Spring thoughts

I have been thinking of many titles for this post.

“Putting today’s technology in perspective.”

“Baseball is still more art than science.”

As an analyst, I want to be able to explain to the viewer what the new technology we’re using means on a particular play and I have about eight seconds to do it before the next pitch. Quite a challenge.

As fans, you will soon be exposed to Statcast. MLB has invested a lot of money in it. Without trying to make it too complicated, I will give you one example. A center fielder runs down a fly ball in the gap and makes a spectacular catch. Statcast says he ran 35 feet in x.x seconds to make the play. What I need as an analyst to put this in perspective for you is how much ground does the average center fielder cover in the same amount of time this center fielder covered. Also, did he get a good jump on the ball off the bat? What was his reaction time? From a TV producer’s perspective, he or she will have to put together a replay showing all of this after the next pitch is thrown and get it to you in about eight seconds. Welcome to the new age of technology in baseball.

Viewers can have a lot of fun with this and it could be very entertaining, but we have to be able to make it understandable for you watching at home. MLB will be testing this in Spring Training and educating us so we can make it clear to you.

My job as an analyst and former player is to communicate to you that baseball still is more art than science. I hope someday there are two MLB Network channels. One that can show all the technology applications explaining the speed with which things happened on the field. The other channel would show the game as an art form. The athleticism of a shortstop making a play in the hole, twisting and turning and making an off balance throw to get the runner by a step. I saw Derek Jeter make those for 20 years! That’s the part of the game I enjoy. I don’t really care how many seconds it took him to do it or how much ground he covered. I just enjoy the beauty of the play because having played the game, I understand the difficulty and the skill involved.

We have also been introduced to many new statistics, metrics, analytics or whatever you choose to call them. OPS, WAR and many more too numerous to mention. We often hear a statement prefaced by, “They say.” My question has always been, “Who is or are this They?” For example, I was preparing for a game a couple of years ago and the advance notes said “They say” a particular pitcher is now using a lot more cutters than he did in previous starts. I asked his pitching coach about it and his answer was, “The pitches that were entered as cutters were normal fastballs.”

My point? Who is entering this data and can we trust its accuracy? When a hitter has a high OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) did he do his damage in the fifth inning when the score was 8-0 or did he get a key hit in the eighth against an elite pitcher in a 1-1 game. My teammates Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva got a lot of their hits off top-level pitchers late in close games. Can we measure that? What I cannot overlook as a former player is that the game is played by humans not robots. We feel slightly different each time we perform. Body function, family life and outside distractions all can affect the way a player performs on a particular day or night. There is no acronym for that.

Another item I take issue with are Spring Training stats. Sure, go ahead and keep the game score, but not individual stats. Why? the conditions that games are played in are completely different than when they are played in Major League multi-tier stadiums on flawless fields. Florida and Arizona fields get baked out and hard and are more difficult to field ground balls on. The wind usually blows out in Florida, turning routine fly balls into home runs. The challenge for management is to be able to evaluate the talent without using statistics.

I remember back in the late 60s when Graig Nettles made a few errors on the hard, rocky infield at Tinker Field in Orlando. Consequently, our owner and GM Calvin Griffith had him moved to the outfield because he didn’t think Graig could play third base. Two years later, the Twins traded him to the Indians and most of you know he eventually became a terrific third baseman for the Yankees and was a big part of their World Series-winning teams in 1977 and 1978.

I like the way my friend, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, handled veterans in preseason football games. At some point in training camp, he would tell the player that he had to show him he could still “do it.” I would feel the same way about a veteran baseball player. You don’t need a stat sheet, you just need several sets of eyes that can evaluate talent. It is called “Spring Training,” not “Spring Performing.” I think we might have fewer injuries if we treated it more like training.

I have seen highlights of a few games and I see pitchers taking signs from the catcher and throwing breaking pitches, but the radar gun — if accurate — shows fastballs in the high 90s. I never used catchers signs my first few times out in spring training. It was like pitching batting practice to the opposition. I honestly can say I never left Spring Training with an arm issue and was fresh most Septembers, usually ending up with over 250 innings (and a couple years over 300) innings pitched. Today’s pitchers are stronger and more talented than I was, and maybe with more relaxed training in the spring and less interest in performance, we can eliminate some injuries and see our stars healthy in September when it counts the most.

It’s a wonderful time of year for all of us who are baseball fans. At Spring Training games you have more access to the players, thanks to less expensive seats closer to the field, where you see all the young talents who will be stars in the near future. I remember watching Giancarlo Stanton a few springs ago when he was still Mike Stanton. I was standing next to Hall of Famer Tony Perez and Tony was telling me how he warned all the Marlins coaches to leave Stanton alone. “Don’t change a thing and he will become a star.” Now, $325 million later he is a mega-star. I would encourage you to just watch the agility, the foot work, the power and the speed of today’s players first, and then if you enjoy the technology available, you can do that for fun.

10 Comments

Reblogged this on MLB.com Blogs Central and commented:
Former longtime Major League pitcher and current MLB Network analyst Jim Kaat shares his thoughts on Spring Training and discusses some new technology that will be featured in broadcasts this season.

Bad idea, just like trying to make the game faster and missing plays when your watching the game on tv.

I was referring to the bad idea about stats during or after plays. Just makes the game more complicated. Not as fun.

Great to see baseball again period.Stay healthy,have fun.Thanks again for a great column.See you at the ballpark Kitty.

Thank you I may not have to kill that jerk Brian Kinney just yet. Of course Jim you obviously belong in the Hall but if you listen to a guy like Kinney wins don’t mean anything. His appearances on MLB TV are increasing and so are my turning the channel as soon as he appears. My friends do the same. Are they just plain stupid?

Great post Kitty.

Tom

Jim, how are you? My name is Geoff Freeborn. I’m a former pro pitcher from Canada. I’ve started website on sidearm/submarine pitching: http://www.sidearmnation.com whole bunch of interviews of current/former MLB pitchers who pitched some from there. Doing some research read you pitched some sidearm in your career? Wondering if I could interview you for the site sometime? Geoff

Thanks Jim. Baseball has always been a game of numbers, sometimes to a fault, yet still a permanent fixture. Technology is amazing, but I still prefer to watch a game in person, without all the special effects. Even so, perhaps all the new acronyms and stats will prove as fruitful, and inspire future generations of ballplayers.

Mr. Katt,
You lived close to us in Errol Estates in the 70’s. You were and are still idolized in Apopka. Florida. My brother Keith Quigley and I were great friends with (little Jim)…. We lost contact when you guy’s moved. Life is great for our family but I would love to surprise Keith and find little Jim for him. I pray your family who was so good to my family are doing awesome.
Nelson Quigley,

Nelsonq@aol.com

Hello Mr. Kaat, I am a Twins fan who was not born until your 25 win season, 1966. I have the following blog: jimsapbabarn.wordpress.com. I am interested in doing a short 6-7 question interview with you where I would ask the questions via email, and you can take your time in answering the 6-7 questions, which can be emailed back to me. When/If you have the time, please take a look at my blog site. Many thanks. – Jim F. (jwfraasch@ens.net)

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