If Sunscreen Can Let MLB Pitchers Cheat, Technology Should Catch It

If you’ve been following baseball recently then there’s no doubt that you’ve heard about spin rate. Players are calling out other players (Bauer vs. Cole), Tyler Glasnow’s UCL is tearing (at least partially), and bans are being placed all over pitchers trying to squeeze out every RPM possible for their fastballs. For years, pitchers have used foreign substances, including sunscreen and pine tar, to doctor baseballs in an attempt to achieve a better grip on the ball and subsequent higher spin rates. A pitch with a higher spin rate is known to move faster and with more movement as well as allows for pitchers to have better placement of the ball unless you’re a knuckleballer that is. In June 2021, the MLB announced that they would be cracking down on the use of such substances in an attempt to curb the “cheating” that it allowed for years. Pitchers will now be checked regularly throughout a game for any sort of sticky substance, either on the ball or on their bodies, that if found will lead to an immediate ejection and a 10-game suspension. While this may leave pitchers in a disposition, it may present an opportunity for companies trying to work their way into the sport.

 

While constantly checking the ball and pitcher for any type of substance may work most of the time, it’s by no means a guarantee to catch everyone doctoring the baseball. A pitcher could constantly change his hat or wipe the substance off between innings in an attempt to avoid being caught. Instead, why not monitor trends in stats to determine when a pitcher starts receiving a little boost? That’s where companies like SMT, Trackman, and Hawk-Eye could have an opportunity. 

 

While all the three have their hands in the MLB’s StatCast technology in the past, Hawk-Eye was announced as the sole provider in the transition to the 2020 season. Hawk-Eye, which is owned by Sony, seems to have a pretty impressive system for measuring spin rate, but competition could soon arise as the MLB is always looking for more accurate data, especially when using it to accuse pitchers of cheating. Judging by its patent portfolio, Trackman has an early lead in pitch data collection technology with its radar system while Hawk-Eye/Sony, whose video-based data systems are also currently being used, has a much smaller portfolio with only two (2) granted patents in the Image & Video Analytics subcategory and eight (8) published applications. Surprisingly, neither granted patent mentions spin rate or even baseball, primarily discussing the back-end working video analysis. This leaves them open to competition from SMT or smaller companies in the sector that might be able to provide more consistent data. 

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