Baseball is getting an eye in the sky

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Big Brother will soon be watching you, major leaguers, and it’s a really, really good thing:

As baseball’s statistical revolution marches on, the last refuge for
the baseball aesthete has been the sport’s less quantifiable skills:
outfielders’ arm strength, base-running efficiency and other
you-won’t-find-that-in-the-box-score esoterica. But debates over the
quickest center fielder or the rangiest shortstop are about to graduate
from argument to algorithm.

A new camera and software system in its final testing phases will
record the exact speed and location of the ball and every player on the
field, allowing the most digitized of sports to be overrun anew by
hundreds of innovative statistics that will rate players more
accurately, almost certainly affect their compensation and perhaps
alter how the game itself is played.

This is going to be a huge in that it will (a) take most of the
guesswork out of player analysis by allowing us to quantify defense and
base running and things like that; and (b) it will radically alter the
scouting landscape, likely replacing the subjective analysis of a
traveling baseball man with the objective analysis of guys in cubes
back at the home office. Make as many derisive spreadsheet-and-laptop
jokes about that as you’d like, but it will make teams smarter and
better.

One potential application not mentioned in the article: enhancing
broadcasts of games. If you capture everything, would it not be
possible one day to allow viewers at home to watch the game from any
number of angles rather than rely on the centerfield shot and whatever
else a director in a truck wants us to see? If that happens, one of the
best things about seeing a game in person — being able to watch what,
say, the third baseman does as the pitcher goes into the windup or what
the base runner on third is doing to distract him — can be enjoyed
from the comforts of home.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

Braves 2
Associated Press
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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.