Scientists create a baseball-playing robot

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But Mike Trout already exists!

Jokes aside, this is a very interesting article from Wired. Researchers at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology have created a robot that adapts to pitches using software which mimics the function of the human brain’s 100,000 neurons.

When a ball is pitched to the robot, an accelerometer at the back of a batting cage records information about the flight of the ball, including its speed, and this data is relayed back to a machine that holds the GPU-powered brain. The brain then crunches this data so that it can determine exactly when the robot should swing. If the scientists change the pitch speed, the robot will relearn the task all over again.

The robot already has better plate discipline than Delmon Young.

I, for one, welcome our baseball-playing robot overlords.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉