Posts Tagged ‘softball’

Coming Soon to the Big Screen—OnScreen Pitch Count for iPad!

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

I am happy to announce that OnScreen Pitch Count, my app for recording, calculating, and reviewing pitch results and stats of baseball and softball games will be available in a new version for the iPad on the iTunes App Store very soon. Barring the last minute discovery of a bug, which I don’t expect at this point, I’ll be submitting it for review in the next couple of days. For news and more information about OnScreen Pitch Count and other apps from OnScreen Science, Inc., see the web site nondummies.com or follow me (@onscrn) on Twitter.

I think I’ll just show one screen shot from the new app now, since I’ll probably want to make another short blog post when it’s really on sale, and I can show more then. The one below was taken from a game I was recording to test the app. Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies had just had his no hitter broken up by the leadoff batter in the sixth inning, as you’ll be able to see if you look closely at the stats. Well, they may be too small to see there, but you’ll have no problem reading them full-size on the iPad. The hit is about to be registered. The general layout of the screen is described in some detail below.

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As a further preview, here is the description of the app as it will appear on the App Store (subject to modification):

OnScreen Pitch Count, the most highly regarded pitch stat app for the iPhone, has come to the big screen! Designed by a baseball/softball coach who knows what coaches and fans need to know about pitch results, OnScreen Pitch Count stands out among pitch count apps.

Increase your enjoyment of ball games by giving more attention to the details in a way that’s not burdensome. OnScreen Pitch Count is just the right medium between barebones pitch counters and extremely detailed apps.

With the big screen of the iPad you can see lots of stats at the same time, even as you record pitch results. And you can transfer the results you’ve already recorded on the iPhone to the iPad just by emailing the app file as an attachment, as the files are compatible between the two versions.

OnScreen Pitch Count allows you to keep the running totals of

• kinds of strikes: foul, swinging, called, ball put in play
• third strikes: swinging, called
• balls
• total pitches
• first pitch strikes and balls
• strikes and balls in the last ten pitches
• batters faced
• outs recorded
• strikeouts
• base runners
• how many runners reached base by: walks, hits, errors, hit by pitch, other
• runs allowed
• wild pitches

just by tapping easily learned buttons on the screen.

If your interest is in one particular pitcher, you can just follow that one. If you want a complete record of pitch results for every pitcher in the game on both teams, you can track them. There is no limit to the number of pitchers you can record in a game, and OnScreen Pitch Count properly charges runs to pitchers who allow base runners but leave the game before the runners score.

As you record pitch results, you see the cumulative stats of the pitcher updated immediately on the screen. Display total numbers as well as percentages at the same time. Compare the current pitcher’s numbers with the opposing pitcher’s. The stats are on the screen to see. While recording a game you can see the stats for up to three pitchers at a time. When reviewing previously recorded games, you can see four at once. Or compare totals and percentages side by side.

As you record pitches you also see the count on the batter and the number of outs and baserunners, so you never lose track of what the situation is.

Did you tap the Ball button, only to hear the umpire call the pitch a strike? No problem. Tap the Undo button to take the ball away. Tap the Strike button to correct the count. The results of up to two consecutive pitches can be undone. In case you’ve somehow lost track through a distraction, you can edit the count on the batter, outs in the inning, or number of base runners, though the undo feature should be used when possible.

What if you record a strikeout for the third out, only to see the catcher drop the ball and the runner reach base safely? No need for the Undo button. Tap the button for batters reaching base by ways other than putting the ball in play; select the case for reaching base after a strikeout; and the out is then removed, while the strikeout remains tallied, and the number of base runners increases by one.

After you’ve finished with a game, which can be as soon as the pitcher you’re interested in has finished, the results are automatically stored on your iPad for later review, and you can email the results of a single pitcher or all those on the team. Email just a text summary of the results or attach a csv file that you can import to a spreadsheet. AND, if you know someone else with this app—either the iPad or the iPhone version—email them the actual file you’ve recorded for them to view with the app on their device. Or email the file to yourself as a backup.

OnScreen Pitch Count has been available for the iPhone and iPod Touch since August of 2009, and of course that version can be used on an iPad, but only in a sort of little iPhone window on the iPad screen or blown up with pixel doubling, which simply magnifies the iPhone image, while making it look worse. Running the iPhone version of OnScreen Pitch Count on an iPad does not free the app from the iPhone’s limitations, most notably its small screen. The iPhone’s small screen is just the price one pays for its great portability and convenience.

I was gratified and relieved to see that as spring and a new season for baseball and softball in the USA arrived earlier this year, sales of OnScreen Pitch Count ramped up nicely and were running well above the previous year’s level. This indicated that there was an ongoing need for the app and that a fair number of people were taking the trouble to actively search for pitch count apps and then to splurge on a $3.99 app based on the app description, screen shots, and high customer ratings they could see on the app store. It would be interesting to know how many of those who download OnScreen Pitch Count do so after disappointment with a cheaper competing app. My guess is quite a few, so that in a way the higher price of OnScreen Pitch Count compared to its competitors may actually be giving them more sales, as people decide to “risk” 99¢ first.

OnScreen Pitch Count, while not making enough money to brag about, has been a hit, in terms of user enthusiasm. This is evident in the user reviews, which abound in exclamation marks and high praise, and in the emails I’ve received. Some of the reviews are so glowing (“The best app I have ever bought!!!!”) that I worry that they’ll be seen as bogus, but they are 100% real reviews. Well, there was one negative review that I’m 99.99% certain was actually meant for a competing app, since the specifics of the comments clearly applied to the other app and not at all to OnScreen Pitch Count. That one hurt sales for a while and probably cost me a couple of hundred bucks. I plan to write about app developers’ susceptibility to harmful, uninformed reviews sometime. Anyway, despite having sold something less than 1,000 copies of the app, I feel very satisfied to know I’ve conceived and created an app that a good number of people have found very useful, even delightful. Would that there were a way to get the word out to the many other parents, coaches, and fans who might also love it if they only knew about it!

Sometime back in March I decided that my next app development project should be bringing OnScreeen Pitch Count to the iPad. I hoped that I could have the iPad version finished sometime in May so that it wouldn’t entirely miss the peak time for baseball and softball, which means Little League and high school seasons. That time constraint for peak sales potential was really the determining factor in my decision to work on this app next. I hadn’t thought through exactly how I would take advantage of the greater screen area of the iPad, but I knew it would be possible to eliminate a lot of switching from one view to another as compared with the iPhone version.

As is usually the case, the job took longer than I’d hoped. Back when I first started app development I had also originally meant to get OnScreen Pitch Count for the iPhone ready for a spring debut, and had barely gotten it on the App Store while it was still August, so there has been improvement!

I had already developed an iPad app (OnScreen DNA Model) but in that effort I had been able to avoid one complication that I’d have to deal with for OnScreen Pitch Count—the need to make the app completely usable whichever way the user wanted to orient the device. Apple reviewers are pretty insistent on this unless you have a good reason not to, which I was able to argue for in the case of the DNA model. For an app with numerous user interface elements and data displays in various views on the screen, this is not a trivial task. I guess it probably added a month to the development time. Knowing what I now know, of course, I could do the same thing again (and with better code design) in a much shorter time. Every app developed makes it that much easier to develop the next.

The main question to address was how was I going to use all that extra screen space to enhance the app? I wanted to use as much of the iPhone app’s code as I could and also make the iPad app seem immediately familiar to anyone that already had the iPhone version. One of the difficulties in adding a new type of pitch data to the iPhone version is the lack of space on the screen to present it. I’ve had users request the ability to record and see first pitch strikes and balls and the number of strikes in the last ten pitches, for example. There was room for these and more on the iPad screen, so I couldn’t use the lack of space excuse on the iPad and have indeed coded the iPad app to keep track of these numbers. The users of OnScreen Pitch Count for iPhone can expect to see these features incorporated in an update before long. I’ll come up with a way to show the new data, even if it’s not a pretty way.

I played around with a number of ideas on how to use the extra screen area of the iPad but eventually decided that the default (and currently, only) use should be to display pitch result data for the different pitchers in the game. All those results are available for viewing with the iPhone version, but the user has to swap out the pitch recording screen in order to see the complete pitch results, and still the results can be seen for only one pitcher at a time, even for completed games being reviewed.

The bottom right panel of the iPad contains the buttons for recording pitch results and a display of the current situation: count on batter, runners on base, and outs. The lower left panel shows the cumulative pitch totals in various categories for the pitcher currently on the mound. These are updated after every pitch. The default layout is then to have the same data displayed in the upper left panel (also kept current), only in the relevant percentages that go with the numerical totals show below it The upper right panel displays the totals for the pitcher on the opposing team, if that team’s pitches are being recorded. If there are more pitchers, or if the user wants to display percentages for a pitcher other than the default, he or she can make that choice. So there are three panels available for showing pitch totals while a game is being recorded with the lower left panel always showing the current pitcher. For reviewing completed games, all four panels are available for displaying pitch results at the user’s choice, both in terms of which pitcher and whether totals or percentages.

The last major upgrade feature added to OnScreen Pitch Count for iPhone was the ability to send as email attachments files containing the recorded pitch data in a format that anyone with the app could read and display on their own device. In addition to file sharing this feature provided a way to back up files on any computer. Of course, I wanted to make it possible for users of both the iPad and iPhone versions to share each other’s app files as well, and this turned out not to be that difficult. So anyone with games recorded on the iPhone version can email them to the iPad for viewing the data of up to four pitchers at once.

I’m really glad to have the basic coding of this app behind me and can’t wait to see how people with iPads like it. As always, I invite anyone with a problem, question, or suggestion to email apinfo@onscreen-sci.com.

Maybe I’ll take a break from coding long enough to write something for this blog, or should I say blog archive, since that’s all it’s amounted to for the past several months?

OnScreen Pitch Count Update 1.4 Now on iTunes App Store

Monday, June 14th, 2010

A new version of OnScreen Pitch Count, the most complete, easy-to-use app for recording baseball pitch results on the iPhone and iPod Touch, is now available. Getting OnScreen Pitch Count to the point where it did its main job well and reliably in a way that was quickly learned was my top priority, and I think I was successful in that right from the first release. With time I’ve been able to add features such as emailing results, including attachments that can be imported into spreadsheets. This new update is more in the nature of a polishing than one that introduces big changes. I’ll just use a few screen shots as the quickest way to point out the differences from earlier versions. I recommend downloading the new User Guide for more complete details.

An obvious difference to anyone that’s used the app before is the presence of a toolbar at the top of the different screens of the app. The main screen in which pitch data is entered is shown below. The four toolbar buttons with titles, none of which are used for recording pitch results, were formerly elsewhere on the screen and just do what they always have. The totally new control is the one with the opened lock icon on the left of the bar. A bit below it, in the top yellow region, is a closed lock, which indicates that the screen is locked, its normal condition. As one might expect, tapping the button unlocks the screen and changes the icon indicating the lock state to show an open lock. So what does unlocking do? Two things really. First, it makes it possible to edit the pitcher’s name. Previously, once the name had been entered and saved it couldn’t be changed. Obviously, there are times you might want to change the name, including of course when you’ve misspelled the name for some reason, but also when you’ve only learned the pitcher’s name sometime after the game started, or even after it ended. Unlocking allows you to change the pitcher’s name both during the course of the game or later when you’re reviewing it.

The other thing unlocking does is to make it possible to terminate an inning before three outs have been recorded. This is something that comes up in leagues with limits on runs scored or total batters in an inning. Having coached in a minor Little League that only allowed a team to bat once through its complete order in an inning, I should have thought of this myself, but I had it pointed out to me by a user who coaches a Little League team in Texas. Thanks, Daren. Unless the screen is unlocked with the toolbar button, the New Inning and Switch Sides buttons are disabled (as shown) until the third out of the inning has been recorded, in keeping with my philosophy of preventing accidental taps that can mess up pitch recording. But this was a clear case where an override was needed.
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The screen below is one where the pitching results from a game are being reviewed after the game has finished. The toolbar is a bit different from the one already considered. The unlock button allows the editing of the pitcher’s name as before. The Games button is a new one for the app. It allows the user to go directly to the list of recorded games to choose another game to review. This required a couple of steps previously, and the steps were not as obvious as tapping an appropriately labeled button. The Review button is as before. It brings up the complete list of pitchers for which stats were kept in the game. The Done button is to make a new choice to either resume a game, start to record pitches for a new game, or review previous game results (which is what is already being done). Displaying the team name under the pitcher’s name when reviewing a game is also new.
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The screen below shows the list of pitchers with recorded stats for a certain game played last July. Note that the toolbar for this screen also has a Games button, making it easy for you to choose a different game if you decided to do so at this point for some reason. The Cancel button will take you back to whatever screen led to the currently showing one if you want to do that directly.
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The screen below shows an example of a list of games for which pitch results have been recorded. The Cancel and Done buttons have the expected result. The new feature is the addition of an option in the control at the bottom to Edit a game. Select Edit and then tap on a game in order to edit the names of one or both of the teams in that contest.
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All of the new features were requested by users. I think having an easier and more direct and obvious way to navigate from game to game when reviewing pitching performances previously recorded is by far the most important improvement. It was the app’s rather awkward navigation between games and pitchers that caused it to receive a couple of “Great app except for…” reviews. I’m hoping those reviewers will find it in their hearts to review OnScreen Pitch Count again after using this updated version and to give it that extra star in the rating. In any case, I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve made a good app even better. If you don’t already have it, go check it out on the iTunes App Store.

OnScreen Pitch Count 1.3 Is Now on the iTunes App Store

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

A new version of OnScreen Pitch Count (1.3), my iPhone and iPod Touch app for recording, calculating, and reviewing pitch results and stats of baseball and softball games is now available. A major improvement to the app is the new ability to email pitch data from a game as an attached file in csv (comma-separated values) format. The csv format is one easily imported into spreadsheet programs such as Excel. Once you have the data in a spreadsheet, you can perform any of the many operations available, such as totaling the various pitch quantities for the all the pitchers in the game and so on. Also, once the data is in the spreadsheet’s rows and columns, it can be easily transferred by cut and paste to a master spreadsheet you may be maintaining with full season results, for example. The email can be sent with an attachment or with just a text summary of the results without even leaving the app. The attachment feature is one that a few OnScreen Pitch Count users had requested, so I’m glad to have it up and running.

The other major addition is the ability to record wild pitches. There is a new button to tap after a wild pitch occurs. A wild pitch is only recorded when a pitcher throws a ball beyond the catcher’s reach with the result that a base runner is able to advance; so the wild pitch (WP) button is only enabled when there is at least one base runner. This should minimize accidental wild pitch recording. This disabling of the button needs to be taken into account in a couple of instances though. When a runner reaches first base after a missed third strike due to a wild pitch, the user should first put the runner on base with the Other OB button, and then record the wild pitch. If the sole base runner scores on a wild pitch, the wild pitch needs to be recorded before the run is recorded, since that removes the sole runner from the bases and disables the WP button. This is only logical, but might not be obvious the first time. These cases are pointed out in the new pdf User’s Guide for OnScreen Pitch Count available for download online. Wild pitches are common at lower levels of youth baseball and softball, so this can be an important statistic in evaluating how a pitcher is doing and in getting to all the factors that contribute to run scoring.

The screen shots below show the new wild pitch (WP) button and the display for the number of wild pitches. It required a little shifting of buttons and labels around, but the result was good and uncrowded.

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Above is the main screen on which pitch results are recorded by button taps.

details

Above is the screen in which cumulative game pitch totals are displayed.

A coach from Texas called me a couple of weeks ago with a question about OnScreen Pitch Count, which he was planning to use in a game that evening. I confess I was jealous. I’m sitting here in New England on a cold, rainy night, knowing baseball and softball are a month away, and with lots of cold rainouts to come even then. Not only that, when the season starts I won’t be getting a team of kids ready as I did for years in the past. It’s a nostalgic time for memories of when my kids were little. My daughter is still playing, a high school sophomore softball pitcher, and I’ll be there in the stands with OnScreen Pitch Count for all the games I can get to. It’s a good feeling to know there are others (though far from enough!) now using this app I created to capture the pitch results that I, as a coach, would have liked to have had.

You can download OnScreen Pitch Count from the iTunes app Store or find out more about it, including a video and the User’s Guide, at nondummies.com. Previous blog posts (“OnScreen Pitch Count: An iPhone App Preview”, “OnScreen Pitch Count Now On Sale on iTunes App Store!”, and “IPhone App Updates and Experiences”) say more about OnScreen Pitch Count and some of my experiences developing and presenting it.

IPhone App Updates and Experiences

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The biggest news on the app front is that OnScreen Science’s second iPhone app, OnScreen QB Stats, an app for recording, calculating, and reviewing the passing statistics of quarterbacks during and after football games, is now available on the iTunes App Store. I’ll devote another post to that soon, maybe tomorrow, but I want to catch up here on app number one, OnScreen Pitch Count.

OnScreen Pitch Count went on sale from the iTunes Apps Store August 26. I won’t go into the details of the typo I had in the press release I sent out or dwell on how the video I posted to show the app in action worked fine on a Mac or Windows PC, but not an iPhone. That’s all in the distant past, fixed and forgotten.

Once the app had made it to the iTunes App Store, I was looking to find reviewers for it to help get the word out. I’d had magazine reviews of my science education software in the past, all of them quite favorable (a four-star Macworld review of OnScreen Particle Physics caused a major uptick in sales years ago), but not in a long time and never, of course, for an iPhone app. My number one hope was that the Macworld web site would post a review. As luck would have it, Macworld had not long ago reviewed another pitch count app. That showed they had someone sufficiently interested and knowledgeable to do a review, but it might also make it less likely they’d want to devote space to another example in this little niche, even one that was better than the first, especially so late in the baseball season.

Apple provides every developer of an app forty “promo codes” for the free downloading of each new app or update. I sent a promo code with a review request to the email address of the Macworld reviewer, but never got so much as an acknowledgement. I hadn’t counted on a Macworld review anyway and had found other iPhone review sites (a good number of which are devoted solely to games) and approached a few of them. One or two review sites responded with the suggestion that I expedite a review by paying them. That I wasn’t about to do, and I wouldn’t really trust their reviews after knowing how they operate. A couple of reviewers took the trouble to download the app, test it thoroughly, and write a review of it, for which I am grateful.

The two iPhone app review sites that reviewed OnScreen Pitch Count were AppGirlReviews and JustAnotherMobileMonday (JAMM). I ran across the AppGirl on Twitter, and she was happy to take on the review (actually to pass it on to someone on her staff). I learned of the JAMM site via Google. JAMM had reviewed iScore, a baseball scorebook app, for the iPhone. This review showed the reviewer to be a baseball fan who liked to keep score during a game, which I thought, correctly as it turned out, made him a good candidate to review OnScreen Pitch Count.

Even though I felt the app was solid, and it had passed Apple’s review, I still felt some anxiety over the possibility, however unlikely, that a reviewer would uncover a crashing or data-scrambling bug. On that score I was quite relieved, as both reviewers had nothing but good experiences to report. There was plenty of agreement on the performance and power of the app and its ease of use, really, despite complaints about interface. The JAMM reviewer in particular disliked its looks, and I can’t blame him. I had used Apple’s Interface Builder’s oddly minimalist, totally two-dimensional rounded-rect default buttons for the interface.

My hope was that someone wanting to track a kid’s pitches wouldn’t be totally repelled by the looks, and I didn’t want to delay the app’s launch any more than I had to. Of course an unappealing interface can indicate overall lack of care, which by assumption might carry over to the actual functioning of the app. Fortunately, the reviewers used the app enough to see how well it worked. The JAMM reviewer couldn’t stand the app’s looks, but acknowledged that “like the story of the Ugly Duckling, there really is a fantastic and robust app hidden inside there.” In addition to general aesthetic objections, he wanted a more graphical interface (instead of labeled buttons presumably), but I confess I don’t know how to come up with something that would convey “ball” as well as the word. And so on. A great deal of experimentation went into button placement in fact during development.

For opposite reasons, which is interesting, both reviewers emphasized the limited market for OnScreen Pitch Count. The (male) AppGirl reviewer, in particular, seemed downright offended that I suggested in the app’s description that a normal fan might enjoy tracking pitches in a game he or she was watching. My claim was based on my own experience in testing the app, but the reviewer really took exception to the idea, noting that nonetheless he would let it pass and only report on how the app functioned. That is basically what he did, and he had plenty of good things to say, recommending it without qualification for coaches and parents of pitchers. But in closing he came back to say that otherwise it was of interest only to “fanatics,” and that it was “burdensome” to record pitch results. Despite all the positive things he’d said in the middle of the review (the only serious complaint was lack of email capability, which he thought was a “glaring” defect), he gave the app a mediocre numerical score.

The JAMM reviewer, on the other hand, felt the app would be of limited interest because a regular (not a fanatical) baseball fan wants to record much more than pitching data, as in a full scoring of batting and baserunning results. Clearly there is a wide range of fan interest in keeping personal track of what’s happening in a baseball game, from nothing to everything. I still think there are some that may want pitching stats in particular, since pitching is so important, especially when it comes to managers’ decisions.

I was so happy that both reviewers (real world people I’d never met) had found the app to work perfectly and to be of great potential use to its primary audience that I didn’t let any negative comments bother me. Really.

A little after the reviews appeared someone posted a user review on the iTunes App Store, which gave OnScreen Pitch Count five stars, but also mentioned the need for email. My first update would add email. This update (version 1.1) was approved and posted for sale on the iTunes App Store on September 17. After the update had been posted, I noticed the iTunes summary said that iPhone OS 3 was required for my app. Since I had gone to quite a bit of work (following Apple’s guidelines faithfully) to use the improved emailing capability of version 3, while providing downward compatibility with OS 2.2 (through use of weak binding and conditional execution, for the cognoscenti), I was not happy about this. My query to Apple was unanswered. I decided to live with it and move on to requiring OS 3 or greater for future updates. This affects iPhone customers almost not at all, but about half the iPod Touch users have yet to upgrade the OS, since they have to pay to do so. I recently discovered an iPhone developer discussion thread about this very problem of OS-requirement change as being due to an Apple bug.

Another user rating led to version 1.2. This user expressed the desire to see pitch results expressed in percentage form as well as total numbers. The update incorporating this new feature was posted for sale October 15. Finally, I addressed the ugliness issue and made the minimal, but significant, change to the use of better-looking buttons. The new buttons, while not photo-realistic, are pleasing I think, looking a bit like they’ve been rendered by colored pencil shading. Version 1.2.1 with the new look was approved as I wrote this.
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UPDATE: See also “OnScreen Pitch Count 1.3 Is Now on the iTunes App Store”.

OnScreen Pitch Count Now On Sale on iTunes App Store!

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

OnScreen Pitch Count, my iPhone “app” for recording pitch results in a baseball or softball game has been approved for placement on the iTunes App Store and is now available for purchase, in the Sports department, naturally. The past couple of posts here (OnScreen Pitch Count: An iPhone App Preview and How I Made a Quick-and-Dirty Six-Minute Demo Video of My iPhone App) have been devoted to describing the app and my efforts to get it ready.

The only way to sell an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch is through the App Store, and Apple has to approve individually every app that goes on sale there. The estimated time for this approval had been quoted as about two weeks when I submitted OnScreen Pitch Count on the night of August 12. I hurried to get it done then because I was going to be out town for five days, visiting family.

I spent the next couple of weeks wondering if I’d somehow introduced a fatal bug at the last minute (“impossible,” but still one thinks about the impossible sometimes) or if the reviewer at Apple might be someone that didn’t know the first thing about baseball. The evening of August 26 arrived, and OnScreen Pitch Count still hadn’t been approved. Then, almost two weeks to the hour since I’d submitted my app, I got the email saying it was now on sale on the iTunes app store.

Sure enough, within an hour or so the link embedded in my email worked to take me to the OnScreen Particle app’s display on the iTunes App Store. Sure, it’s too late in the baseball season to make many sales now, but it’s still a good feeling to know the app has been approved.

Let me quote a couple of paragraphs from the iTunes app description:

OnScreen Pitch Count from OnScreen Science, Inc. is an app for anyone wanting to have the pulse of a baseball or softball game at his or her fingertips. Pitching is the key to the game, and with OnScreen Pitch Count you’ll have data that even the tv analysts don’t. You’ll know how many pitches each pitcher in the game has thrown and exactly what the net results of those pitches have been.

Whether you’re watching your favorite team play, listening to a game on the radio, sitting in the stands at your child’s Little League game, or coaching a game in which extra pitching data could help you make the right decision, you’ll find OnScreen Pitch Count enhances your enjoyment of the game as it increases your understanding of it.

If you enjoy following baseball or softball, and especially if you coach it at any level, you should check OnScreen Pitch out. Even if you don’t really need it until next spring, you might as well get it and learn it now. I welcome comments and questions. See the email address in the right hand column.

UPDATE: See also “IPhone App Updates and Experiences” and “OnScreen Pitch Count 1.3 Is Now on the iTunes App Store”.

OnScreen Pitch Count: An iPhone App Preview

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I’ve been explaining the infrequency of my postings here as due to the time I’ve spent working on an iPhone “app.” Now that it’s about to be submitted to the iTunes App Store for inclusion on that exclusive online site for selling (or even giving away) iPhone apps, it seems I should give my devoted readers a preview of the app: OnScreen Pitch Count, the first iPhone app from OnScreen Science, Inc.

Pitch Count? “How could you take that long to make a pitch counter?” you may be thinking (and perhaps “How is it better than the mechanical clicker kind you can buy at the hardware store?”). Hopefully a description of what the app can do will answer both those questions.

The screenshot below shows the main display and the buttons one taps to record pitch results. Incidentally, I considered naming the app OnScreen Pitch Results since it more accurately describes what the app keeps track of, but that name is two characters longer than allowed before being truncated in the App Store listings, so I’m going with Pitch Count, which may be better anyway. The name of the current pitcher is displayed at the top. This example is from a moment in this year’s MLB All Star game.

The buttons in the lower green area are the ones that record each pitch result. One of my first tasks was to determine just what I wanted to keep track of. I referred to my own experience as a Little League coach and also as an interested baseball fan. I rejected the level of detail that would include pitch location and pitch type (curve ball, fast ball, etc.) as being more than anyone but a pitching coach or scout would probably want or be able to handle, not even considering the difficulty in coming up with a user-friendly way of recording that much information for each pitch.

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Using a basic knowledge of baseball and some trial and error, I came up with the buttons that are displayed above. In keeping track of strikes thrown we need not only to record pitches that add to the strike total in a given at bat but also the pitches that result in foul balls after two strikes have already been recorded or that result in balls being put into play, leading either to an out being recorded or to the batter reaching base. A great deal of thought and experiment went into choosing the size and placement of the buttons, which I have found to be easy to use in the actual flow of a game.

The bottom two rows of buttons are for recording pitches not put into play: balls and the three kinds of strikes. The Walk and Strikeout buttons are not enabled until four balls or three strikes have been registered. I found from experience that putting in the extra step of recording a walk or strikeout reduced the chance of error and made the situation that much clearer. The Undo button can be tapped to undo the results of as many as two pitches, for example for changing a ball into a called strike after a hasty tap made before the umpire had spoken. It can also, of course, be used to cancel an accidental tap of any button. When three strikes have been recorded, the Strikeout button is highlighted to indicate the next step, and all other ball and strike buttons are disabled until the strikeout is recorded or the strike call is undone. At any time, only the buttons that have meaning are enabled. For example, if there are no runners on base, the Basepath Out and Run buttons are disabled. At important steps such as recording the third out, the next button to be tapped is indicated by highlighting (as mentioned previously for recording a strikeout).

Above the two lower rows of buttons are those relevant to balls put into play and possible results with runners on base. As currently programmed, hits and errors are recorded but without the specific type of hit (single etc.). The Out button is tapped whenever a ball hit by the batter results in the batter being put out before reaching base or in a baserunner being forced out. A basepath out is recorded when a runner is put out not as the result of a hit ball, say caught stealing. In the case of a double play, both an out and a basepath out are recorded. This system of buttons keeps the hits, errors, outs, and current baserunners straight. The Other OB button is used to record batters reaching after being hit by a pitch and so on. It even has the option of the batter reaching first base after a dropped third strike, properly recording the strikeout while removing the out.

The middle yellow section above shows the current situation in the inning: outs, runners on base, and the ball and strike count on the hitter. The cumulative game totals of balls and strikes (including balls put in play etc.) for the current pitcher are shown above that section. A tap of the Details button brings up the cumulative game totals for pitch results, runs allowed, baserunners, etc. for the current pitcher, as shown in the screen shot below.

review

The pitcher whose results are shown above pitched only one inning as closer, but the same totals for every pitcher in the game can be brought up for inspection by a tap of the Review button followed by a scroll and a tap to select the pitcher from the list of those recorded (see below). All pitchers appearing in the game for either team can be recorded. Or, a single pitcher appearing at any point in the game can be followed alone, depending on the user’s interest. All of the data recorded in a given game is saved on the iPhone or iPod Touch and can be reviewed at any time with the OnScreen Pitch Count app.

list

When I started to work on this project there were no competing apps that I was aware of, but since then a few have appeared. OnScreen Pitch Count lies in between some that seem to be really barebones counters of balls and strikes (with limitations on the number of pitchers) and much more detailed “pitching scout” type apps that record more data but are aimed at tracking individual pitchers over time. I think OnScreen Pitch Count should find  a comfortable place in this niche of pitch recording apps. I’m pretty confident it can more than hold its own in usability and usefulness. As far as I’ve been able to tell from scanning app descriptions, OnScreen Pitch Count is the only app that properly charges runs to the pitcher that allowed the scoring runner to reach base even when the run scored after a relief pitcher had come into the game.

Of course, interrupting the pitch-recording to answer the iPhone or to play a game between innings has no effect on OnScreen Pitch Count, and it will resume right where it left off whenever it’s pressed into service again. This happens automatically for pauses of up to an hour, but you can resume any unfinished game at any time, whether after a long rain delay or after you’ve paused a game tape for days.

How much will it cost? I’m leaning toward $2.99. It would be worth a lot more than that to some people, but the way mass appeal apps have been forced to fight for attention on the App Store has led to popular games being sold for 99¢. OnScreen Pitch Count is not competing in the popular game market, but the depression in game prices has led to iPhone users’ expecting very low prices on anything they buy.

I should mention that I found in my testing of OnScreen Pitch Count, watching both local softball games and televised major league games, that the spectator experience was enhanced by following with such close attention and having so much information literally at my fingertips. I would have loved to have had the information when I was coaching Little League. It was a lot of work to program OnScreen Pitch Count, though the development tools Apple supplies are excellent. Further improvements and my next app (I have an idea!) will be easier, assuming I get on with it before I forget what I’ve learned.

In a day or two after I post this I should have more information about OnScreen Pitch Count up at this link: http://nondummies.com. I plan to have a video demonstration.

UPDATE: See also “OnScreen Pitch Count Now On Sale on iTunes App Store!”, “IPhone App Updates and Experiences”, and “OnScreen Pitch Count 1.3 Is Now on the iTunes App Store”.

An Evening in Lowell: Mixing in a Changeup

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

The New York Yankees came into Boston last Friday to play the Red Sox in the first game of a crucial series between these hardball rivals with the enormous player payrolls. It was a beautiful evening, and I felt very lucky to be at the ball park! Only I wasn’t at Fenway Park watching the Sox. Tickets are very difficult to get for Fenway, especially to a single game for five people on a Friday night at a low price. Especially right behind home plate. Well, there are no such tickets combining low price, availability, and great location in Fenway. Against the Yankees? Are you kidding? No, I was in Lowell, Mass., a bit to the north of Boston, to see my first New England Riptide game. That’s professional fast pitch softball, a sport played by women on a smaller field with a bigger ball, where the pitching is underhand from only forty-three feet and every pitch is some kind of breaking ball. The league’s official name is National Pro Fastpitch.

I was with my wife and a few girls on the summer league softball team for fourteen and under that my daughter plays on. I first became more interested in softball through coaching and watching my daughter’s teams. I’d watched some international matchups and Women’s College World Series games on television, but had never seen a game with highly skilled players in person. Since there was a promotion for this night that included members of our team and their guests, it seemed the right time to see what this league was like. The Riptide were playing the Chicago Bandits.

It was like going to a minor league baseball game, but on an even smaller scale. The Riptide home games are played on a nice regional high school field. The concession stand is not all that different from one at a Little League or high school game except they have more choices, including beer as well as sodas. Seating is not assigned; it’s first come, first seated. We were early, so we had time to buy food (I got a pulled pork sandwich—not bad for $5—and a Heineken—a little warm since they had just put their drinks in the ice, and of course more expensive than anywhere but a ball park at $4) and still find seats right behind home plate, from which vantage point we got to see the teams take pregame fielding and batting practice (screen with a hole in it for underhand pitching). I found watching the fielding practice a pleasure in itself, having seen so many muffed grounders, balls bouncing out of gloves, etc. at our girls’ level of play. I think the girls on our team were properly impressed, hopefully inspired, also.

The atmosphere at the ball park was quite enjoyable. Of course there were probably more young softball players in the stands than usual because of the promotion, and probably considerably more people in attendance than usual as well. In keeping with the minor league baseball tradition, they had various non-ballgame things going on. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Taz were all visiting from Six Flags New England, and a couple of them threw out first pitches. Between innings one young girl raced the Riptide mascot character (a gull, I gather) and one of the Six Flag characters around the diamond. It was amusing to see the girl, all business, look back to see if they were gaining on her. Another break featured three girls in a hula hoop contest. Our girls got to join the Billerica Bratz team in singing Sweet Caroline (by accident or fate, a Red Sox anthem of sorts) into a microphone brought into the stands between innings. The sound operator had a different theme song for every home team player, and when a player came to the plate, he played a short excerpt of her theme. There were other musical effects for tense moments: the Jaws music still scares me a little, I’ll admit.

The NPF players have their traveling expenses paid and receive a modest salary. The sixteen-player teams in the league each have a salary cap for payroll of $100,000. No, I didn’t make a mistake on the number of zeros, and that is the total payroll, not just the single player limit. So most players make a couple or a few thousand dollars to play the 48-game summer season. There are a few big names in softball, with pitcher Jennie Finch being the biggest, but this year most of those are on the Olympic team, thus depleting the NPF of its top players. All of the players on both rosters had their colleges listed in the programs, and I would guess most are only a year or two out of college. Whatever else they may be doing, they really want to keep playing softball, and are glad to have found a way to make that happen. How is this desire to play manifested?

Well, for one thing they hustle. And how they hustle! While Red Sox fans were wondering whether their star hitter Manny Ramirez was faking a knee injury out of spite because the Red Sox management hadn’t yet picked up his $20 million option for next year (all the while paying him about that much for the current year), we in Lowell were seeing two teams put nine players on the field who never walked when they could run, although they are basically working for peanuts.

To get an idea of the level of enthusiasm exhibited and the amount of stretching that went on, just imagine (if you follow major league baseball) two teams composed of nothing but David Ecksteins and Ichiros, then jack it up a little. After that, morph those skilled players into young women in their twenties with the feminine charm that accompanies the bloom of health and vitality, and remember to include a good number of pony tails. I think of the Riptide player who loosened up while awaiting her turn to hit by jumping high off the ground in the on deck circle, feet pulled up behind her, in an impressive display of agility and eagerness. But don’t imagine all the players are slim and trim; one or two were bigger than what you’d normally associate with athleticism, which usually includes speed and agility. However, I’m sure the bigger girls have great balance and can hit the ball a long way, peg the ball to second to erase a runner, or demonstrate some other skill of value to the team. Baseball and softball are skill sports, where even a self-styled “non-athlete” such as John Kruk can excel with the proper physical skills.

The weather for the game was perfect and the mosquitos neither too plentiful nor too voracious. It was in every sense a good game (well-pitched, well-played, and dramatic), except that the home team lost 2-1. An early highlight for me was the Riptide’s first hit on a perfectly placed drag bunt. The third baseman for the Bandits, Stacy May, whom I had seen waiting in line at the concession stand before the game (imagine A-Rod in line before a game at Fenway!), turned out to be the heroine of the night. She hit a homerun over the center field fence to score her team’s first run and later made a couple of key plays in the field, most notably one on which she leaped high to snag a line drive and then dived to tag the base with her glove to double up the runner on third and kill a Riptide rally. Exemplifying the spirit and fun of the sport, the Riptide players danced along with the cheers they chanted during a rally, much as our young girl players do.

Both pitchers pitched very well, and I could really see the balls break in different directions, especially during warmup pitches when the umpire wasn’t in the way. I found it interesting that, contrary to the universal advice of the pitching books and videos I’ve studied in my effort to learn how to coach softball pitching, Jocelyn Forest, the Riptide pitcher, instead of landing with her stride foot on the “power line” straight from the pitching rubber to the plate, always landed well to the left of it—yet another example of someone coming up with an idiosyncratic way to do something successfully.

If there was an error made in the game, I can’t recall it, though a key hit by the Bandits was on a ball that hit off the glove of the center fielder as she ran in and attempted a shoestring catch. The cleanly played game was in marked contrast to a baseball game I saw in Lowell a few years ago, in which the Class A Lowell Spinners (Red Sox farm team) and their opponents each made multiple errors. That’s a small sample, and I can imagine why Class A baseball would have more errors: more balls put into play, more balls hit hard, more players just out of high school. However, it was a striking contrast, and I can say with a good deal of confidence that if one goes to an NPF game, one can expect to see good fielding.

The overall experience was refreshing and mind-clearing somehow. It is rare to find that many people so obviously relishing what they are engaged in and going about it with such elan and skill. Those girls are having a blast! I highly recommend going to an NPF game. In addition to the two teams already mentioned, there are others in Philadelphia, Akron, Washington DC, and Rockford, IL).

For me (and obviously there’s a personal and contingent element to every experience) the psychic refreshment from attending the game was like that obtained from a satisfying concert. Now that I think about it, the enjoyment and satisfaction for the players is probably similar to that of young people in a road band, where all the gigs and travel arrangements are lined up in advance, so that all the musicians have to do is show up and play their hearts out—with a lot of improvisation: all improvisation really, in the sense of responding to the unpredictable actions of others, always within the rules, but always different. They’re teammates, they’re young, it’s summer, and life is beautiful. Some of the joy gets passed on to the witnesses; try to find a game.