Just weeks after the MLB Winter Meetings wrapped up, Nashville was once again overrun by baseball people as the city hosted the 72nd annual convention of the American Baseball Coaches Association. Thousands of attendees packed the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and over 300 exhibitors were on hand to sell a wide range of wearable sensors, camera systems, and other training tools.
Sixteen of the innovations presented were named Best of Show by a panel assembled by Collegiate Baseball. Among the winners were Diamond Kinetics for the BatFitter developed with DiMarini; HitTrax's Video Capture and Analysis Module, combining video with their camera-based data capture and simulation system; Pocket Radar's Pro Radar System, designed to integrate through a USB port; and the Radar Tee, which integrates Doppler radar into a hitting tee to measure swing speed and ball exit velocity.
Radar-based technology in a number of new products. FlightScope, known for a range of gold trackers, unveiled FlightScope Strike, a system that uses Doppler radar to track pitch trajectory, hitting trajectory, and catcher pop time data. Designed to compete with the Trackman system, the FlightScope system also includes a camera for video capture and analysis, and transmits data via Wi-Fi to a tablet app for instantaneous reports.
A few aisles over, Rapsodo announced its own radar-based pitch tracking system. Coming in around $3,000 -- several times cheaper than the FlightScope and Trackman systems -- the Rapsodo system is limited to pitch tracking. But the designers claim that their technology gives organizations the same high-quality data as their pricier competitors, democratizing pitch tracking data and helping more pitchers improve their game.
"Historically, pitch analysis technology has been limited to Major League Baseball organizations and top-tier college programs due to its costs," founder Batuhan Okur said. "But with new breakthroughs in technology, we're able to give aspiring athletes all ages and skill levels amazing tools and data to help improve their game."
A large number of novel training devices were also on offer, including a few that incorporated sensor technology. Eye on Ball's first product, the Vector training baseball, combines light emitting diodes (LEDs) and an accelerometer into a package the same size and weight as a regulation baseball. When the accelerometer detects an impact with a bat or a glove, the LEDs inside the ball flash a randomly selected color.
Founder John Lindsey, who has spent years as a youth baseball coach, designed the ball to train his young players' vision. He argues that the Vector ball helps players learn to keep their eye on the ball.
"The Vector training baseball provides a visual anchor to help train the eye muscles to track the ball," he said. "To track something, you need be able to pace the object from point A to point B. Vector provides a definitive point B by producing a visual signature precisely at impact."
Eye on Ball was a first-time exhibitor at the 2016 conference, but Lindsey was proud of the attention his company got among the attendees.
"The interest we received was overwhelming," Lindsey said. "Coaches were commenting on ways they could use the ball and implement it in their practice drills."
Technology and tech companies also featured prominently in the presentations given at the conference. Diamond Kinetics, a sponsor of the conference, demonstrated how to use data from their SwingTracker to evaluate a hitter's swing. Chicago Cubs hitting coach John Mallee, who has partnered with rival Zepp, showcased swing tracking data from pro hitters in his talk. And Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball highlighted some of his center's research, using motion capture and force plate data to investigate how pitchers generate velocity from their lower half.
New technology was also unveiled earlier in the winter. Motus Global, the company behind the mThrow "pitching sleeve," announced the motusPRO at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville. A five-sensor system designed to track hitting and pitching, the motusPRO features upgraded IMU sensors and a wider range of metrics, but is currently only available to professional organizations. A one-sensor version (dubbed motusBASEBALL) was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This simpler system will be available to the public beginning in February.
Also at CES, Zepp debuted a sensor designed to fit right into the handle of a baseball bat. The new design is still in the prototype phase, and no price point or release date have yet been announced.
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Bryan Cole is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He was not compensated by, nor does he endorse, any of the products mentioned here You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.