With a sensor attached firmly to his hand, his back and on the end of his bat, Riko van der Mey swings through a baseball on a rainy morning at Royal Athletic Park.
“Bat speed, 32 miles per hour,” says Curtis Pelletier, director of player development for the Victoria HarbourCats.
Van der Mey isn’t a HarbourCat but he did play college ball. His first swing was just a warm up and his next swing is twice as fast. The sensors he’s wearing – some from K Motion – sends a variety of advanced data to the Ipad Pelletier has set up on a tripod. It’s part of a technology revolution that’s fast becoming a development tool in baseball.
@HarbourCats Head Coach @toddhaney24 working with @elite_baseball Justin Stone, biokinematic consultant of the @Cubs using the virtual reality @gomonsterful technology! #datadriven pic.twitter.com/oQYInwvxMk
— Victoria HarbourCats (@HarbourCats) April 9, 2019
In addition to K-Motion, other technologies used are Blast Motion Bat sensors, Rapsodo for Pitch flight analysis, and OnBaseU to understand the body-baseball connection. Local company Tesseract 2.0 brought the program to life by supplying the hardware needed to use this technology, Pelletier said.
In particular, the testing can identify if a player’s mechanics could be creating more power in their swing. Sometimes it’s up to 20 per cent. It can even track exit velocity, a popular stat that shows fans of the MLB how fast their favourite power hitters are cranking the ball back into the field.
“It’s a lot of information that will give the HarbourCats players an idea of where they are at,” Pelletier said. “But with youth, we can use the data as a resource for development.”
This is the first season the equipment will be used to test every HarbourCats player. It’s already in use for 21 members of the HarbourCats Players’ Club, a development program for kids 9 to 18 that was launched in the fall. The program is full at 21 players but Pelletier hopes to bump up the numbers for the next intake.
“You’re hearing teenage kids talk about bat speed, launch angles and exit velocity [how fast the ball is hit off the bat] but that doesn’t mean much,” Pelletier said. “Launch angles have always been around. It’s about using the data to develop a good swing with attack angles that create the [successful] launch angles.”
Ultimately, the goal is to develop proper muscle memory, Pelletier said. Ideally, you can get a kid in when they’re 10, 11, 12 years old, early in their muscel memory development.
“It’s not something we do every day. This doesn’t replace their coach. I’m not their coach. It’s a resource of data that the players can use to guide their training.”
Once a player is tested they’re given a specific drill package suited specifically to them. They go off an train for a couple weks, and then come back to see where they’re at.
“With the HarbourCats, these are premier athletes coming to us with a muscle memory that’s set,” Pelletier said. “We’re not changing their swing, just providing them feedback. We’ll give them their spin rates, exit velocity and launch angles. But we’re not telling guys to change their swing, we’re just saying, ‘Hey, it looks like you’ve got a lot more in you.’”