Daily Speculations

The Web Site of Victor Niederhoffer & Laurel Kenner

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7/15/04
Jeremy Smith: Example of Counting

Would Curt Schilling be considered a "counter" ? --J.

http://www.diamondblog.com/archives/000212.html

Schilling relies on technology to maintain every edge possible on the mound. "Before, I was using TVs and video to look over hitters," Schilling says ..."And each hitter had his own little videotape, which was somewhat time-intensive and bulky. This system is portable. I've got 475 hitters and 20,000 pitches on about 85 CDs right now. I can pull up any pitch I've thrown, any count, any at-bat, any situation I want over the last nine years." Yes, we've come a long way from the old pen-and-paper charts that guys once kept to track which pitches worked and didn't work against different teams' lineups. Up comes Schilling in freeze-frame. We're looking over his shoulder at the catcher. It must be old footage from an interleague game, because Schilling is wearing the red pinstripes of his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies, and that's Yankee Derek Jeter in the batter's box. Schilling taps the keyboard, and the video rolls. Pitch follows pitch in rapid sequence -- no home-run trots, no tiresome throws over to first base, no dugout shots of the manager picking his nose. And because each pitch is a separate MPEG file, cross-referenced every which way, Schilling can play with the data all he wants.

"If I go to, like, Derek Jeter here," Schilling says, switching to a data-entry screen, "I can ask for all the first-pitch strikes I've thrown him." Up comes a list of 15 pitches. "Six of those 15 are swinging, which tells me that early in the count, he's not a very aggressive hitter. Now I can look at the balls he did put in play" -- back to video -- "and see where they were. Or go through and watch all the outs and see just exactly how I got him out." Click. "Fastball away." Click. "Another fastball away. I do this for every hitter." And every game. Between starts, Schilling formulates a plan to retire each hitter he may face up to four times -- "In this count you should do this, in that count you should do that, and if he comes up late in the game, in a big situation, you could potentially do this." He records his observations in a spiral-bound notebook he brings to the dugout, and refers to this ledger between innings.

For the data, the software, and the computer, Schilling pays about $15,000 a year to Hertz Consulting, a political polling firm in Petaluma, Calif., with a sideline in sports. (Richard Hertz, the president, is a catcher in an over-30 league.) All season, Hertz collects videotape from the Diamondbacks, digitizes the relevant data, and ships updates to Schilling. "I'll pitch a game on Monday against the Padres," Schilling says, "and I have to pitch against them on Friday, and [Hertz will] have my video burned to a CD and back to me on Wednesday."

Hertz has a few other baseball clients, but they're all hitters, and none is as committed to the technology as Schilling is. "It gives me less reason to get beat," Schilling says, trying to explain why, for him at least, there's no going back. "A lot of guys are afraid to make the leap simply because this type of technology entails responsibility. I don't have excuses. I'm expected to win. I know what they pay me for, and I couldn't do the job as well as I do without this."

7/15/04
Nigel Davies on Counting

"But my little black book was different. It had names in it, but they were the names of tennis players. It had numbers in it, but on particular strokes. I counted mistakes on backhand volleys, overheads, forehand and backhand groundstrokes. I kept track of winners on those shots and watched what they liked to do in specific situations."
--Brad Gilbert in Winning Ugly