Technology and Baseball

By: Greg Vogt

Overview

Technology has always had a huge impact on baseball.  We are now in an era where more coaches have access to high-end technology, but players are also learning it at a much earlier age with the amount of off-season training programs nationwide.  Every high-level academy, college, and professional implements expensive player development technology like Rapsodo, Flight Scope, HitTrax, Blast Motion, high-speed cameras, and more.  This has provided more opportunities for coaches and players to learn individual capabilities, how to develop it, and how to track it.

This has not only been a controversial topic amongst the baseball world, but also at times a dangerous opportunity for teaching and learning in youth athletes.

Each piece of technology has its own capabilities and uses.  They all provide instant data and feedback for players in the training and/or game performance.   This use can expedite the learning curve for athletes and coaches on hitting, pitching, and more.

The following will provide some insight on what and how to implement technology but also the importance for real data feedback for athletes.

Commonly Used Technology

To understand how we can implement technology to the daily development of an athlete, we must know what each is built to do.

Rapsodo Pitching

Measures spin rate, true spin, velocity, spin-caused movement, provides bullpen tracking, and pitch location.  It services all things pitch tracking.  Link – Rapsodo

Rapsodo Hitting

Measures exit velocity, launch angle, spin axis, direction, provides session tracking, and 3D ball flight. Link – Rapsodo

Trackman 

Used by most D1 colleges and all professional teams as a on-field pitch and hitting tracking device.  Provides velocity, spin rates, movement, exit velocity, distance, and more.  All MLB teams use this data to track and scout player personnel.  Link – Trackman

Flight Scope

Provides in-game data tracking for pitching and hitting.  Slightly cheaper than Hit Trax, but provides several similar details.  Measures for both pitching and hitting including spin rates, velocities, launch angles, movement, release heights, and more.  Several D1 colleges use this product. Link – Flight Scope

Blast Motion

A bat sensor that measures bat speed, hand speed, angle, time to contact, and more.  This is used for training facilities, in-game assessments, and more.  Several MLB teams use throughout their minor leagues. Link – blastmotion.com

High-Speed Cameras

A recent takeover for high-speed (and cost) cameras such as the Edgertronic have been added to most MLB organizations and D1 college programs.  These cameras can help pitch design, movement patterning, and more with its ability to capture high-resolution videos at over 500fps.  The ability to break down the smallest details with cameras like this or the Sony RX 100V make assessments much clearer for the coach and athlete.

While most programs and facilities are on strict budgets, more coaches are making room for these expensive items in their programming due to its ability to aid player development and assessment.

Technology Implementation

Shiny new toys don’t provide instant player development.  The ability to understand data, track it properly, and communicate it in a way that young athletes can understand is the connecting piece.  Players, coaches, and fans are seeing more numbers than ever with TV broadcasting Statcast data.  Seeing data for professional athletes on TV doesn’t give much insight for how players at the HS level can utilize it in their own development.  Bridging the gap between data consumption and data implementation is key to successful coaching.

First things first.  Collect data and assess players.  Find ways to implement baseline testing with whatever technology you can get your hands on.  Once you have a baseline, you can implement plans for development in the off-season and in-season.  Players who know their numbers, and continually track them, will do more to make progress than the athlete who isn’t informed on his or her numbers.

Understanding the data enough to make development plans is where coaches separate themselves.  Finding ways to learn what is “good” bat speed, a “high-spin” fastball, “ideal” launch angles, and “useful” movement on pitches is where coaches must do their research.  Between Driveline Baseball blogs, our pitch design blog (amongst other programs blogs), Eric Cressey’s blogs on strength training and mobility, and public data on Baseball Savant, the average coach can separate themselves if work is put in.

Personal recommendation would be to invest in a Blast Motion sensor, Rapsodo Pitching, and a Sony RX 100V for your program.  Use the high-speed camera for movement breakdowns on all players, both hitting and pitching.  Review them with detailed plans.  Utilize Blast Motion for assessing bat speed and more.   Create a plan that develops their ideal path and bat speed.  For Rapsodo, assess their spin rates, axis, and movement profiles at the beginning of the off-season.  Keep track of bullpen reports and send them to players.  Use the high-speed camera to break down each pitch and communicate the video with the pitcher to see if he is accomplishing what he feels like he’s doing in his video.  Set goals for all assessments and revisit often.  Doing this not only shows the athlete and parent that you care about their development, but puts numbers to opinions.

Data Feedback

What you track you will improve on.  This can be anything from first pitch strikes to spin rates.  Each coach, player, and parent should decide on key areas they want to emphasize and track it.  The areas of focus should be clearly communicated and very transparent with results.  Weekly check-ins, meetings, and discussion should happen between coach and player.

If you want the athlete to be concerned with being better in 0-2 counts, then emphasize a put-away pitch in bullpens on Rapsodo and a high-speed camera.  Find the best way to maximize pitch sequencing with movement profiles.  If you want the athlete to improve recovery and strength numbers then have them write down hours of sleep, calories consumed, and weights on lifts.

To be more specific, a pitcher going through bullpens in an off-season using Rapsodo should go through something similar to the following:

-Assess all pitches with their spin rates, movement profiles, high-speed camera video, and velocities.
-Find 1 to 2 pitches which could use improvement via their spin rates, spin-caused movement, and/or pitch tunneling.
-Use the high-speed camera to find areas to adjust pitch grips, release angles, spin axis, etc.
-Track bullpen reports through spreadsheets to keep tabs on spin rates, movement, and velocities.
-Test adjusted pitches in scrimmages/live ABs for more feedback.
-Revisit areas of need, communicate with player on performance.

Any of the above can be managed by all parties included.  It requires time, effort, and consistency.  Player development without any of those things is just wishful thinking.  All players (or coaches) who expect results to come from showing up without detailed plans and consistent assessments will be let down in the end.  Players must commit to the process of tracking their data and learning how to maximize their day to day workload.

Review

Data provides real feedback to players.  Coaches and parents can learn more from data to impact player development than they can a coach providing an overload of verbal feedback on mechanics.   We must be careful from overloading data and getting away from feel.  This is a critical time period for bridging the gap between technology and feel.  Coaches, and players, will separate themselves by doing so in the upcoming years at all levels.  Organizations are investing more and more money into this technology but it will require the best of coaches to learn, understand, and communicate the data properly to players.  Without proper communication and understanding, this technology goes to waste.

For more information, e-mail us at prpbaseball101@gmail.com!