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Swinging for the clouds: Major League Baseball keeps enhancing the game and fan experience

October 10, 2023
Tyrone Millard

Key Account Executive, Sports, Google Cloud

MLB's historic rule changes provided a major moment to tap the huge amounts of data produced each game, driving improvements for players and fans alike.

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This year wasn’t simply another season for Major League Baseball. The league began the 2023 season with three monumental new rule changes — quite possibly the biggest changes in the history of the game. The league added a pitch timer, increased the size of the bases, and limited defensive shifts. The intention of these rule changes was obvious: to increase action during the games.

Pouring through reams of data at the end of the season, the results thus far are clear. Games have a quicker pace, shorter times, more stolen bases, and even more athleticism is now on display. The average nine-inning game is 24 minutes shorter, runners are stealing more bases successfully, and both batting average and runs per game have increased from last season.

Baseball fans have always followed the numbers and been deeply engaged with the sport’s statistics, but now with these rule changes, that engagement with data seems to be at an all-time high.

Important parts of determining which rules to change included years of research and experience with an infusion of technology. With the assistance of cloud computing, advanced video, and wireless sensors, there is more data, and more types of data, available than ever before, all of which have been critical to help optimize gameplay.

For evidence of just how important the new rules have been, fans need only look over their favorite teams’ and players’ statistics to compare pre-rule changes to post-rule changes. Some stats in particular that stick out:

  • Games are 24 minutes shorter.
  • Stolen base attempts rose 50% per game, from 1.2 to 1.8, with a 4% increase in success rate.
  • Batting averages have increased from .243 to .249 on average.
  • Runs averaged 9.2 per game, compared to 8.6 last season.
  • Attendance was even up, reaching more than 70 million fans across the league, a first since 2017.

Major League Baseball and Google Cloud have been technology partners going on four seasons now. Together, they’ve helped drive innovation in fan experiences, digital properties, security, and more.

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The cloud has given baseball a platform on which to build new experiences for everyone involved. Yet exciting as these new digital and augmented experiences are — none can match the experience of more excitement on the field itself, which has become enhanced at all levels by data and analytics on the cloud.

Speed is now the name of the game. And the cloud has become the fastest game in town.

Gaining speed in the cloud

The league now tracks absolutely everything that happens on the field, using high-speed cameras placed throughout each of the 30 MLB stadiums, capturing a robust set of information about each player and each play. 

MLB captures over 40 terabytes of data each season, starting with a pitcher on the mound generating unique data events every time he throws the ball, from the angle of his arm when the ball was released, to the spin rate and break of the ball on the way to the plate. The swing path of a batter can be tracked, including where on the bat he hits the ball, the launch angle of the ball off the bat, and the velocity it travels. Everything is measured, everything is quantifiable.

The tracking system that baseball uses is called Hawk-Eye, and all that data is captured and uploaded to local servers within the stadium, run on Google Cloud’s Anthos platform. That data can then be sent to the cloud, running the same system as the servers in the stadiums, via Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). From there, the data can be sent to all the other potential users of that information, including MLB Clubs, broadcast partners, and fans. 

Speed is now the name of the game. And the cloud has become the fastest game in town.

The foundation of this data is called Statcast, which was introduced in 2015 and migrated to Google Cloud in 2020.

With its hybrid cloud approach, MLB has effectively built a data bullpen, able to pull in and swap data into any product or stream; like a coach facing a tough batter, the league, its teams, and broadcast partners can all adapt to the evolving needs of the game and fans’ tastes and preferences.

“Statcast is a world class tracking system that empowers Major League Baseball to build elite fan facing products that bring data to life in ways previously unimaginable.” said Rob Engel, MLB’s vice president for software engineering.

The cloud is where the action now is 

Just as MLB system runs on a hybrid cloud, it create opportunities for hybrid products and experiences that blend digital and on-the-field needs.

One notable example developed from this unified data platform is the innovative Film Room, which houses digitized clips of games dating back to the 1920s. Want to find every one of Ohtani’s home runs hit off a curveball from a left-handed pitcher? MLB can serve up those highlights in seconds.

This creates engaging opportunities for fans to create their own highlight reels, and gives broadcasters and scouts easier access to the archives. More broadly, the accuracy and access of all the sensors and data they create, plus searchability with natural-language modeling (meaning little to no technical knowledge is required to access the database), the league can study the game practically down to the seams of a ball or the contours of a swing. 

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This level of detail helps ensure each at-bat is as exciting as possible. Especially with the rules changes, it’s been an essential focus.

Another way all this data is helping enhance the experience is assisting broadcasters in keeping up with the faster pace of play. Broadcasters now must respond more quickly to the action while still offering the stat-heavy play-by-play that baseball fans cherish.

Here the cloud helps, too, feeding near-real-time game data to MLB broadcast partners. This helps not only fill out the commentary, but the league can also create visualizations on the fly, all by tapping into the information coming from the stadium-based servers.

Changing the fundamentals

The influx of real-time data into the game has achieved a rather remarkable feat: altering how the game is played, coached, and managed on a daily basis. The speed and utility of the cloud has had a profound impact on the speed and utility within the game itself.

Video and data can now be beamed mere moments later to secure tablets in the dugout, ready to provide insights to players and coaches to improve team performance.


All the data on the field is only worthwhile if it makes for a better game for fans.

“The same data is used by clubs and the league alike to glean insights about players, teams, and game play itself to make informed decisions about rosters, game management, and rule changes,” Engel said. “Thanks to the power of the Google Cloud, MLB is able to build Statcast at scale to meet and surpass business expectations.”

Baseball has such a rich history, and stats and data are such a big part of that, and it’s amazing to be able to bring the past and future to life and enrich the game in new ways.Across the landscape of sports and society, the innovations are being adopted, and the league is out there leading the way. It can enhance so many aspects of what we love about life when we can look at the right data in the right ways.

The goal of every change that MLB makes is to make the game better. For fans, for players, for managers, coaches, and front offices. For the league's partners, like broadcasters and advertisers. The cloud has brought more speed to the game, helping to create a more dynamic and entertaining product, engaging fans in new ways, helping to keep the sport exciting and relevant. 

Major League Baseball trademarks and copyrights are used with permission of Major League Baseball. Visit MLB.com.

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