- Associated Press - Friday, April 1, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Figuring out which pitchers have the best control has been relatively easy. Look at the number of strikes and balls each one throws.

Command is a more elusive, yet equally important, measurement. That’s because hitting the catcher’s target can often be the difference between an effective waste pitch just outside the strike zone and a fastball that catches too much of the plate and becomes a home run.

Teams will now have data on how close a pitcher comes to hitting his target on each pitch.

“We’re always asking teams, what’s the one bit of data you wish you had,” said Ryan Zandler, the general manager of baseball products at Sportvision _ the company behind football’s yellow first-down marker, hockey’s glowing puck and baseball’s Pitch F/X system. “Consistently over the last year or so it has been to track the catcher’s glove.”

So Sportvision is using the same three cameras that record the velocity, trajectory and location of every major league pitch to determine how closely each pitcher comes to hitting the catcher’s target in the new Command F/X system.

The information is most useful on fastballs and can help measure command and show whether pitchers tend to lose it after a certain number of pitchers or in specific situations.

“It definitely gives you a better sense when evaluating your own players on whether they need to take their fastball command up a notch,” Oakland assistant general manager David Forst said. “If you look at a guy who doesn’t grade out well on that, but is having a lot of success, it’s always nice to project what he could do if the command and ability to hit the glove improves.”

Sportvision has crunched only the numbers from last June and they mostly reinforce perception. Control specialist Roy Halladay had the second best mark to former Philadelphia teammate Jamie Moyer, missing his target on fastballs by an average of 9.6 inches, compared with the league average of 12.9.

Current teammate Cliff Lee was slightly behind at an average of 11.2 inches, with Cole Hamels hitting exactly the league average and Roy Oswalt being slightly worse.

Some players are skeptical.

“None of the information they’re going to be rendering is going to be applicable to my preparation nor (catcher) Kurt Suzuki’s preparation,” Oakland starter Dallas Braden said. “While it might produce some numbers and some other form of sabermetrics, it will not be applied in our every day preparation to go compete.”

Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters said he thought it might be helpful in bullpen sessions but didn’t see how it would work in games when he is sometimes trying to hide his target from potential sign stealers.

“Some catchers set up inside with no movement outside, or they set up so late it would just be hard to gauge,” he said. “And sometimes, you’re giving a target in one place but you’re trying to bounce it. So how you going to tell on those?”

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey also said his target varies depending on the pitcher so he doesn’t know how reliable the numbers would be. Still, he’s willing to give this a chance.

“It’s always good to try different stuff out though,” he said. “You never know, you might get some good use out of it. I’m always open to trying different things.”

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