Amidst all the changes that came to the Major Leagues in 2020 -- the expanded playoffs, several new in-game rules, the Blue Jays spending the summer in Buffalo, etc. -- the most important one may have come in a form that was difficult to see. This change came mostly behind
Amidst all the changes that came to the Major Leagues in 2020 -- the expanded playoffs, several new in-game rules, the Blue Jays spending the summer in Buffalo, etc. -- the most important one may have come in a form that was difficult to see. This change came mostly behind the scenes, as the hardware that powers Statcast was improved, replacing the previous camera/radar combination that had been the backbone of the system since its inception in 2015 in favor of a new optical system from Hawk-Eye.
We noticed immediate improvements in tracking quality, primarily that the new system tracked nearly 100% of batted balls, a marked step up from the roughly 89% captured by the previous system. You can read much more about that here if you'd like, but, as we detailed in early September, what might be most interesting about this new gear is that while the old system saw players only as blob-like figures tracked by their center of mass, the new version is capable of tracking arms, legs and other human features.
That opens up a variety of new doors, and so what we shared last month were a few selected examples from the Opening Day Giants-Dodgers game that highlighted the early stages of what the new system can do.
Let's revisit that, this time sharing some pose-tracking looks at some of the postseason's most interesting moments.
NLCS Game 7: The Braves run into a 5-2-5-6 double play
Atlanta had a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning of the final game of the NLCS, and had put two runners in scoring position with no outs. At the time, the Dodgers had a mere 23% win expectancy, based on how often home teams come back in that situation. But then Nick Markakis hit a grounder to third baseman Justin Turner, and somehow both Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley got tagged out, and in the span of 10 seconds, the Dodgers found their win expectancy back up to 40%.
While the focus here is clearly on the, uh, questionable baserunning decisions by the Atlanta runners, it's a lot more interesting to see this from Turner's point of view, and that's one of the strengths of the Hawk-Eye system -- you can put a virtual "camera" anywhere on the field, regardless of what the traditional television cameras actually saw.
Let's freeze this at the moment Turner fielded the ball, showing what his point of view was at that second. He was 106 feet from home at the time; note that you can see Swanson, the runner on third, headed home nearly halfway down the line.
When Swanson got caught in a rundown, Turner rushed back toward third, receiving the throw from catcher Will Smith, and then, after tagging out Swanson, turned back to third to see Riley trying to advance. Here's how Turner saw that, 41 feet away from third, with Riley 28 feet away.
Turner, obviously, made a few great plays here. His throw home was on target. He ran down Swanson successfully, then had the presence of mind to turn and get the ball quickly and accurately back to third base. But he also made the right decisions, and this helps you see what he was seeing.
NLCS Game 2: Marcell Ozuna's selfie home run
Wait! Don't watch the video just yet. Let's give away the entire game by sharing an iconic still image:
That's right, that's Ozuna stopping midway between home and first base to take a selfie -- or imitate the actions of one, at least -- and while we don't have our stick figures holding smartphones with the selfie cameras on, maybe we ought to.
Here's how the entire play looked; note that the red dots are Ozuna's footsteps, and be sure not to miss his windmill celebration as he rounds third.
How'd you feel about that one, Marcell?
Pretty good, we bet. Pretty good. You don't need him to have a face to see that smile.
World Series Game 1: Betts dashes home
If there was an iconic moment of the first three games of the World Series, it was definitely Mookie Betts dashing home to score from third on a ball hit to first base -- this after stealing second and third base. This one wasn't even really about speed so much as it was Betts taking a lead five feet larger than the average lead off of third base, then contorting to slide around Mike Zunino at the plate.
As you can see, the throw from first baseman Yandy Díaz was slightly up the third-base line, giving Betts the opportunity to get in behind Zunino:
You can see the walking lead he got, as the red footsteps show, in this image frozen just after the pitcher releases the ball.
(Because we're too far away from the pitcher to see the regular-sized ball in this view, we turned the setting up to "comically oversized" so that it's visible, though that might actually be how Randy Arozarena and Corey Seager are viewing it this month.)
Let's take a step back to the Wild Card round for our next play ...
NL Wild Card Series Game 3: Fernando Tatis Jr. makes an acrobatic play
In the third inning of the final game of the Cardinals-Padres Wild Card Series, Kolten Wong tapped weakly back to pitcher Tim Hill, who turned in an attempt to force Harrison Bader out at second. The throw wasn't exactly on target, and this had the chance to be a pivotal moment, because this was a tied game in a tied series.
Here is a totally normal pose for a baseball player to have to make:
That image doesn't make it clear -- in part because that's not where we froze it, and in part because our little images don't have feet yet -- but Tatis somehow managed to keep his foot on the bag just before Bader slid underneath him. The Padres got out of the inning unscathed; the Cardinals never would score.
ALCS Game 7: Houston turns a double play
By this point in Game 7, the Astros were down 5-1, and well on their way to a season-ending loss. Still, turning a sixth-inning double play at least helped keep the game within reach, and while this may look like your typical 4-6-3 double play, it was an important one for Jose Altuve, who had made three costly throwing errors earlier in the series. We particularly like how, after shortstop Carlos Correa completes the turn, you can see Altuve bounding off the field in joy on his way back to the dugout.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Ballpark Dimensions podcast.