Are analytics everything? No, though they play an increasingly large role in baseball, even in the halls of the Cape League

Mason White (Arizona) ponders in the dugout amid all the statistics and analytics coming his way, Photo credit: Sadie Parker

By Mark Rappaport

AJ Rathbun focuses intensely on the game in front of him as Brewster’s offense rocks Chatham pitcher Hayden Durke (Rice) for six runs. He’s proud of his scouting report, preparing the Whitecaps for Durke and the rest of Chatham’s pitching staff. Conversely, Riley Sundstrom watches starting pitcher Josh Timmerman (Ohio State) post five scoreless innings against Chatham and feels great about his pre-game scouting report that prepared Timmerman against Chatham’s offense.

Rathbun and Sundstrom are two members of a large team whose major focus for the Whitecaps are analytics. Their presence in Brewster represents how the field of analytics have exploded throughout Major League Baseball, as well as in the halls of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

However, this was not always the case. In 2000, analytics were a minor part of baseball and were not widespread anywhere around the game including in the major leagues.

Over 20 years later, analytics drastically changed the game at all levels, playing a key role in player development and assisting in all facets of baseball from in-game decisions to scouting and even the physical well-being of athletes.

“It’s really crazy to see,” Sundstrom said. “It’s kind of cool to see this development of all the technologies.”

Since the early 2000s, analytics, or the computational and mathematical analysis of data or statistics, have exploded in professional baseball and at the collegiate level and have expanded much beyond traditional statistics like batting average or runs batted in.

Today, major league teams have entire departments focused on a range of information, analyzing data to help players improve in all areas, which was not the case just a few years ago.

The wave of analytics has hit the Cape League as well. Although Brewster, like all Cape League teams, does not have the same capacity for high-level analytics as professional teams and even some colleges, they have an analytics team that focuses on both the Whitecaps and even more so on opposing teams. The analytics team works directly with head coach Jamie Shevchik and his coaching staff.

As recently as 2015, when Shevchik joined the Whitecaps, analytics were almost nonexistent in the Cape League. Overtime, analytics has grown gradually throughout baseball and eventually hit the collegiate level, as well as the Cape League.

A bunch of signed baseballs on Opening Day at home against Bourne. Photo credit: Sadie Parker

“It was very very new. Synergy wasn’t around back then.” Shevchik said. “Everything that we had was basically a stat sheet and trying to figure out what the best lineup was.”

Today, the situation is night and day compared to less than a decade ago. Brewster’s analytics team now collects data on a range of information including spray charts, stat lines, hitting tendencies and much more using TrackMan, TruMedia and Synergy—all of which are tracking softwares that use cameras and radar to determine metrics of batted balls and pitches—as well as other companies to collect data on Brewster’s own players and their opponents.

In all, Brewster employs half a dozen interns who focus on analytics, led by director of baseball operations Riley Sundstrom and joined by interns Brandon Owens, AJ Rathbun, Henry Blanchard, Trey Obarowski and MLB scout liaison Todd Robinson, who compile data before, during and after games, reporting directly to Shevchik and general manager Ned Monthie.

Each intern hyper focuses on a different subject. Rathbun generates reports on the opposing team’s pitchers, which includes pitch movement and pitch usage in different counts, as well as lefty-righty splits and other miscellaneous data.

On the offensive side, Sundstrom organizes reports on opposing teams’ hitters and different methods to attack an opposing team’s offense as the game progresses, as well as spray charts of where hitters are more or less vulnerable. 

“With scouting reports like we use them more for other teams and just [the] preparations aspect,” Sundstrom said. “Baseball is a game where you can never be, you know, too prepared.”

Shot in the midst of Brewster’s game away against Harwich. Photo credit: Sadie Parker

Additionally, Owens records data such as a hitter’s launch angle and distances, as well as pitch counts, pitch usage and velocities throughout a game. Owens works closely with Robinson, who relays information to major league scouts, as well as the play-by-play broadcasters and more.

While all these numbers can be useful, the concept of “too much of a good thing” certainly applies here. The team tries to balance the sheer amount of data it receives in an attempt to not overuse it, which can easily overwhelm players and overcomplicate baseball.

“It’s not the end-all be-all,” Shevchik said. “They can’t get trapped into just being an analytics person. Every pitch is different. Every scenario is different on a given day.”

However, Shevchik appreciates analytics and believes that they are a useful asset to help players in-game and a tool to improve different aspects of their game.

“I think they’re a benefit. They just have to be used the right way,” Shevchik said. “It’s obviously a business that’s booming right now and it’s gonna stick around in baseball for a long time.”

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