Spring Training Notes: The Pirates Have a Program Similar to Field F/X

In the last week I’ve written twice about how the Pittsburgh Pirates plan on utilizing outfield defensive shifts more often in 2014. Clint Hurdle initially talked about it last week, and I spoke with Neal Huntington about the topic, with Huntington noting that this would be different than their approach from a few years ago with outfield shifts.

It appears that one big difference will come via new technology. Yesterday Hurdle said that the Pirates have a system in place, similar to the upcoming Field F/X system. If you’re unfamiliar with Field F/X, it’s a program that is designed to track the exact movements and routes of fielders, just like the Pitch F/X program tracks the exact movement of pitches. The Pirates have a program similar to Field F/X at PNC Park, and use that to track their outfielders, and project what the players are doing on the road.

“We have a program in place where we were able to count every step guys take at home, and the actual distance that’s covered throughout the season at home,” Hurdle said. “Which is an inaccurate number, but you kind of double that up for the road and you figure out how many miles they run for the season in the outfield. Then you break down metrically during games. You don’t know, it’s based on the volume of balls that are hit in a certain area, but you will get a better read with guys that are more athletic.”

This approach can impact when the Pirates give a guy a day off, which reveals some of the mystery of why guys like Andrew McCutchen or Starling Marte get a day off when they do. It’s most likely due to the fact that they had too much of a workload in the outfield and on the bases in the previous games. The Pirates also plan to use this technology with their defensive shifts, which explains why they feel this will be much different than the experiments that they had a few years ago.

“You can position different strategically,” Hurdle said. “As I said towards the end of last week, we’re actually trying to push our defensive metric set-up some more in the outfield this year than ever before, based on the talent we have out there.”

Any kind of shifting is all about data. Getting data from a program similar to Field F/X would be the best data to have, since that looks to be the most accurate way of determining a player’s defensive skills. Field F/X isn’t currently available to the public, so we’re stuck using things like UZR, which determines outcomes, rather than looking at routes, speed, and how many steps a player takes to get from Point A to Point B. In a few years, Field F/X will be available for everyone. For now, it’s an approach that only certain teams use, and the Pirates are one of those teams.

Player Notes

**Wandy Rodriguez threw his second bullpen of the Spring, after taking two days off from his first bullpen. After completing the session, Rodriguez was met by a round of applause from the 30-40 fans who were in attendance.

“It was a good day,” Hurdle said. “He was able to throw all of his pitches. Get right through it. I thought he looked good.”

**Earlier today I wrote about Gregory Polanco and some of the work he did in the outfield last year. Hurdle talked about Polanco and the times that he’s seen him in the past:

“I’ve watched him in the instructional league program for two years, a week at a time. I’ve gotten to see him play. I’ve gotten down here on the minor league days that I’ve come over to see him play. We went down and watched him play in winter league this year. It’s not a long, extensive look. That’s where the trust comes in from the people that you work with. Your player development staff that have watched him develop for the past three seasons, and the growth that he’s shown. I feel very comfortable with getting him in play with the rest of the guys as he comes in and competes.”

**Polanco is just one of the top prospects expected to make his debut mid-season. Jameson Taillon is the other. Hurdle talked about what the focus will be for Taillon in his second Spring Training in big league camp.

“He’s a very astute young man. He listens well. He practices. Sharp. The opportunity to pitch will be heightened this Spring, so that in and of itself will be the thing he’s probably looking forward to most, and we’re looking forward to see as well. Just more opportunity on the mound, to see what he can do with that. The fastball command, the secondary pitches, how they play. How his overall posture, his rhythm works when runners get on base. How does he handle and control the running game. All of those types of things.”

**If you’re wondering whether Andrew Lambo will spend time at any other position other than first, Hurdle pretty much shot that down, at least initially.

“Early focus is on first base. We know he can go in the outfield and play in the outfield. He’s done that throughout his career. He’s been in the infield before, but we want to get him as many reps as possible here throughout the Spring Training to see what we have, what he can bring at that position and see if it matches up…He just needs more experience and more playing time at first initially.”

No surprise here, as Lambo is expected to have the inside track for the first base platoon role against right-handers.

**Jason Grilli hasn’t thrown a bullpen since Thursday. Most players took a day off between bullpen sessions. Wandy Rodriguez took two days off. Both Hurdle and Grilli insisted that he’s healthy.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • jaygray007

    This is off topic, but could the new-and-skinnier gaby sanchez possibly handle 3b when the team is facing lefties? I figure he was a great defensive 1b even when he was a little more round, so he should have the hands and range. i guess the arm is a question…

    I ask because i’m getting a little more sweet to the idea of Kendrys Morales (on a reasonable deal). His UZR/150 at 1b has been positive in all recent years years but last year (ARBITRARY ENDPOINT WARNING) (5.4 UZR/150 in 1279 innings in 2009, 13.1 in 448 innings in 2010, 11.5 in 241 innings in 2012, with a NEGATIVE 6.3 in 274 innings last year).

    The defensive portions of his recent WAR totals are so low because that’s what happens to guys who play DH, whether they would be proficient in the field or not. My point isn’t necessarily that he’s a good defender. My point is that he MIGHT not be as bad as his current WAR totals would indicate since it’s may not be his fault that he’s been primarily a DH. The 1b logjam in LA, and the development of Justin Smoak in SEA.

    Not that previous awfulness at a position is a reason to overrate a potential new player, but UZR/150s say that Garrett Jones is a much bigger butcher at 1b than Kendrys is. Jones had a slightly less awful 2013, but that’s about it.

    I just think that this was a point worth bringing up.

    • jaygray007

      I think i might’ve overrated Sanchez’s range and hands. his UZRs disagree with what i said before. He passes the eye test, but not the stats test so much.

      • Andrew

        I think the fact that the Mariners played Smoak, a below average fielder by both UZR, and DRS, instead of Morales is telling. Morales had a fracture/dislocation with likely cartilage damage of his ankle, assuming he could be a competent first baseman for an entire season is a huge assumption. I agree Jones was a butcher at first but the difference is the Pirates did not pay him like a full time first baseman.

        • jaygray007

          Smoak also had more yrs of control and was worth giving the 1b playing time since he was more important for their long term plans at the time. It’s not like they were a contender.

          But yeah that’s a good point that Jones’s flaws were more justifyable since he wasn’t a highly paid player.

    • https://www.facebook.com/scott.skink Scott Skink

      Even a small market team might give up a 1st round draft pick for a proven stud if you firmly believed you were just that one piece away from a WS appearance and you were looking at a weak draft. 2014 might be that draft, but Morales sure ain’t that stud.

      • stickyweb

        Amen Skink. Morales is more like particle board than a stud.

  • Andrew

    I highly doubt Field/Fx will be made public, Hit/Fx has not and will not. I have read that Pitch/Fx was not suppose to be publicly available.

    • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

      I believe you’re right about Hit/Fx and Field/Fx. They will never become publicly available. The reason? Back in 2010 or thereabouts, someone in the Red Sox organization said something to this effect:

      ‘Some teams spend good money on data collection and analysis. They spent this money in order to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. For these teams, it is obvious that making these data public fails to make economic and baseball sense. If the data were offered to the public, independent analysts would then perform the work needed to create scientifically defensible and practically reliable measures of MLB players and teams, information which our competitors, namely, those who refused to fund analytic departments for their organizations, can use without cost. The miserly teams will thus free ride on the work of those independent analysts who construct new and better measures of baseball performance. Those teams which initially spent money on data analysis will thus have wasted that money because making the data public will undermine the competitive advantage they had when the data were proprietary property.’

      Naturally, those individuals and teams that want to keep Hit/Fx and Field/Fx private are not interested in advancing the art and science of baseball analysis. The art and science of baseball analysis can progress only when the methods, mechanisms and evidence are available for public and rational scrutiny. Public debate can enhance collective learning. But we will not see that in MLB because of the self-interested behavior of some individuals and teams as well as the defective governance of the game by the Commissioner and his Office.

      • Andrew

        I would for Hit/Fx to be made public, Field/Fx is a little more theoretical as I understand it but I understand why teams are reluctant to release information. Most of the data analysis for European football is proprietary. I completely fail to see your larger point, are you not fan of patens?

        • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

          Proprietary information differs from patented designs. Patents refer to publicly available information which has received legal protection from the federal government. Proprietary information is held in private by its owners. Both are forms of private property. But their accessibility differs.

          Patents and proprietary information can retard scientific development. They limit the access to or use of some information relevant to specific scientific practices. That was my point.

  • smurph

    I have two questions here:
    1. Do they really believe that when a player should be rested should be based on how many steps he has taken in the last 10-12 games? Seems to me that should not be an issue with young and virile players like McCutchen and Marte. Don’t they take more steps shagging flies during batting practice or loosening up for a game than they would during a game?

    2. As far as outfield shifts go, wouldn’t that be based on the pitch the pitcher is throwing as much, if not more than anything else? With the amount of ground McCutchen and Marte cover, I wouldn’t think you would want to move either of those guys very much left or right, as they can run down most balls anyway. I could see it moreso for depth positioning, based on how far a particular hitter usually hits the ball.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      1. There’s not really much effort in shagging fly balls, since you’ve got like 15 people in the outfield. As for the steps they take, they track the steps in the outfield, running the bases, etc. They use this information to see exactly how much a player has moved around in X amount of games.

      2. It’s all a group effort. Depends on the batter at the plate and his tendencies, but also to make the shifts work, the pitcher needs to execute the pitch.

      • weltytowngang

        Would that apply to career as well as to a season?

  • leadoff

    Steve Blass tells the story of him and Clemente one particular day. Blass looks to right field motions Clemente to move over, Clemente moves where Blass tells him, Blass looks back at right field and Clemente moved back where he started. Blass motions Clemente to move again, Clemente does it. Blass throws the pitch and it is going right where Clemente was, Blass thinks he blew it, he turns looks at the outfield and Clemente is standing under the ball, Clemente moved back where he knew he should be and he was playing the hitter correctly. This is not a surprise to me, there was a day when players knew where to play hitters from experience, I guess they want players to be robots these days.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      In that situation, Clemente probably had more knowledge about the player than Blass.

      When it comes to stats, the numbers would have more knowledge than a player possibly could.

      So if you’re arguing for Clemente’s knowledge over Blass, then you’re arguing for the same concept that statistical positioning is trying to accomplish.

      • https://profiles.google.com/113712883335661247632 unfurious

        I remember hearing Blass tell that story. I believe that when he later asked Clemente why he kept moving back, Clemente said that he noticed that Blass’s fastball was real good that day and he knew that the batter wasn’t going to get around on it (or something to that effect). Of course it’s better to hear Steve Blass tell it. :)
        I guess it kinda reinforces the point that pitchers are still going to have to make their pitches.

    • michaelbro8

      I think the difference now is statistical knowledge of ALL players. Your story about Clemente (a great one by the way) probably implies that Clemente knew the tendencies of THAT PARTICULAR batter. Field F/X will give the outfielders useful data on every batter.

  • CalipariFan506

    Have not read anything about Wandy himself saying he feels good. Remember last season the Pirates repeatedly said he was improving while he eventually said he wasn’t.

    IMO he’s going to be ineffective or not even pitch.