Baseball is a cyclical sport. We’re in the middle of a launch angle and exit velocity trend cycle. It is clear what the solution is: pitchers have to counteract that by throwing high-velocity fastballs located up in the zone so that hitters with upper-cut swings have a hard time reaching them. Then, pair that with some off-speed pitches that look like they could be that high fastball but instead drop down in the zone or move left to right. Add a velocity change and hitters will be off-balance once again. What will hitters do next? Teams will need contact hitters that don’t strike out a ton, hit the high fastball, beat out the ground balls, and can stay on an off-speed pitch to still make contact. When that happens, pitchers will find something to beat that, too. It will continue over and over again. It is in the nature of the game. However, there are two major changes coming in baseball, and maybe sooner than you think.
Our own Zane Harding wrote an article on the Opener just a couple months ago. That’s one of those changes, but on a much more extreme level. It’s becoming more and more likely that pitchers will not be labeled starters, relievers, closers, middle-inning guys and more. However, some rule changes will have to be instituted for that to happen. There simply isn’t enough room on a 25-man roster to keep a ton of different pitchers in that way. However, if the MLB decides to expand the regular season roster, that is a very likely major change. Even still, that may not be the most drastic change coming soon to your baseball life.
Wearable technology is the next big thing. Wearable technology has provided a whole new category of data for players, coaches, and front offices to evaluate. Right now, that data is not public and maybe it never will be, but you can count on front offices and coaches using it to decide which man of an LF platoon will play today, which relievers are available out of the bullpen, or if their stud shortstop needs a day off.
This technology is here. It isn’t off in fantasy land. It is already happening, it just isn’t being publicized. Wearable tech comes in any of many imaginable forms. The most sophisticated involves actual nano-tech within the fabric of clothing. Others may include small boxes or straps around athlete’s arms, chest, stomach, or legs. Whatever it looks like, it will be implemented soon. In fact, WHOOP, a wearable technology company partnered with the MLB in the last couple years to run a study of over 230 Minor League players across nine different franchises. For six months, these players were scrutinized through wearable technology all day long except for during their games. Evidence was found that suggested positive relationships between recovery levels and fastball velocity/exit velocity off the bat. Will Ahmed, CEO and Founder of WHOOP said, “the initial findings of this study confirm the need for continuous psychological monitoring in professional sports, including in-game monitoring to improve player health and safety.”
In a USA Today article, Ahmed told them that it took starting pitchers three full days to completely recover and takes two days for players to return to their baseline levels after traveling, including potentially more time for long-distance travel. Both of these notions are just the beginning of major changes coming for baseball.
Maybe further down the line, we will see teams shutting down pitchers, giving a rest-day to starters based on wearable technology results. Even further down the line, when we can analyze historical trends of this data, imagine being able to predict injuries based on certain movements. The profound impact of injury prediction/prevention could have on baseball, alone, is massive. And that’s just one of the possible uses of wearable technology data. The implications are finite, but hard to imagine nonetheless.
On the other side of that coin comes a major issue: privacy. At what point has the treatment of athletes gone too far? Are we allowed to know if a player had a drink last night? Is it any of our business if a player got four hours of sleep instead of eight a couple nights ago? Should we really be privy to what a player had for breakfast this morning? Maybe a front office doesn’t sign a free agent because of an injury on the horizon or more accurate data about age regression. Can they provide a public explanation? I don’t know. It certainly feels too far right now, at least for public use, but is it appropriate to front office executives to have that information? Should coaches? I’m not sure.
No matter how players and teams start to use wearable technology, this is the next trend to watch in the MLB. It could be an overhaul in baseball culture and perhaps some aspects of the game and business as we know it. I’m talking Watch for wearable tech because it’s coming, and it’s coming fast.