We love us some Lorenzo Cain. The Royals' speedy outfielder made his presence felt yet again yesterday, robbing J.J. Hardy of certain extra bases in yesterday's 6-4 win. And thanks to some fancy technology from MLBAM, we can quantify just how good he is at what he does.
MLBAM calls it Statcast, which is just a proprietary name for player tracking. (SportVU already does it for the NBA, and the NHL is experimenting with it this year.) It's capable of measuring things like an outfielder's reaction time, acceleration, top speed, distance covered, and, crucially, just how efficient his route to the ball was. It can also do similar things for baserunners.
Here are the numbers on Cain's catch:
If it seems a little gimmicky here, that's OK. This year is all about seeing what the technology is capable of. Next season will be the real fun: that's when it starts gathering enough data to be useful.
The Statcast system was tested out in three ballparks in the regular season, and has been installed in all four LCS stadiums. Beginning in 2015, it'll be used in all 30 Major League parks, eventually tracking every player on every play and making it possible to put numbers like Cain's in context. It's not yet clear how public that data is going to be, but just the idea that we'll be able to objectively measure fielding makes me excited for a whole new world of stats, and for another blow to the eye test for evaluating defense.