If you have attended a baseball game recently at Wild Things Park, then you might have noticed the four small silver tube-like objects fixed atop the home team’s dugout along the first-base line.
Are they security cameras? Do they have something to do with the Frontier League’s live video streaming package that started this season? Are they radar guns?
They are high-speed cameras that are part of the Yakkertech system that was installed at the ballpark this spring. Yakkertech is an imaging system that uses multiple cameras to instantly measure data from a pitch and batted ball.
“They have cameras directed at all the reference points from the pitchers’ mound to home plate. They track the velocities and spins at those points and it instantly collects all the data and combines it all and visualizes it,” Wild Things general manager Tony Buccilli explained.
Yakkertech – yakker is an antiquated term for a big-breaking curveball – is an Arizona-based company that specializes in collecting high-speed data about the movement of a baseball and many other things about the sport.
“This does the exact same things you would see in a major league park. It picks up the same things,” Buccilli said. “It is telling us how much depth there is on a pitch, how much it’s spinning, horizontal movement, vertical movement. It’s giving everything you would get a traditional major league ballpark and more.
“Yakkertech is more of a startup but their technology has been getting glowing reviews.”
While Major League Baseball has used Statcast to supply similar data at its games since 2015, Yakkertech is creating a niche for itself at the college and independent league levels.
“Yakkertech ownership reached out to management of the Frontier League. They made a trip to Florida for the league directors meetings and made a presentation,” Buccilli explained. “Owners at that point voted to move forward with it as a collective group. They provided two options for teams in the Frontier League to get Yakkertech. One was a no-cost and another was a cost-associated for equipment. The differential was based upon who would own the player data. Every team but one went with the free option because it was just a complete unknown. Would we need this information?”
The equipment at Wild Things Park was installed days before Washington’s home opener. Frontier League deputy commission Steve Tahsler said in addition to Washington, Yakkertech systems have been installed and are up and running at ballparks in Florence, Windy City, Sussex County and New Jersey.
What the system does is instantly provide data about each pitch thrown during a game, ranging from velocity and spin rate to break and movement. It also measures a batted ball’s exit velocity, trajectory and distance. For example, during the Wild Things’ last homestand, Washington’s Grant Heyman hit a towering home run over the videoboard beyond the right-field wall in a game against New York. The Yakkertech system gave an estimated distance of 437 feet for Heyman’s blast.
Yakkertech also can give information about other facets of the game, such as player movement. It can even track if a pitch is in the strike zone or not, and gives an end-of-game percentage of correct ball/strike calls made by a home-plate umpire.
The only drawback is the Yakkertech information is not yet transferable to the videoboard at Wild Things Park, which is why the pitch speed is no longer displayed during games.
While the wealth of Yakkertech information is new to Frontier League teams, it has been helpful resource for major league scouts.
“The biggest beneficiaries of this data are MLB teams,” Buccilli said. “It’s interesting now that this data is here. I have (MLB) teams asking for specific things, largely spin rates. They ask, ‘What’s his spin rate on a fastball? What’s his spin rate on a breaking ball?’ They want to see beyond statistics being a great measuring stick of talent, they want to make sure the spin rates play to what MLB teams are prioritizing.
“I even had an MLB scout in the stands ask about a pitcher’s spin rate. He was a guy in the Frontier League who had very good stats, but after getting the information the scout said he could see why his breaking ball is a little flat. He thought maybe the pitcher’s stuff might not play well at the next level. Another team signed him. Each team looks for certain things.”
The information Yakkertech takes from each game is fed into a database and stored by one of its partners, BaseballCloud. Buccilli said the amount of data about the Frontier League is minimal at this point.
“We can take all the information and get answers. What is a guy throwing? What is he throwing on certain counts? What zones does he work in? You can really break it down, but I don’t think we have a large enough sample size to make all those kinds of judgments,” he said.
“The game is going more toward math than people. Look at how much hype there is about exit velocity. That’s all people talk about these days. … Pitch speed, spin rate, exit velocity, estimated distance, peak velocity, speed out of the hand, speed at home plate. All of that data has its place, but I don’t try to bog myself down with those numbers. You can find a number to prove or disprove just about everything.”