May 09, 2022
Baseball is scoring big with AI, from better fan experiences to enhanced scouting and umpiring.
Moneyball — the use of analytics and data science in Major League Baseball — has changed the sport.
Major League Baseball (MLB) traditionally focused on a few key statistics, such as batting average, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases. Although teams still use those stats, over the past few decades they have been able to access a mountain of additional data.
The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have catapulted the sport to new heights. Teams are now leveraging their data to improve the on-field product and deliver better fan experiences. Here's a look at how tech is transforming America's pastime.
Better Scouting, Training
MLB gathers seven terabytes of data at every game. For a human, that's literally too much information to absorb all at once. However, AI and machine learning technology can detect patterns in the data and deliver insights on expected player performance, pitch selection, defensive shifts, roster construction, ability to respond to pressure and even the likelihood of injury.
Machine learning models pair data from previous players with stats like exit velocity, launch angle and spin rate to scout prospects. The measuring goes beyond what the human eye can see.
Models can spot patterns within pitching mechanics. Maybe a pitcher drops his arm a half inch more than necessary, slowing down his delivery while increasing his susceptibility to injury. A pitching coach might not notice, but a computer could. The pitcher could adjust his delivery, maintaining a maximum velocity and reducing the risk of injury.
Data science companies are also studying the mental effects of baseball. By measuring cognitive reaction between the time a pitcher releases the ball and it reaches the plate, teams can better understand player tendencies and their reaction time to certain pitches or pressure situations.
Smarter Fan Experiences
As teams work to further engage fans, expect to see more personalization of the data. AI can provide virtual ballpark tours and cool camera angles. Through voice and chat solutions, teams are better learning customer needs and interests, delivering more customized experiences on an individual fan basis.
Minor League Baseball (MiLB) and Satisfi Labs have created an AI ticketing workforce for all 120 MiLB teams. The AI-powered chat solution offers pre-purchase answers to develop a faster ticket-buying experience. The conversation continues after purchase, supporting user questions on how to access tickets or get a refund.
AI is also bringing fans into games in new ways. Beginning with Opening Day this season, the New York Mets are expanding their partnership with Wicket, a facial recognition software. Fans can upload an image of their face and ticket barcode pre-game, and the software scans their face upon entry. This process promises to speed up ticket lines, letting fans access the stadium more efficiently.
Robotic Umpire Calls
During the 2021 MLB regular season, pitchers threw over 353,000 pitches. On average, umpires made an incorrect ball and strike call 12 times per game, or 1.3 per inning.
Is it time for robotic umpires? For some leagues, yes. The independent Atlantic League tested the Automated Ball-Strike system (ABS) for a season-and-a-half. The technology is coming to Triple-A, one level from the majors.
The “robo-ump" determines whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, then relays that call to the umpire through an earpiece. While a computer handles balls and strikes, the home plate umpire calls check swings, foul tips and plays at the plate.
As a result, long-time baseball practices like framing pitches or umpires with consistently wide zones will likely end. Players who grew up accounting for human error will need to adjust. However, robo-umps will eliminate significant guesswork and improve accuracy from Opening Day to the final World Series game.
Fans crave meaningful stories that deliver human connection — those moments are part of what makes sports so great. AI helps journalists better tell those stories.
AI digs through millions of gigabytes of data to deliver recap stories and research, which allows journalists to focus on in-depth articles and interviews.
The Associated Press has launched “robot" reporters to cover MiLB games using AI, Automated Insights software and MLB Advanced Media statistics data. These robot reporters handle the events humans don't have time to cover.
In 2019, AP announced a partnership with Data Skrive, a Seattle-based AI company that delivers thousands of stories across 14 different sports leagues. Data Skrive technology uses colloquialisms, audience targeting, social media and keyword optimization to write stories, including voice and dynamic imagery. The goal is to combine thorough local coverage paired with compelling, human-interest stories about the athletes we're watching.
Baseball's Greatest Hits
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