If your company is not constantly innovating, you’re falling behind. Matt Brand explains the Astros’ use of pitch tracking technology, swing tracers, performance analysis and neuroscience to improve player skills and to better anticipate their opponents’ performance. It’s the science of baseball!
Joey: Hi, my name is Joey Sanchez, and this is HXTV. On today’s show we’ve got Matt Brand, Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations for the Houston Astros. Now I’ll have you guys please welcome Matt Brand.
Matt: How’s everybody doing today? Great to have you. To update you a little bit about the Astros right now, we’re off to the best start the franchise has ever had. The attendance is tracking towards 3 million, our TV ratings are the highest they’ve ever been. We’ve got a really good product and I’m really proud about that. Today, I got the opportunity to wear my ring today, and our goal is to bring another championship to this city in 2019. So, this has been a mantra of mine for the longest time: technologically advanced companies want to do business with technologically advanced companies. Old cats like me need to realize you have to stay current or you’re just going to get passed up.
You can translate that to even baseball. The things that our GM was doing 5 years ago are already outdated. That’s why this thing is so incredible, and I can’t wait till we start luring some of the biggest, and baddest, and smallest, and most technologically advanced companies to Houston. Because we really do have a special sauce in the city. If you look around, we’ve got people from all over the world here, and that really is our special sauce. I’m just going to talk really briefly about a few baseball technologies that we have out there, but I’m going to talk about an old one. Back in the days, even I was scouted in the major leagues. You had a bunch of guys and gals, but mostly guys, sitting with speed guns and their stopwatches and their little books and they were putting in data, and that was just the way of the world, right?
And you had all of these guys, you know, there was a pitcher in Galveston, and you go look at him on Tuesday—hey, that kid is going to pitch at Klein, you go there on Thursday. And we had all these people traveling all around. Well, guess what? Most of that stuff they were writing down becomes out of date pretty quick. What we found out was in video, if you can have some really great video, and all major league games are broadcast, all college games are broadcast, and all of our scouts now are pretty much all with cameras, because that kid on Tuesday in Galveston, his swing and how he throws is really going to be the same a month later, two months later. To have people just traveling all around shooting the same stuff doesn’t make sense.
If we can put together technologically advanced video and bring that all back to Minute Maid Park, and really put our proprietary programs up against that technology, we can really make some hay with that. That’s some of the stuff we’ve done. Talk about the shift a little bit. I realize that has Marwin Gonzalez in there, and that’s from last year, but you can really see, and some in the back you can see the screen there. You can see how everybody is over there, right? We started doing that, we were one of the first—the Houston Astros were one of the first to do that real drastic shift. With that, and the reason it makes sense is—this is Joey Gallo, with the Rangers, right?
Big pull hittin’ lefty. If you look at all the green dots, I mean, Joey pulls the ball. So, hence, if he’s pulling the ball all the time on the ground, we’ve got to have our infielders over there. Now, if you look at the—where are the flyballs? The blue dots, you know, all of our guys can still get to the blue dots, ok? So, that kind of is the shift. To go with it, and this is why you’ve got to keep on technology, in 2014, we led the league pretty much in defensive shifts. I mean, nowadays, everyone is caught up. This isn’t a technologically advanced thing anymore. Everyone is doing it. The things that we are developing now in ’19 and ’20 are the things that are going to help us in ’24/’25. A bunch of different pitching technologies. Some of you have kids and they use them, right? For pitching, everything is really about the spin rate these days; that’s what it comes to.
If you look at our pitching coach, who is mid-60’s, Brent Strom, he’s been doing this for 45 years. Brent is one of the leaders in the league of using advanced technology, with all the traditional stuff he’s learned over the years. And that’s why he saw someone like Charlie Morton, right, last year. [He] went from basically a pretty average pitcher to super. That’s why you see Ryan Pressley, who we got from Minnesota, who everyone kind of yawned, has turned into this elite reliever, because Brent has the ability to take technology and blend it with the craft. We’ve been super successful being able to do that. I-chart; when you can get the rotations going, and the velocity, this is the swing and miss rate. So, you can see the success formula for the guys that can get into the 90s and spin that at that 2500-2600 revolution, the swing and miss rate is incredible, and you’ve got to be taught that, right?
And so, these are some of the different technologies that we are using. Rapsodo, on the hitting part of it, is another—it can be used for both. And again, you’ve got people like Bregman, who will take an at bat, and go down in the tunnel and in the video room and will study in real time what is happening. Those guys are studying all the time. Back 15-20 years ago, no one was looking at the technology. Now this generation of players, they want all of the technology they can get. They want that extra little bit. They want what’s going on up to the date, which is really, really cool. This is Mike Trout. When Jim bought the team in 2011, we lost 100 games—in ’12 we lost 100 games, in ’13 we lost 100 games, in ’14 we lost 92 games, and you know the story got better and better.
I would go on the road to California, to LA, and our pitchers would always pitch Trout, once in a while, down here. You can see what happens when you pitch Trout low; it’s gone. He just obliterates it, right? You’ve got to pitch Trout up in the upper. This is one guy. Every one of our pitchers is studying every batter from all the teams they come into, and they have the latest technology, the latest data on all these players. The last one on this is kind of blast motion, and it’s a piece that goes into the bottom of the bat. Again, it gives about 25-30 pieces of data analytics on swing playing, exit velocity, things like that. Again, a couple of years ago, in baseball we’re slow to adapt, this was, wow, and now it’s very commonplace that you see out there.
Now, on the human performance side; I’ve been in Houston long enough, it’s not quite Silicon Valley, we’ve got a lot of engineers here, we’ve got a lot of heavy industry, so it’s not unusual in the oil and gas business or the heavy industry, you’ve got $30 million machines. And you’ve got these preventative maintenance schedules on these machines because it’s a $30- or $40 million machine and you’ve got to keep it in prime condition. We’ve got players now, not naming any names, Justin Verlander and Oliva, who are high performance machines. We want to make sure we have the best technology and the best care around them with everything from doctors, to mental strength coaches, to nutritionists, to sports scientists.
It’s a very expensive machine and we have to take great, great care of it. Some of the things in that, some of it—we’re going into a soft tissue technology. It’s not just putting ice on people’s arms anymore and things like that. It’s really being able to look at 3D, 4D of what’s going on in their muscles and things and then creating customized plans to treat every individual player. Then, based on what they’re eating, it’s being able to customize a nutrition program so that it makes the most impact. We’ve had a spate of hamstring injuries lately, but you can believe they’re studying and saying why, why so much this year? And so, we’re going deep in this.
Another thing is dry needling, which is very similar to acupuncture, and I don’t know all the science behind it. But it’s an alternative to acupuncture and again, you can break up the muscle and the lactic acid and things that hurt, and so we keep going deeper and deeper into the dry needling. The last thing is blood flow restriction therapy. It’s using wraps in a doctor approved way to get more, right? To get more power, to get more strength gains, to increase growth hormones and improve VO2 max. These are just three of the things that we’re doing from a human standpoint. One is Halo neuroscience. We’re experimenting with that, and again, you can buy this over the counter. It comes as light shocks to the brain and stuff as you’re training, and it helps you in a bunch of different ways.
This is kind of interesting when I was putting this together. The NBA and a lot of other teams went real deep in wearables for sleep studies. What our guys kind of said is, we don’t want all of these wearables on us because they feel like it’s an invasion of privacy. All that data is transmitted back, and they feel like, ‘oh, that’s going to be used against me come contract time.’ And so, we said, ‘hey man, we don’t want you guys to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.’ And so, we got rid of that but we really preach good sleep habits that we would to everyone in this room. It’s worth saying, because we all don’t do a great job at great sleep habits. One of them is getting to bed at a consistent time, and that’s tough for a baseball player.
Proper mattress and pillows; why wouldn’t you spend thousands of dollars on something you spend more than half of your life on. Pillows, same thing, reducing alcohol and stimulants, cutting off screens before—very, very simple stuff. It’s not all glamorous being a baseball player. Think about the Brewers last night. They got done at, I don’t know, 10:30, maybe it was 11:00; by the time they got on an airplane it was maybe 1:30 and they flew for 2 or 3 hours, so they’re getting in at 5 or 6 and they’ve got to go play today. The old way was, ok guys, we know you got in at 6, get on the bus at 2:30 and get over to the stadium. And now, a lot of the teams are, hey, we’ll get there at a later time, stretch out and go play.
We’re trying to adapt to their bodies and stuff. Some of the airplanes we’re buying, we’re trying to make them really sleep focused airplanes. So, a couple things on next generation sponsorships. Everyone with a phone is a producer of content now. A lot of brands want that content. It’s more organic, and if we can shape it into our marketing, and to use it very effectively, we can get a lot of sponsorship dollars for it. MGM—so we also have betting, is the next biggest thing in sports. We’re seeing that in a big way. All the major leagues are saddled up with big money there and it’s just evolving. Now, in Texas, it’s illegal still, but it’s coming. What we see on that—you’re watching the game, you’re talking socially, and you’re betting. And you’re using all the data from the leagues because the reason they’re locking into these big deals is they’re using all the league’s data. So, I think that’s my rap today. I promised it was 15 minutes, Joey.
Joey: Awesome. Let’s give Matt a round of applause.
Matt: Thank you.
Joey: Thank you so much for today. That really does put it in a point. When I was talking to Matt about this, he said something a few years ago and it resonated—two years ago, actually. That when Houston does well, the Astros do well. When the Astros do well, Houston does well. That was a better example than Hurricane Harvey. So, thanks again for everything you’re doing. Thank you guys for being here today. Stay around to network and we’ll see you at the next one. Thank you.
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