In the modern major-league landscape, a player forms around him an ever-growing team — not the organization for which he works, but his own team, a trusted group of outside experts who can help handle various facets of his career.
An agent or agency deals with contracts, endorsements and the like. A hitting coach works on his swing, a pitching coach his delivery. A personal trainer helps him stay in shape in the offseason. There also can be therapists (physical or mental), doctors (almost always specialists) and social-media managers (almost never interns), among others.
And sometimes, including in the cases of at least three Mets pitchers, they have a personal analytics guru. That is where Michael Fisher — a 51-year-old financial analyst by trade and baseball nerd by hobby — and his company Codify come in.
"That’s very much becoming the standard, too," reliever Trevor May said. "It could function very much along the lines of a massage therapist or a trainer. One hundred percent."
Among Fisher’s 50 or so clients across 26 major-league organizations are three Mets righthanders: starter Marcus Stroman (0.90 ERA in three starts), reliever Drew Smith (injured list) and May (5.40 ERA in four games). His primary product is highly specialized heat maps of the strike zone, customized for every pitch a pitcher throws and every batter he might face, created by Fisher’s proprietary algorithm.
A mind-boggling amount of publicly available data gets fed into his "buffed-up" computers, which produce images of the zone, Fisher said, noting that the maps are "actionable" and "not purely historical." He will get as technical as a player wants, but in the simplest terms, the heat maps tell a pitcher where to throw what and when. Blue is good, red is bad.
"There’s no numbers to look at. There’s no translation needed," May said. "Throw it to where the blue is. Generally. He said it a little bit more eloquent than me and little bit more complicated, but that’s the way I filtered it down."
For Stroman, who didn’t use analytics for most of his career but changed that approach recently, the Codify effect has been one factor in his hot start, including two runs and 10 hits in 20 innings — excellent ratios.
They connected last offseason when Fisher noticed a particular post from Stroman, a prolific user of social media.
"He had written something online that said something like, when people tell me what I can’t do, I take it as a way to fuel the fire," Fisher said. "I wrote, well, I don’t think you can learn anything from Codify. And he thought that was funny. It got his attention."
In February — before he had even thrown "a Codify pitch," as Fisher put it — Stroman called Fisher’s information "game-changing." They have touched base about the new heat maps before each of Stroman’s games this year, Fisher said.
"I’m excited to have these glaring cold zone spots where I know I can throw," Stroman said in an interview with Rob Friedman, a Twitter personality known as @PitchingNinja. "Because I can spin the ball so well and do so many things with so many pitches, it’s going to be like a safe zone."
Fisher added: "A primary goal is to keep the hitters off-balance and uncomfortable, and so far that has gone pretty well."
Fisher’s entry into baseball was happenstantial. An Oakland-area native whose family had Athletics season tickets when he was a kid, he was just a fan for most of his life. At a family reunion about a decade ago, he learned that his uncle’s new wife’s son was an A’s minor-leaguer, Dan Straily.
Straily, a major-league journeyman who is in his second season in Korea, eventually became Fisher’s first client. Word of his heat maps spread from there. Blake Treinen, a former All-Star closer who shares an agent with Straily, also was an early devotee. Sean Doolittle, Liam Hendriks and other A’s were, too.
The pandemic — and MLB’s shutdown — coincided with a breakout of sorts for Codify, which has doubled its major-league client list in the past year or so. The Yankees’ Jameson Taillon works with Fisher. So does 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber of Cleveland. And White Sox ace Lucas Giolito, catcher Yasmani Grandal and Hendriks, who signed a $54 million deal to be their closer.
It was all word-of-mouth and personal recommendations. Fisher started doing this full-time last summer.
"I love this," he said. "I mildly liked what I did before, but how interesting is financial analysis, you know? Or I could help big-leaguers. They ask me for advice. So that was a pretty easy decision."
As Codify has pushed into the mainstream, feedback from teams has been mixed. Some embrace Fisher and support their pitchers or catchers working with him. Others, not so much. One club actively has made it difficult for players to sign up with Codify, Fisher said.
One person familiar with the Mets’ internal pitching analytics was skeptical that Fisher could provide anything different from or better than what the team does.
Think of using analytics as cooking. Teams have five-star chefs running commercial kitchens with all of the fanciest appliances. Fisher doesn’t have as many cool pots and pans, but he cooks with many of the same ingredients. For some people, his homemade food tastes better.
May said he cross-references Fisher’s information and his team’s information. If both tell him to approach a batter the same way, it sends him into that at-bat with the utmost confidence.
"It’s so amazing that you have MLB players, individual guys, contracting him, not even going with the info their teams are giving them," Stroman told Friedman. "And this is the highest level. That has to tell you the type of information that he’s giving you that hasn’t necessarily been relayed at the big-league level yet."
May added: "Just because it’s not someone who is under the employ of the team you’re on doesn’t mean it’s not valuable."
Fisher said clients like his stuff because they know he is on their side. They pay him to help them. With the team dynamic, he explained, sometimes there is analytics-based distrust or skepticism because clubs use numbers against players during the salary arbitration process.
Even in great player-team relationships, it can be helpful to have a third party — the outside expert who is on that player’s team.
"It’s a weird thing and it sounds silly, but it’s totally a thing," Fisher said. "It doesn’t mean they ignore what they hear inside. But just having that extra voice is a big deal to a lot of these guys."
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