Yankees’ New Analytics Program Helps Trenton Seal No-Hitter

Image credit: Ricky Surum (Photo by Tony Farlow)

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Reading on Monday night, Trenton found itself one out away from the franchise’s first no-hitter since the 2017 playoffs, when Justus Sheffield and Taylor Widener turned the trick against Binghamton. 

Reading cleanup man Darick Hall was on first base after drawing a two-out walk, leaving Reading infielder Luke Williams with a chance to break up history. He lashed at an 0-1 curveball from reliever Daniel Alvarez, sending a low, hooking line drive just to the right of second base. The ball screamed right over Alvarez’s head. He dove to the ground and ended up on his back as the ball headed toward center field.

In many other situations, the ball goes cleanly into center field for a single and Reading avoids the ignominy of being no-hit. 

Hoy Park was in perfect position for Luke Williams’ ninth-inning line drive. (Source: MiLB.tv)

Instead, the ball took a short hop directly in front of second baseman Hoy-Jun Park, who stumbled but recovered in enough time to flip the ball to shortstop Kyle Holder in an attempt to force out Hall. 

Hall beat the throw, but the effort meant the play was scored as a fielder’s choice instead of an infield single. Alvarez got the next man to fly to center field to end the game and complete the fourth nine-inning no-hitter in franchise history.

Amid the celebration, there was one underlying question: How did Park put himself in the perfect position to keep Williams’ line drive from spoiling the fun? Simple. He took a quick look under the bill of his hat.

Hoy Park was positioned to shade Luke Williams to his right. (Source: MiLB.tv)

That’s where he and the other six defenders keep the defensive positioning charts they are given daily by team analyst Shea Wingate, who accesses years’ worth of information on each opponent and synthesizes it into daily cheat sheets that Trenton’s defenders tape under the bills of their caps before every game.

“Once you buy into it, it helps,” Trenton outfielder Rashad Crawford said. “I think it helps a lot, just seeing how the cards are just so spot-on. It takes the pressure off of trying to remember what that batter did that last at-bat.”

Wingate is part of a program the Yankees have installed this year that places an analyst at each of their four full-season minor league clubs. That’s in addition to the team video coordinator, which is a standard role on every minor league team. 

“(Wingate) does everything from putting together the infield/outfield hat cards for positioning, to the catcher’s wristbands that help our catchers with calling a game,” Trenton manager Patrick Osborn said. “He is the one that kind of gets all that data from our database and syncs it up to who we’re playing, who’s pitching, their lineup and gives it to us, and we can pass it on to our players.”

The Yankees had plenty of history of playing against Williams as he’s moved up the minor league ladder, so there was a wealth of data on his tendencies. Wingate analyzed what he saw, put it on that day’s chart, printed it out, laminated it and gave it to the players before that night’s game. 

So when the situation arose, the Thunder coaches had to rely on their memories over the years to know where to position Park when Williams stepped to the plate. It was all right there on the card under the bill of his hat.

“Williams is a kid that, if you look at his ground ball pull percentages, he kind of fits into a slight pull positioning to maybe having the second baseman right up the middle in advantage counts, meaning when he’s 2-0 or 3-1,” Osborn said. “That positioning is on that card, and Hoy does a really good job of following it. He has a good feel for the positioning. It turns out that he hit the ball hard, but it was right at him.”

Besides the cheat sheets for the infielders and outfielders, Wingate also uses the information he can pluck from the Yankees’ database to help create wristbands to help the team’s catchers call better games. 

Each team’s analyst works with their pitching coach to formulate a plan that pairs their pitchers’ strengths with the opponents’ weaknesses and vice versa. It doesn’t tell a catcher how to call a game, but instead provides them with suggestions if they should get into a long at-bat or a situation where the pitcher disagrees about what pitch to throw in a given situation.

The information gets more detailed at each level, with players at low Class A Charleston receiving much less detailed data than those at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“For (righthander Luis) Medina, for example, (it tells him to) remember to use his changeup,” Charleston pitching coach Gabe Luckert said. “We’re going to use your changeup in this and this count. That’s it. Like I said, it’s an introductory level. We don’t do much deeper information on pitchers at this level, and so far, so good, but he does a great job keeping us informed and keeping everything on time.” 

On the flip side, there’s also plenty of data to feed to the offense as well. From simple scouting reports on each team’s pitcher, to what their tendencies are in certain situations, each hitter steps to the plate with the information to get a mental jump before each at-bat. 

“(Charleston analyst Josh Campanero) gives us what this dude most likely throws in each count, what he’s apt to throw on the first pitch, from 0-0 count to a 3-2 count. It’s great,” RiverDogs catcher Anthony Seigler said. “It’s like you’re already prepared, you already know what’s coming. That helps you out a lot and he does a great job.”

While Trenton was playing against Reading, Wingate was working to prepare the opposition report on New Hampshire, which comes to town Thursday for a four-game series. He’ll analyze each player to look for any advantage possible to put the Thunder in the best position to win. 

Sometimes that means analyzing the simple stuff, like each pitcher’s go-to offspeed pitch or a hitter’s hot and cold zones. Other times, there’s more specific information that comes through on video that proves helpful in key situations.

“There was a situation with a catcher in the league that had trouble blocking balls to his armside, so righthanded sliders that are yanked,” Osborn said. “It showed up, and we were able to advance and take some extra bases because of that. It was just something our baserunners were looking for, being heads up.”

This is the first year of the program in the minor leagues, but it mirrors the information that players get when they reach the major leagues. Introducing them to those ideas now should help them be a little more comfortable when they get their first callup, which can be overwhelming enough on its own.

Little by little, Yankees prospects are being integrated into the big league way of life, which prepares them in both the short and long term and makes the processes of winning games while developing as players just a little easier.

“It’s not as much information as people probably think we’re feeding them. We’re giving them the big stuff and some extra information that’s useful for them,” Charleston manager Julio Mosquera said. “We don’t make it hard for them, but the information that we’re giving them . . . they like it and the players buy into it, and I think it’s pretty good.

“Everybody’s doing it now. They’re doing it in the big leagues and it helps them out because we didn’t have that information before. We used to just tell them, ‘Move this way, move that way.’ Now they can see when a hitter comes up, they can see the way we’re going to set up on the field and it helps everybody.”

And on Monday night, it was the difference between a regular win and a piece of history.

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