have been a ball or strike had the ball not hit the batter. Cricket tracking is actually far more complicated as the ball bounces and reacts off of the surface and the batsman may be hitting the ball inches after the ball has bounced rather than have the 60 and a half feet to track the ball on the fly. Baseball will be far less of a challenge without the extra variable of the ball bouncing or the need to then project where the ball would have gone.

    It took cricket around 8 years to go from Hawkeye being used as a television tool to being used as an officiating tool. That was for an experimental technology with a predictive element (the predictive element being the most controversial part). With an established technology and no need for a controversial projecting element baseball can adopt automated strikes and balls a lot quicker.

    • Doug Gray

      The strikezone thing is what really gets me. MLB made the deal with The Atlantic League to use Trackman to call balls and strikes just a few months ago. Now they are saying that they won’t even be using Trackman starting next year. Such a weird thing.

      Thanks for all of the cricket info – I had seen some of it, but as someone who doesn’t really understand much of anything in cricket…. you helped.

  2. Krozley

    Spillane and Willems replaced by Rey and Zeek White in Dayton who now have 3 infielders listed on the roster. Despaigne opts to leave. Does Santillan move up?

    • Doug Gray

      Shard Munroe has been playing some first. That’s where he’s at tonight in the lineup. Imagine that’s where he’ll be for the most part moving forward.