Royals Were Quietly On Forefront Of Data Science
Teams have gigantic departments full of analysts, programmers and technological whizzes who crunch numbers to help managers and general managers optimize their big league rosters.
And while a select group of teams get credit for being on the cutting edge, the Royals quietly were one of the first to dip their toes into the world of analytics and data science.
“A little-known fact is that we were the first organization that had TrackMan at all of our affiliates,” Royals director of baseball operations Alec Zumwalt said. “People don’t realize that, and it’s not something that we go around beating our chests about, but we have probably not been given the credit for how much we’ve used that technology.
“We’ve tried to instill our coaches with as much information as possible, because ultimately they are the guides for these players. So, yeah, we do have the Edgertronic cameras and we do have the Rapsodos and the TrackMans, because this information is extremely helpful.”
The Edgertronic slow-motion cameras, in particular, have piqued the Royals’ interest of late. They were ever-present on their backfields this spring, and the cameras proved invaluable at visualizing things that coaches and players can’t necessarily pick up with the naked eye. Edgertronics slow down a player’s delivery or release point, or a hitter’s swing mechanics, bringing things into a much clearer view.
The results help inform the team’s coaches, who in turn can relay that information into feedback the player can use to fix a flaw or take his game up a notch.
“That’s one I wish we had invested in years ago when it first came out, because it’s very, very good, and the coaches love it,” Royals farm director J.J. Picollo said. “Now you start understanding how some of these analytic departments have grown so immensely. You’ve got seven Edgertronic cameras going at once, so that’s seven people manning those cameras. And it’s not going to be the analytics department that’s manning those, because they’re going to be in the office doing work.
“You start to realize that with the Rapsodo unit, with Blast, with Edgertronic cameras, you’re expanding your support staff quite a bit. It’s been a very interesting thing for us.”
To that end, the Royals’ analytics staff has grown immensely since 2007 and 2008, when the team hired Mike Groopman and then John Williams as interns. Groopman, now the Brewers’ director of international scouting, was the one who recommended TrackMan to a then-skeptical Picollo. Once he saw the results, however, he was on board.
“To be very honest, the first couple of years we had it, I didn’t even look at the data. I just figured it was something to help them evaluate the players,” Picollo said. “I wasn’t really into how it could help development. Once they started working with John and Mike more on it, the light bulb started coming on that this is really good information.”
From there, the Royals’ analytics team started growing in a big way. Picollo estimates that the staff now includes about a dozen programmers and analysts who provide player development with plenty of data.
The Royals are still not near the most analytically-driven club in the majors, but they have the pieces in place to help develop players a bit differently than they did with the prospect core who developed into World Series champions in 2015.