From Major League Baseball down to the minor league farm teams, technology is being used to improve the game of baseball. Front office staff and player personnel alike are focusing their efforts on using data to optimize player performance and enhance the fan experience. In our series Tech On Deck, we showcase how technology is modernizing baseball at all levels of play.
When it comes to America’s favorite pastime, baseball looks nothing like it did nearly a century ago. From the bullpen to the batting cage, lots of professional teams in Major League Baseball, such as the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros, are incorporating technology into the game to improve performance.
Take bats, for instance. When most of us think of the baseball bat, we undoubtedly think of a Louisville Slugger, once considered the gold standard in bats. The best players in the game have used it—Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson and Derek Jeter, just to name a few. The origins of the Louisville Slugger can be traced back to the late 1800s when J.F. Hillerich and John “Bud” Hillerich, a father-son team with a local woodworking shop, handcrafted a bat for Pete “Louisville Slugger” Browning that was so good it snapped his losing streak.
Photo: Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger: https://www.sluggermuseum.com/explore-the-museum/must-see-bats
A new generation of baseball bats
Today, players still hit with wooden bats, but they’re equipping them with waterproof high-tech silicon sensors that can be attached to the knob of any baseball bat. These sensors record valuable data that can be used to give players, even in the majors, actionable feedback on their swing in the hopes of making them better players. Major League Baseball teams use Blast Motion technology; these sensors can only be used during practice, however, and not during games. Here’s a closer look at what the bat sensor technology can do for players.
Putting more power behind the swing
Bat sensors are valuable because they measure how fast a player swings the bat (67.5 mph, for instance). Players can take this data and compare it to the average swing speed to see where they fall short or set goals for themselves to achieve. Blast Motion’s sensors sync with an app, where players can enter details about the bat itself (such as length, weight, as well as the type of bat, like a Louisville Slugger). The data travels from the sensor on the bat to the app using Bluetooth technology, showing players where and when they need to hit with more power.
Photo: The sensor attaches to the knob of the bat: https://blastmotion.com/about/support-2/baseball/android/get-startedandroid/#gref
Making slight adjustments to the contact point
Today’s sensor technology is precise enough to reveal exactly where a bat makes contact with the ball. Having this information helps players learn whether they are swinging too high or too low. Once players have data on the angle of their swing, they can start modifying their performance to get where they want to be. The sensors can also be used to measure the exact amount of time it takes for a player to make contact with the ball. Having this data can help players become more consistent.
Pairing with smart technology to visualize the swing
When bat sensors are paired with a smartphone camera, players can watch videos of their swings using the Blast Motion app. Each video can be cut into clips with metrics. There is also a slow motion feature that allows players to hone in on their technique. Players can also email videos to coaches or friends for feedback.
Despite all the ways that baseball bat sensors can be used to improve performance, it’s still just the early innings. In the months and years ahead, technology will only continue to become more sophisticated. Throughout the sport, plenty of opportunity remains to translate hard data into new insights that will not only improve performance but help to cut down on injuries, too.
Youth sports training has taken off over the recent decade, with many young athletes looking for any advantage they can to improve their game and advance their baseball skills, to them to the next level. Sensor technology plays an integral role in this process, especially as it relates to swinging the bat. In our ISM Connect original series Better Up, which is playing at Minor League ballparks across the country, we explore how innovative technology is shaping baseball techniques and training in 2019.
Betsy Vereckey is a writer living in New Hampshire who has written for the Associated Press.