Baseball/Softball: Coaches using iPads may become game-changer
Oak Park-River Forest baseball coach Chris Ledbetter enters Downers Grove North's lineup into his iPad prior to the start of their game. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:03AM
It’s certainly not something considered typical — a coach tapping away at a computer while in the dugout.
But that’s exactly what’s happening at high school baseball and softball games. This season, the iPad revolution has begun. For the first time, high school coaches are using iPads to keep track of statistics during game action.
Need to know what your No. 6 hitter’s average is on the first pitch? Well, coaches can have immediate access to all the trendy stats currently used in sabermetrics and fantasy baseball, such as WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
At Oak Park-River Forest, Jacob Harris handles the iPad for coach Chris Ledbetter.
As Ledbetter sees it, who better to use a complicated computer device than one of the kids? Harris said Ledbetter started implementing an iPad last summer.
Harris, a senior, played second base for the JV team in the spring, which allowed him to attend every varsity game. He describes himself as computer-savvy, and plans on taking computer classes at OPRF in the fall.
“I’ve never had (an iPad),” Harris said. “I just figured it out.”
Harris said he can tap into the iPad whether the batter has hit a soft ground ball or a hard ground ball. Do coaches really need to know that?
One thing that hasn’t disappeared from dugouts is the scorebook. Often, it is now used as a backup. Coaches can’t cut the cord yet, but scorebooks may not have long life span with the iPad around.
Most coaches implementing the iPad use a software program called GameChanger.
Fenwick assistant baseball coach the Rev. Andrew McAlpin brought the latest electronic innovation to the team last year and now all he has to do is keep score during a game and GameChanger does the rest — and that’s a whole lot more than one might imagine.
“I was looking into different ways to score games and assemble statistics a year ago and found this new company, GameChanger,” McAlpin said. I talked with the other coaches about trying it in addition to the scorebook — some schools have stopped using the book completely — because it keeps such accurate stats, and they agreed. It’s great, you can do it from an iPhone and I do it on an iPad. It offers every option for every play, it’s very intuitive. If you are online, people can watch that way or receive emails on their phone.”
Gamechanger offers team statistics to subscribers, which mostly include students, players and parents, and they can receive the information they crave via computer or mobile phone in a variety of ways. A mobile app allows subscribers to follow a game pitch by pitch or even receive updates and in-game alerts on a specific player. Go online and they can review statistics galore, and not just batting stats or earned-run averages, they also can receive game results and read a recap of the latest battle on the diamond.
But there is more, and McAlpin starts the process by just keeping score on his iPad and GameChanger does the rest.
The program includes a variety of statistics that are helpful to coaches, and GameChanger creators go as far as to state they can help improve a team’s winning percentage by going beyond typical means. That includes statistics such as first-pitch strikes thrown by a pitcher or a hitter’s quality at-bats, which, for example, breaks it down to whether a player hits the ball hard, sees more than six pitches, sees three pitches after two strikes, gets a two-out RBI or successfully executes a sacrifice fly or bunt.
“To become a fan is easy, too,” McAlpin said. “It’s up to the GameChanger administrator, which is my role, whether you are allowed to see the stats free or pay for them. We had a donor who paid the full amount for us this year so that anyone who signed up could see them free.
“But, for example, if we don’t want a certain team to see our stats, we can block them out,” he added, smiling. “You don’t want everyone seeing your spray charts, and this program computes every stat possible.”
McAlpin said that GameChanger has made his life on and off the field a whole lot easier.
“When I first started looking into this I was inputting all our statistics on our website by hand, and I decided that we’re in the time of great technology so there had to be an easier way,” he said. “That’s how I found it. Now once a game is scored, I can pick out individual stats and email them to whoever wants them. It’s pretty amazing that this program can break down all the stats you can imagine. It really simplifies the entire process. It even creates a narrative story for the specific game you just played. This is such a stat-heavy sport that I think this will be utilized by more and more schools down the road. This manner of keeping score and stats is really starting to explode.”
Technology has a way of creeping into the high school game. This is the first season in which all players are required to use a BBCOR-certified bat, which performs more like a wood bat. The NCAA began using BBCOR bats last season.
A few years ago, first base coaches at high school games were allowed to keep stopwatches while on the field. Coaches use stopwatches to time the difference from when a pitch hits a catcher’s mitt to when the ball arrives to second base on stolen base attempts.
At the time, that seemed to be a pretty radical idea in terms of technological advancements in the game … but no more.
Rick Behren contributed to this story