As baseball continues to dive headlong into a data-driven approach to developing hitters, having technology to collect valuable data is becoming more and more important to any program looking to stay relevant and competitive. However, this movement has also created a divide between large programs that are able to throw money at all of the latest technology, and smaller programs that face a considerable budget constraint. While not all programs will be able to afford a Trackman system, K-vest, or bat sensors for each hitter, there are budget friendly hitting technology options available for any program to use for data-driven hitter development.
RADAR GUN: It didn’t take the data revolution to know that hitting the ball hard plays. The ability to accurately and objectively track how hard a player hits the ball is of great value to developing hitters. While there are more optimal options available, this can be done with a radar gun. A radar gun is something that most programs have access to already, and if not, there are options available such as Pocket Radar for as little as a few hundred dollars. The limitation of the radar gun for tracking exit velocity is its inability to accurately read velos at various angles due to cosine error. For example, a radar gun pointed directly from behind home plate towards the mound will not accurately read the exit velocity of a ball that isn’t hit back towards the mound. To account for this, testing with a radar gun should be done from regular BP or flips, and only readings on balls hit back to the L-screen should be counted as these will be the most accurate. It should not be done off of a tee, since hitters will change their swing to optimize for hitting the stationary ball, and we want to measure their ability to hit a moving ball hard. This should be done using a test-retest model about every two weeks in order to track each hitter’s improvement as well as assess their programming needs.
BAT SENSORS: Objective feedback is the name of the game. Having accurate measurements to describe a player’s swing goes a lot farther than someone’s subjective assessment of “this guy has quick hands” or “his swing is too long”. Bat sensors such as Blast Motion or Diamond Kinetics are available for around $100 per sensor, and even just one or a few sensors can provide value to a program. These sensors provide valuable metrics to assess how a hitter moves the bat during a swing. A few key metrics include bat speed, attack angle, time to contact, and connection scores. A test-retest model should be used with bat sensors as with the radar gun. Depending on how many sensors are available, the number of hitters being tested on a given day will vary. The sensors should be used on game-like swings, that is, off of live BP or a pitching machine. The data collected will provide insight into what each hitter should focus on in their training, and practice plans can be built around this. For example, one hitting group’s training might be focused around bat speed while another’s focuses on creating proper attack angle.
While other hitting technologies exist, bat sensors and radar guns are going to be the most affordable and provide the biggest bang for your buck. As with anything, the application of these technologies is what is going to provide value. Hitters want to know that their training is working, using the test-retest model allows for this. Being able to tell a guy his bat speed increased by 1 mph on average over the last month or his peak exit velocity has increased by 4 mph since last season goes a lot farther than a coach seeing a swing and saying “oh yeah that looks good.” Furthermore, this creates buy-in. Guys are less likely to miss workouts if they know they are going to be tested, and players get motivation in wanting to set a record bat-speed or exit velocity. Posting these records for the whole team to see or creating competitions focused around them are great buy-in creators also. A “most-improved” list that comes out every testing period is a great option as well. Using these technologies is a budget-friendly option to provide objective feedback to your hitters, and create a data-driven culture in a program.