TECHNOLOGIES SUCH as Pitchf/x, which launched in most major league parks in 2007, and Statcast, which became public in '15, capture the speed, spin, movement, release point and location of every pitch—that would be all 715,838 of them thrown just last season, creating millions of data points. This deluge of information has presented teams with a key question: Now what do we do with it?
The answer increasingly is to hire young, numbers-savvy former pitchers to translate the data into usable, customized strategies for current pitchers. These recent retirees serve as adjuncts to the traditional pitching coach. Though they answer to various titles, they are the Pitch Whisperers.
Arizona GM Mike Hazen is at the forefront of the Pitch Whisperers trend. As Boston's GM in 2015 he hired Brian Bannister (above), now 36. After being hired by the Diamondbacks this off-season, Hazen created a position for Dan Haren, also 36. Bannister, who had a five-year major league career, is Boston's assistant pitching coach, who travels with the team and works primarily with pitcher development. Haren, who pitched for eight teams over 13 years, works mostly from home devising specific game plans as Arizona's pitching strategist.
"In any industry where there is a disruptive technology, in this case Pitchf/x, it creates nontraditional roles," Bannister says. "At the major league level it's always about competitive advantages and giving your players better information."
Just months into his job with Boston, Bannister used analytics to persuade journeyman Rich Hill to throw his high-spin curveball more often and with various shapes. Since then Hill is 14--6, and this winter he earned a $48 million contract from the Dodgers. Last year Bannister used analytics to show Rick Porcello that the shape of his hybrid cutter-slider caused weak contact or missed swings. "That encouraged me to throw it more—and it worked out," says Porcello, who won the Cy Young Award.
Bannister was an early adopter of sabermetrics in his 37--50 career and planned to launch pitching instructional centers when the Red Sox called. He loves analogies, such as calling the traditional pitching coach the trusted caddie for pitchers. What does that make Bannister?
"I'm the guy in the truck by the driving range," he said, "customizing clubs for the players."