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Illinois Baseball trying out advanced metrics in 2018

The Illini invested in a FlightScope last year.

Charlie Young had never been to a college baseball game. Now a sophomore at the University of Illinois, Young went to a few Illinois games toward the end of the 2017 season, hoping to talk to the coaching staff about an Android application he developed in his computer science class.

The app would help track advanced metrics, and it came to fruition, according to Young.

But, to Young’s surprise, the Illinois baseball program invested in a FlightScope Strike in August 2017, which essentially does what Young’s app did.

According to its website, FlightScope Strike is “the first multi-frequency 3D tracking radar for baseball and softball employing direct distance measurement to provide accurate positions, speeds, and angles of pitched and hit ball trajectories.”

In other words, it helps baseball teams track advanced metrics — Young’s new job with the Illinois club.

“I just want to get experience working with really high-quality data,” Young said on his new position. “I want to model and build databases to store (information), and also work with coaches and players and help them understand their statistics.”

Hoping to one day work for a Major League Baseball team in its advanced metrics department — Young is interning with the Baltimore Orioles this summer — he is still looking to learn more about how to use the data.

With the season yet to begin, Young has only been able to bring the FlightScope to practices, mainly taking place in the indoor Irwin Football Facility due to cold and inclement weather.

Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb enjoys having the FlightScope set up in the facility, however. He says it is easier to get a feel for how far balls would actually go off the bat by using the FlightScope tracker since most hard hit balls would hit a wall or the fencing in a batting cage.

Even some of Illinois’ players like being tracked during hitting and pitching sessions.

“The coach would ask for exit velocities every once in a while (in the batting cage),” Young said. “I would say, ‘Oh, hey, this was 90 (miles per hour) off the bat.’

“It got down to (redshirt junior) Ryan Haff and (junior) Bren Spillane, they both had maybe 100 (m.p.h.) and they were like, ‘I want to do better than him.’ They had a competition, one pitch each, who can get the highest one. I think Haff won, I’m not entirely sure, but they’ve been really curious.”

While the players have taken to the FlightScope, Hartleb says he wants to be cautious with how the metrics are being used.

“You have to compare (the metrics) with what you actually see from your players,” Hartleb said. “The analytics don’t measure mental capacity and mental toughness and things that happen in a game.

“I don’t want to get to a point when we have a bunch of robots out there. You still need to catch balls. This is just a little bit of a piece of the puzzle to give us information that will help the players.”