San Jose Giants use big data technologies to engage fans in the epicenter of the tech industry.
Baseball is a game of skill and statistics, and analyzing them effectively to evaluate players is a given in the Moneyball era. It’s not just scouts and general managers either; major league fans have been able to access game stats in real time for several years and now the big data technologies that help make sense of all those numbers are trickling down to Silicon Valley’s own class A minor league team, the San Jose Giants.
Gameday, a pitch-by-pitch application, is one of the data technologies used to feed real-time game action to Major League Baseball fans. Now the lower levels of the game, the farm leagues where many future major leaguers are playing today, are beginning to adopt the technology.
“It’s tech that every Major League team uses, and almost all triple A level teams are using it, but we’re among the first single A teams to use it,” said Ben Taylor, media relations coordinator for the San Jose Giants.
The San Jose club is the class A advanced affiliate of the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and many current Giants, including reigning National League MVP Buster Posey and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, played here on their way to the big leagues.
Taylor is the club’s official score keeper and social media producer. He records every pitch, hit, play and substitution using the Gameday application so that fans can follow Giants’ games in almost real time on the team’s website or its mobile app.
“During the game I’m buried digitizing everything,” he said. “It’s all done on my Toshiba laptop. I code every pitch, hit and play and each game gets saved to an MLB server and my hard drive. I’m mostly using my mouse to select whether a pitch is a ball or strike, fastball or 15 other types pitches preprogrammed into the system. Once a ball is hit, then I code exactly what happens by clicking on the field diagram where the ball lands and there I select if it was a single, double, triple or an error, and note if runners advanced or scored.”
Technology has already changed the game significantly at the major league level. Taylor points to the ways that the San Francisco Giants are using social media and communications technology to enhance the fan experience. The parent club wants its class A team to operate as if it’s in the major leagues and for a team based in Silicon Valley incorporating technology isn’t a stretch.
“Tech is changing the way people are experience the sport by making games more accessible,” said Taylor, echoing a recent comment made by San Francisco Giants’ CIO Bill Schlough who told USA Today, that technology “should enhance the fan experience, improve the team’s performance and propel the business forward.”
Major League Apps for the Minors
Delivering new digital experiences has meant clearing some hurdles, according to Juliana Paoli, chief marketing officer for the San Jose Giants. When the team submitted its new mobile app to Apple, a company representative insisted on visiting the ballpark to ensure it wasn’t fraudulent.
“Our team identity is very similar to the San Francisco Giants,” said Paoli. “We had to get Apple here so they could see we’re related but different.”
The San Jose Giants’ mobile app passed muster with Apple. The app, available in the iTunes App Store and Google Play, pulls in live data from the Gameday technology that Taylor feeds. The app also allows fans to listen to the radio broadcast of the game, check the roster and schedule, buy tickets and share photos with the team.
“Games used to just be on the radio or on TVs inside a bar, now you can be on vacation and watch on tablet or phone,” said Taylor.
Big Data Drives Baseball Fans, Scouts
In the course of a single game, Taylor will enter as many as 500 pieces of data into the Gameday application. Across different levels of the sport, the application is used to score around 150,000 games, according to Mathew Gould, vice president of corporate communications at MLB Advanced Media, the league’s technology arm, which owns Gameday. That adds up to around 720,000 pitches recorded using the application each season.
“Each game amasses 420 rows of event-based data,” said Gould. “By the end of the season, over a million rows of event day data is stored, documenting each pitch, hit, error, substitution of every game.”
All that stat data from the majors to the minors adds up to around 6 petabytes each of data each season, according to Gould.
“It’s gotten to a point where the data is more accessible for fans thanks to the Gameday client,” said Taylor. “It’s capable of conveying the information in a way for fans to easily understand what’s going on in a game even if they’re not at the ballpark … and enhance their experience by logging on to their tablet or mobile phone.”