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Finding the next frontier for the Astros analytics department

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Could they be using biometric data to help players maximize performance?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

What new metrics are the Astros using now?

What have they discovered in the past three years that gives them even the slightest advantage?

We spend a lot of time here on TCB talking about stats. Since my first article back in 2009 was using the trade value calculator and fWAR to come up with surplus values for the Astros top trade targets.

But, my liberal-artsy conception of data has always been limited to standing on the shoulders of giants. Heck, it's really about standing on the shoulders of smaller giants to see the bigger giants teach us what the biggest giants had to say.

We can be pretty sure that the data we have publicly is woefully behind what's going on inside the game. Every time someone like Mike Fast or Keith Woolner get closer, a team snaps them up to make it proprietary.

This article on Five Thirty Eightgot me thinking about data and the Astros. What do we know? What is the next thing they'll be working on? What's the thing we might not even think about them focusing on?

We know they do all sorts of measurements on the game through the TrackMan system, which is close to doing what the new Field F/X will do. TrackMan can tell the Astros about velocity and trajectory of batted balls and maybe even have data on how players move in the field.

Could they be tracking more data on players, though? What if they used the kinds of biometric research that's sweeping other sports?

Chip Kelly pioneered some of this thinking when he was at the University of Oregon. He's doing the same thing in the NFL and his methods are catching on. By focusing on optimal training times and body rhythms, he's able to get the most out of his team's practices without spending all day doing it. He's efficient, in other words.

The 76ers are doing something similar. They're studying players to get any little edge in performance they can.

The NBA is closer to baseball in tracking players in-game, because they have a fancy camera system installed in every stadium that tracks player movements and such for new and exciting data.

Neither of those sports is like baseball, though. Baseball players don't practice as much as football or basketball ones do. What kind of advantage would it give a baseball team?

Look at what the Boston Red Sox are doing with their prospects.

Alex Speier continues writing great stuff on the team and their minor league developmental methods. Turns out, the Red Sox study a lot of things in the minors, not just relying on pure scouting. From his piece:

In an attempt to crack that mystery, the Sox started instructing their area scouts to put potential draftees through a series of computer exercises meant to measure reaction time to pitches. Betts became a heralded part of that pilot program.

"I missed my lunch period because I was doing neuroscouting," recalled Betts. "[Watkins] just said, ‘Do this, don't think about the results.' I did what I could. It was just like, a ball popped up, tap space bar as fast as you could. If the seams were one way, you tapped it. If it was the other way, you weren't supposed to tap it. I was getting some of them wrong.

Are we sure the Astros don't have something similar to this setup? After all, it seems that biometric research is the new wave of data in sports and we know the Astros are at the forefront of embracing advanced metrics.

It's a little thing, but even the new football coaching staff at the University of Houston called its strength and conditioning coach a "Director of Football Performance."

UH may not be using the fancy measures that Chip Kelly and the 76ers are, but that small name change could show where the next area of focus for teams will be. They want to maximize performance, like every sports team has since the 20's and 30's. Instead of lifting comically-sized barbells, teams are using technology to train smarter. Why wouldn't the Astros be doing the same thing?

Think about it. Have you read anything about what the Astros are doing to study injuries or training methods? We know they used technology two years ago to push out offseason workouts, but haven't heard anything about them collecting biometric data.

The absence of evidence isn't proof. But, I'd be shocked if the Astros weren't looking into how wearable technology could help them gain an edge.

What kind of edge would that be? What if it helps someone avoid a slump? What if it helps a pitcher know when to optimize his bullpen session?

That's an edge at least worth exploring and I'd be fascinated to see where, if at all, baseball may be going in this direction.