ESPN Innovation Lab Sees Fruits of Labor With Diamond Track

For a sport utterly obsessed with numbers, baseball’s statistical approach to the defensive side of the game has always left something to be desired. ESPN VP of Emerging Technology Anthony Bailey and his team at the ESPN Innovation Lab in Orlando are looking to change that. Using the newly developed Diamond Track system, ESPN can now track every player on the field and thoroughly analyze their defensive performance.

“Defensive stats is something we’ve looked at a lot and something that no one else is really doing,” Bailey says. “It’s really just based on time and distance, and then we go from there.”

On the Diamond
Diamond Track, which premiered during ESPN’s Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals Sunday Night Baseball telecast on July 25, uses a dedicated high-home camera to capture the action on the field. In addition, the system comprises a dedicated operator, a high-end laptop, the Diamond Track software, and an EVS replay server.

Before the ball goes into play, the operator marks where each player is on the field. The system then tracks the players from their starting point as the play begins to their final location when it ends and exactly how long it took them to get there. An EVS feeds this video into the Diamond Track system, and the user can scroll forward and backward using the EVS controller.

“We can utilize this data to figure out how long it took the ball to go off the bat to the shortstop, how long it took for the shortstop to turn the ball over and get it to first, how long it took for the base runner to go from home plate to first base, and so on,” says Bailey. “Then you compare all those times, and it helps us figure out things like defensive range and how quick a guy can turn the ball over.”

Although Diamond Track currently needs a dedicated operator, ESPN aims to automate it.

“Right now, we’re manually tracking,” says Bailey. “But we are working to write a system to automatically track the players. We’ll continue to refine it and test it as we go along.”

Opening the Pipeline
Diamond Track has been in development since March at ESPN’s newly minted Innovation Lab, located within the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World. The Diamond Track development team is permanently located at the Innovation Lab and tested it at the facility’s Champions Stadium during AAU baseball and softball games.

“This was developed entirely in-house with no [outside vendors],” says Bailey. “This is exactly what we’re looking for to come out of the Innovation Lab. To be able to have a crew utilize the facility down there, work with our production people, and develop systems and then share it with fans to get their opinion: do they think this is important, is it something you’re interested in, and so on.”

ESPN also made Diamond Track available to AAU coaches in an effort to refine the system.

“We shared it with coaches of the teams we were testing it with, and they gave us great feedback,” says Bailey. “They used it to explain to their players exactly what is wrong or right. They could tell a player that they needed to get the ball out of their glove faster and then actually show the player what they were talking about.”

Bailey hopes that this is just the beginning of a pipeline of new technologies to come out of the Innovation Lab, which opened officially in February. Systems similar to Diamond Track are in the works for basketball and football.

“We’re pretty far along [for other sports],” he says. “The development of [Diamond Track] was pretty fast. It could have gone even faster, but we have a lot of other projects on our plate. Hopefully, you’ll see some of those soon.”

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