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12/7/2012
12:40 PM
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San Francisco Giants' Bill Schlough: InformationWeek IT Chief Of The Year

The Giants' CIO and his team are innovating in areas such as analytics-based scouting and in-stadium wireless, keeping the World Series champions ahead of the game.

» Big data: Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game of statistics, one put on steroids (sorry, Melky) by the wide embrace of "sabermetrics" of Moneyball fame. While teams evaluate factors such as player performance and optimal positioning on the field by analyzing thousands of slivers of data, MLB Advanced Media (BAM) is beginning to let a handful of teams -- the Giants among them -- take the concept further with Sportvision's Fieldf/x, a video system that helps teams analyze player reaction times, or what Evans calls biomechanics.

"You're going to be able to get an amazing matrix on speed and response time," says app dev director Quill, adding that Fieldf/x "will revolutionize how defense is analyzed," like how fast an outfielder comes in for a ball, moves laterally or reacts to line drives. "In some cases, it's just making the data more accurate, and in other cases it's giving us information that just didn't exist before."

While BAM CEO Bob Bowman is careful to note that MLB plays no team favorites, he says Schlough and his organization have two essential qualities when it comes to digital media: ideas and execution. "They always say yes," he says.

Fieldf/x generates a million records per game. Schlough does the math for me: 30 frames per second, tracking nine defensive players, the home plate umpire, a batter and the ball, multiplied by the amount of time a game takes (about 30 minutes of action). Quill says that when teams accumulate three years' worth of data -- enough to give them a high level of confidence in that data -- we'll be talking about 5 billion records. As Quill and Schlough like to point out, 5 billion records is on par with the amount of data a typical bank deals with. Indeed, when we met last month Schlough was due to meet with the head of a large bank's data analytics operations, at the bank's request.

Mix into that data pool the stats every team tracks, as well as the information teams are starting to collect about fans, including social media activity and ticket purchasing/sales patterns, and we're talking about a big data (and storage) problem. It's the IT organization's biggest challenge right now, Quill says.

MLB's Bowman adds that the league's big data, which his organization centralizes and manages, requires teams to be "ready to move not within hours, but maybe within minutes and preferably in seconds."

» Scouting: Quill has been in every Giants draft room since 1999. "My systems have been used in the draft room," he says, "and that draft room created Buster Posey, it created [Madison] Bumgarner, created [Matt] Cain 10 years ago. All of those were related to how we scouted and how the organization figured out how to pick those players, and we assisted in that process."

Quill has worked with Evans and the rest of the baseball operations staff to incorporate various systems, including Fieldf/x and Sportvision's Pitchf/x, into the Giants' scouting process. Beyond picking players, the IT organization's data and video analyses extend to advanced scouting, like figuring out how to pitch the Tigers and who to trade for.

» High-definition video: It's hard to say whether AT&T Park was the first to go 100% HD. The Giants were the third MLB team to introduce an HD video scoreboard, Schlough says, after the Braves and the Marlins. But replacing all of the stadium's TVs with HD sets transformed the fan experience, he says. "It's that simple to me," he says. "Change out the TVs and the park feels new."

MLB's Bowman also talks about another aspect of video: delivering live video captured in the ballpark, which the Giants have been doing for years. Bowman's goal is to capture video, edit it and deliver it to the 2 million MLB.com subscribers within 20 seconds. The league can embed an ad, deliver the video to mobile devices and, of course, generate revenue. And Schlough's AT&T Park infrastructure makes such delivery, even live look-ins to other games, possible.

After the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series, Schlough's team produced a 360-degree interactive video of the victory parade. With only two days to get the video done, it mounted three cameras: one on the windshield of Sandoval's vehicle, one on a golf cart and one on the front of the podium at the City Hall stage. The final product, which you can view here, is stunning.

Schlough's IT team celebrates the Giants' World Series win
Schlough's IT team celebrates the Giants' World Series win

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