Sunday, September 25, 2011

MLB's Strike Zone Technology

After reading Jen's post last week on the tennis animation technology called Hawk-Eye, I started thinking about Major League Baseball, and it's use of animation. Like the way tennis uses Hawk-Eye to determine whether a ball is in or out of bounds, baseball uses animation technology to see if a ball is inside or outside the strike zone.

From 2001 to 2008, the MLB used a system called QuesTec. QuesTec patented products use a series of cameras, computers, and sophisticated Military-grade technology to track moving objects (such as a ball or person) and instantly reconstruct digital 3D images. These images can be viewed in real time and from any angle. Out of 30 major league ballparks, only 11 were ever set up to use QuesTec throughout a seven year period.

During the 2008 MLB season, a Pitchf/x camera system was installed in every ballpark in order to collect data required for a new camera system to go live in 2009. The data collected by the Pitchf/x system in 2008 included tracking nearly all pitches thrown for the entire season for supposedly all 30 teams. That data was used as the base measure for MLB umpire accuracy in 2009.

Pitchf/x, or the Zone Evaluation system, works by taking 25 pictures of the ball between the pitching mound and home plate. SportsVision software then uses the best fit algorithm in order to calculate compensation for the ball's flight path, including the position of the ball when it crosses home plate.

What's different between the use of this technology and the Hawk-Eye technology used in tennis is that the Zone Evaluation is not actually used to make calls. Zone Evaluation is used to show fans and viewers where exactly the ball was pitched, but more importantly it's used to evaluate the umpires' calls. This technology allows umpires to review their calls and adjust their future calls as needed. The big question now is whether or not Zone Evaluation will actually play a bigger part in the game of baseball, instead of just for evaluation.

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