By Lauren Keyson and Sarah Grieco
Watch Jeremy Braff’s full sports tech presentation at the May 2016 Disruptive Technologists event at Microsoft in Times Square at http://disruptivetechnologists.com/videos/
Jeremy Braff is an expert software architect working for MLBAM, the technology arm of Major League Baseball which focuses on full service solutions delivering world-class digital experiences across all digital media platforms. Braff helps MLBAM get sports data and information out to the world. While MLBAM’s primary business is baseball, it’s since grown and now supports dozens of partnerships across news, entertainment and sports, including HBO, WWE, Sony and the National Hockey League.
Jeremy Braff: Our goal is to make sports data available to internal groups here, professional sports teams, external third parties and eventually the rest of the world.
LK: How did you get involved in sports tech?
JB: I’m a big sports fan and I love technology. I knew someone who worked at MLBAM and he told me about how they built and launched a technology called Statcast, which is this amazing infrastructure with high end cameras and radar tracking the ball and the players on the field at all times – live. The radar tracks the ball at 20,000 frames per second and is accurate enough to allows us to calculate the spin of a pitched ball. By running analytics on this data, we’re able to view baseball in ways never before possible. We can now not only see how hard a ball was hit, but also measure how long it took the fielder to react to the ball and calculate how efficient his route was in making the catch.
When I heard they were working on this, I thought, ‘This is one of the coolest things ever, and it is going to change sports!’ It’s not only going to change how people consume the game; it’s also going to change how sports teams analyze, recruit and find players. I jumped at the chance to work on it — it’s a very exciting technology and a cool idea.
LK: Mets or Yankees? Nets or Knicks?
JB: Yankees. For basketball? Knicks. But I’m mostly a baseball fan. When I was younger, I was always watching sports. In college, I made a website that no longer exists – stat-junkie.com, which was a site to get baseball statistics.
I also worked part time in grad school for a baseball agent. I would research stats to help support players in their contract negotiations. I was helping the agency by bringing in technology and helping them figure out the best way to use it. Fortunately with baseball there’s a big community around the technology and the data of baseball. There are a lot of websites out there that showcase baseball data. That’s how I got started — I found a website where I could download a database of baseball stats, and tried to figure out random stuff – like who had the most home runs but failed to reach 100 RBI in one season?
Now there are so many great websites out there that go into the math behind some of the statistics. A lot of people in baseball are into sharing and making data available.
LK: Were you an athlete?
JB: Not a good one. I was more interested in watching the game and the numbers behind the game. I’m on softball teams but I would never consider myself an athlete.
LK: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do at MLBAM?
JB: We built an API to be a center point for all sports data. At the beginning we were trying to determine how to build it to handle all of the crazy use cases we might see over the next 5 or 10 years so we are not constantly rewriting it. The amount of planning we did was a lot of fun and a great challenge.
LK: Did you worry about pulling this together?
JB: We always worry about these things, which is why you need an unwavering commitment to detail. The more worries we put upfront, the better it works long term.
LK: What is the best quality for a person to have who wants to get into sports technology?
JB: You have to find something you love and work on it. If you’re enthusiastic about sports and technology, then it’s perfect for you. Sports are changing so much right now, particularly how they’re analyzed. You need to be able to consider the past, while also looking at new solutions for the future.