How Texas came to the forefront of baseball analytics

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Texas Athletics

When Ryan Monsevalles, director of player personnel and analytics, first started working for the Texas baseball team as a student video manager, he was part of a three-man crew that tried to keep track of every single pitch and ball in play with three cameras. 

“God, I think that was my junior year, and the old staff didn’t really use a lot of the stuff,” Monsevalles said. “So it was night and day when the (current) staff came in. … We do so much more now.”

Now, the entire operation is transformed. The team grew from three to seven students, and Monsevalles moved to a full-time position after receiving his master’s in legal studies in 2017. Then Texas started using new tracking technologies called TrackMan and Rapsodo.

In 2019, the Longhorns built a self-described “state-of-the-art” pitching lab, complete with a bullpen area surrounded by cameras and radars in the new million-dollar J. Dan Brown Family Player Development Center. 

“The facility has been incredible,” head coach David Pierce said. “We can do some one-on-ones, so it’s a really good teaching environment.”

But the biggest change has been the shift in attitude toward analytics, led by Pierce, that came with the coaching staff that took over the team in 2016. 

“If they weren’t open to it, I don’t think I would have a job,” Monsevalles said. “My role didn’t exist prior to them coming here.”

The new technology gives the team information it wouldn’t otherwise have. Instead of just tracking location and velocity, Trackman and Rapsodo enable the radars and cameras to track information such as spin rate and spin axis, the velocity and axis on which the ball spins, and the exact arm slot of the pitcher.

All of these newly discoverable statistics heavily correlate with factors such as a pitch’s swing-and-miss rate and its effectiveness. Or, to put it more simply, Trackman and Rapsodo technologies give the team information they never previously had on what makes pitches work.

Together with the new 2,200-square-foot pitching lab decked out with cameras and radars, the upgrades have been a valuable resource to pitchers on the team.

“It’s just been so helpful with my transition from high school to college,” freshman pitcher Pete Hansen said. “Ryan and all the other guys do an incredible job, and it’s amazing the technology we’re able to work with here. It’s definitely elevated my game.”

It’s unclear what other teams in the Big 12 and across the nation possess in the arms race with technology. According to The Athletic, other schools such as Vanderbilt and Wake Forest have cutting-edge tech available to them as well. 

But Texas still has a leg up on most Big 12 teams. Even if the team does not have an edge over top schools such as Wake Forest, Monsevalles said what sets Texas apart is the relationships and communication with the coaches and players.

“I know Oklahoma doesn’t have tracking data, and they don’t even have a radar,” Monsevalles said. “I know (Texas) Tech and Baylor have labs, but I don’t know what they’re actually doing with it. … You see a lot of these schools and students will put out content, but it all comes down to the relationships they have with the coaches.”

It all comes down to the most important factor in baseball analytics — the players’ need to be able to effectively communicate important matters with coaches and players, and their need to listen.

“A lot of people forget that you have to have a good relationship with the coaches, whether it’s college or pro teams,” Monsevalles said. “You need to make sure you have that foundation because the message isn’t going to mean as much if they don’t trust the sources it comes from.”

In 2018, Monsevalles left UT for a job with the Toronto Blue Jays of the MLB. But it was the relationships he had built with the coaches and players at Texas that brought him back after just one year working in professional baseball.

“That personal connection you have with the guys and the coaches is just very different in pro ball,” Monsevalles said. “That was just very much lacking with the Blue Jays. You kind of just feel like a gear in this giant machine, where you’re like, ‘Do people know I’m here?’”

At the Player Development Center and at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, however, coaches and players definitely know Monsevalles is there. And they feel his presence too.

“He’s really, really smart, and he knows what to present to us,” Pierce said. “With that being said, it’s our job to decipher through it, and he helps us there. But he’s just on top of what the analytics bring to any potential thing that could come up for us.”

For Monsevalles, it’s the relationships within that community that make Texas and the analytics program special. 

“Texas is my alma mater,” Monsevalles said. “I have a lot invested here, and I helped build what we currently have. I hated not being a part of something bigger than myself. … What made me come back was the relationships I built here and how much I missed them.”