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Interview with Codify Founder Michael Fisher

by Jordan Lazowski

As players continue to look outside of their current team in order to make offseason improvements, many organizations have popped up and offered ballplayers the competitive edge they have been seeking. One of the most popular ones recently – especially among the White Sox and their fans – has been Codify.

Codify – as founder Michael Fisher explains below – works to improve pitcher performances through the creation of unique pitch charts to help players understand what pitches, location, and pitch mixes will maximize their performances. Their game-planning tools are currently being used by a wide variety of major leaguers, including Marcus Stroman, Lance McCullers, Kevin Gausman, and Shane Bieber.

Codify has current relationships with four White Sox major leaguers: Dylan Cease, Yasmani Grandal, and most notably, Lucas Giolito and Liam Hendriks. Hendriks is one of the most outspoken supporters of Codify, so much so that any team who approached him in free agency had to be willing to allow him to continue his work with Codify upon signing.

In fact, one of the newest White Sox minor league signings, Kyle Crick, also will be doing some work with Codify this offseason in hopes of getting back to the big leagues.

Michael Fisher was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Codify’s success, their relationship with certain White Sox players, what makes Lucas Giolito’s changeup so effective, what could be next from Codify, and much more!

For those who may be more unfamiliar, what exactly is Codify? How did your idea for this company come to be – and what is Codify’s goal as a company?

Codify works with pitchers to improve their performance through analysis and communication that is carefully tailored to best fit each individual. Everyone’s different and we truly strive to acknowledge that in all that we do. We might help optimize a pitcher’s pitch mix or suggest adding or getting rid of a pitch type or work with them on their mechanics or help in many other ways, but every Codify client regularly uses our game planning tools which offer very powerful yet easy-to-use ways to get more guys out.

Codify began back in 2003 as a financial analytics company and it wasn’t until 2016 that Codify started assisting its first baseball client (Dan Straily).  After Straily had success using the intel and the word began to spread, it became apparent that there was real potential to offer this kind of service to multiple clients. Eventually, the demand became great enough that the decision was made to move Codify’s focus completely over onto the baseball side.

We want to make as much positive impact on the careers of our clients as possible. There’s no telling how long any pitcher will be able to pitch professionally and every single pitch matters. We want to get every client to where they throw each pitch with the confidence that comes from believing that they have properly prepared and planned to execute the given pitch.

Looking back, when did you feel like Codify really began to take off and become more widely used and noticed? What do you believe contributed to that shift – how much of it has to do with close relationships with players like Liam Hendriks?

It’s been snowballing.  After Dan’s success with Codify, his agent connected us with Blake Treinen who had a monster 2018 using Codify.  Dan’s old teammate Tommy Milone had good success using our intel then spread the word to Sean Doolittle who also had a crazy 2018 (both Treinen and Doolittle were All-Stars that year). Treinen connected us with Liam Hendriks before the 2019 season, and Liam had two All-Star seasons using it and was plenty vocal and supportive of Codify along the way. From there, it was and has been mostly just a matter of getting a pitcher’s attention long enough to get them to engage with us just long enough for us to explain how we can help. There’s way too much at stake for the typical MLB pitcher to not at least check Codify out.

Codify in some sense has two backbones:  the analytics and the relationships. It is in getting to know a pitcher well enough to most effectively deliver those analytics that we all really succeed.

How much of the work that Codify does is predictive versus reacting to what has happened in games? How, if at all, do you balance the two sides of this?

We use the past to predict as accurately as we can what will happen next if any particular action is performed. Recent history, of course, burns brightest in our minds and while it does generally matter more than older history, we tend to work with our clients to make sure they aren’t overvaluing it.

Let’s say a new pitcher reaches out to you today and is interested in Codify’s work. Where do you usually begin your work with a pitcher? What are things you look at – velocity, command, spin, etc. – as you work to understand and break down a player’s charts with them?

We have a call or Zoom to get to know each other. We discuss ways Codify has helped others, answer any questions they might have, and start to learn how they think and how they currently use analytics so that we can best figure out how to help them. There are many things that impact those maps, including pitch mix. A pitcher might be able to get above-average results with a pitch that has what might be considered below-average characteristics depending on where and how and how often he uses it.

How often do you find that either players or your team themselves are surprised by the results of a given chart? Do players often come in with ideas of what works well, only to find their charts show something completely different?

There are always surprises and it’s only a question of magnitude. It’s never completely different – easy to know your high fastball and down-and-away slider are generally effective, for example – but there’s always something eye-catching to discuss.  We often find ways for guys to start stealing strikes.

Does it take time for a new client to become receptive to some of the information you’re presenting? How have you learned to communicate with players based on how they best receive information – for example, some may be more analytically driven than others?

While reception can improve somewhat over time, it’s generally really good out of the gate.  We have a solid track record now and guys who are ready to engage with us are ready to receive and use the intel to shape what they are doing. We are sitting on the same side of the table as the pitcher and giving explanations and answers and justifications as needed and openly working with the pitcher to shape how we are helping as we go. It’s almost always a very new and different dynamic from the pitcher’s perspective.

Most of your current clients are pitchers. However, there are a few catchers that you work with – one of which is Yasmani Grandal. How do those relationships usually develop, and what do you see as the benefit of using Codify if you are a catcher?

We love it when we can work with a catcher, even when it is limited to only when they are catching the pitchers we are working with. Pitch mix and pitch calling are really important pieces of the equation. It’s enough of a challenge to just optimize the mixing of ONE pitcher’s pitches. Imagine handling a whole stable full of pitchers AND also worrying about batting against any one of a dozen or so pitchers in any given game.

Catchers have so much to do and Codify has definitely helped some of them spend their preparation time more effectively.

You’ve done a lot of work with current White Sox pitchers – Liam Hendriks, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease, to name a few. Hendriks and Giolito have also been outspoken supporters of your team’s work. What is one thing you’d like each of these three pitchers to focus on heading into 2022 in order to maximize their potential?

We’ve done off-season Zooms with a good number of our clients – Liam and Lucas have already done them and Dylan’s is coming up soon – to look at 2021 results in detail and talk about exactly that. Every conversation has gone differently, but a good part of each has been focused on appreciating how much the results were driven by planning vs. execution vs. luck. It’s a skill to recognize when bad luck has led to an unwanted outcome and not shy away from what is a good attack spot, and all three of those guys have taken good strides in continuing to develop that skill and we’re looking for that to continue.  

What do you believe makes a pitch like Lucas Giolito’s changeup so effective? Is it a combination of velocity, command, speed, and tunneling that just works well?

Just imagine being the hitter. Lucas throws the changeup about a third of the time. Is that enough for you to want to guess his next pitch?  You won’t be right very often when you do. Guess wrong and you won’t handle the fastball or slider. Guess right and you still have to deal with the fact that the location and velo and movement of his changeup varies so much when he does use it. Don’t guess and your primal instincts will be screaming at you to swing at a time when you are not likely to make good contact.

What is the next frontier in baseball that you believe Codify will be able to help with? Similarly, is there anything new in the future that you’re hoping to do with Codify?

Baseball keeps evolving – midseason substance crackdowns, multiple baseballs being used, dimension changes, constant shuffling of roster composition, maybe even automated strike zones very soon – and we’re working regularly to either stay as far ahead of all of that as possible or react as quickly as possible if there isn’t a way to change ahead of time.

We get regular pings from the amateur baseball world, and there is a fair chance we will end up eventually doing something substantial in that arena (even more so if we have a delay to the start of the 2022 MLB season). We are also getting more regular reach outs from batters who want to know how we would tell various pitchers to attack them.  There have been plenty of other catcher and team and coach and agent contacts as well.  Really, we are just trying to keep our eyes open to all of the possibilities and move forward in the way that seems to make the most sense.  Just figuring that out is a big challenge on its own.

On behalf of everyone at Sox On 35th, I want to thank Michael Fisher for taking the time out to answer some of our questions! In doing an interview like this, we are hoping to not help everyone learn more about Codify, but help make sure our fans know how important Codify’s work has been for White Sox players – and how important it’ll be moving forward!

You can follow Codify on Twiter @CodifyBaseball and Instagram @getintotheblue – make sure to show them some support and get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the players working with Codify and the impact of their work.

Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) / Twitter

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