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Pirates are hoping ‘The MITT’ catches on |

Pirates are hoping ‘The MITT’ catches on

Pat Mitsch
| Sunday, July 19, 2009 12:00 a.m

A baseball player has his glove. The Pirates have Dan Fox’s “MITT.”

“The MITT,” short for “Managing, Information, Tools and Talent,” is a player-information system that has the potential to make the Pirates’ decision-making more cerebral.

Fox, a 41-year old father of two from Iowa, is the system’s architect.

“The task is to unify our player system to where you can drill down and see scouting reports, medical and contract information — pretty much everything you can collect on a player — search it quickly and have it support the decision-making,” said Fox, the Pirates’ Director of Baseball Systems Development.

Say, hypothetically, the Pirates offer a trade. Minutes before the deadline, the other team makes a counter-offer. The Pirates can search “The MITT” system, see the information on the players in question and better evaluate whether to accept or reject the offer. All within minutes.

With “The MITT” in place, there’s no player outside the Pirates’ perspective.

“In total, we have some level of information on about 85,000 players,” Fox said.

Eventually, Fox said, “The MITT” will provide new-age statistical analysis and projections on each player.

There are other major-league teams with similar systems, including San Francisco and Cleveland, where Pirates general manager Neal Huntington migrated from in the fall of 2007.

By then, Fox, who earned a Computer Science degree from Iowa State and worked for 14 years in software development and architecture, had delved into baseball analysis and sabermetrics.

Fox had been writing an online column for Baseball Prospectus when he saw the Pirates post a job description for what would eventually be his position on another popular sabermetrics blog. Fox was on the short list of candidates the blog’s owner recommended to the Pirates, and the interest bloomed from there.

He was hired in May 2008 and began the task of building his system basically from scratch. Even though “The Mitt” is still being constructed, Fox has already elevated the Pirates’ level of operation.

In other scouting news …

• Is the traditional baseball scout doomed?

A revolutionary camera and software system that has the ability to measure and quantify defensive performance is being tested and polished this season at AT&T Park in San Francisco, The New York Times reported last week.

The system, which is being tested by the Bay-Area company Sportvision, which developed the “KZone” strike-zone video graphic, has the ability to accurately calculate the movement, location and speed of the baseball and every player on the field.

It would allow major-league clubs access to a plethora of new statistics that could numerically objectify skills like base-running, defensive range, arm strength and throwing accuracy — yet another haven for a scout’s eye that’s about to be flooded with numbers.

“It can be a big deal,” Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro told The Times. “We’ve gotten so much data for offense, but defensive objective analysis has been the most challenging area to get any meaningful handle on. This is information that’s not available anywhere. When you create that much data, you almost have to change the structure of the front office to make sense of it.”

The system uses four cameras perched high above the park to record all movment on the field, and software correctly differentiates what exactly is moving, whether it be a player, a ball or a bird. And as soon as next season, The Times said, it could be in all 30 major-league ballparks.

• While traditional and new-age baseball philosophies continue to mingle and clash, the Pirates seem to have found a stable marriage between the two.

Though Fox’s new system will utilize advanced metrics for player projections, Stark says Fox is vital in combining both new and established baseball thought into player evaluation.

“He makes us all better by bridging the gap that sometimes exists between two different schools of thought,” Stark said. “His respect for the traditional or subjective side of the game and his thirst to understand everything in this game allows us to use the information from various sources to complement each other.”

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