more flat-seamed balls, though, because the majority of balls they’re currently manufacturing have raised seams.” Technology
Swing Science Most coaches know a good swing when they see one. But what happens when they eye a stroke that needs improvement yet can’t pinpoint exactly how to fix the problem? A new three-dimensional tracking technology developed by a University of Michigan engineer may soon provide a way to help coaches identify, explain, and improve swing flaws. Using a tiny accelerometer that attaches to the knob of a bat, Noel Perkins, a professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan, has found a way to measure swing variables such as bat speed, reaction time, hand position, and the plane of the bat at impact. “There are a number of technical aspects of a swing this technology can measure that are hard to resolve with the naked eye or even high-speed video,” says Perkins. “And unlike video, this sensor technology can provide quick and easy feedback. The batter and coach can immediately view the metrics of their swing on a tablet or computer, and make on-the-spot adjustments.” Perkins began developing the technology as a frustrated fisherman. In attempting to figure out the ideal mechanics of a fly cast, he soaked up everything he could learn about the subject and even took lessons from a number of experts. “Despite all that, I still wasn’t casting the way I wanted to,” he says. “So I decided to measure various casts using an accelerometer. I put the device on the base of my fly rod and measured what I was doing, then compared it to readings from the rods of fly casting experts that I measured. That
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way, I could pinpoint the flaws in my cast and figure out how to improve it.” Perkins says the fly-casting technology concept easily translates to baseball. The goal is to analyze how the bat’s sweet spot moves through the hitting zone. But because locating a sensor at the sweet spot is a recipe for crushed technology, the only viable options were to put the device on the bottom of the knob or at the end of the barrel. “The knob is better because it is further away from the impact site and it affects the swing less,” Perkins says. “We’re sampling the motion of the bat at the knob, but I can calculate how the sweet spot is moving using a simple formula based on the bat’s measurements.” As an engineer, Perkins’ role has been to develop the technology and identify exactly what he could measure with it. The next step is to bring that technology to the marketplace, which will be handled by Diamond Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based company that expects to release a product in 2014. Perkins says that in studies conducted by his lab and by Diamond Kinetics, “more than 1,000 batters from Little League, high school, college, and a few select Major League players” have had their swings analyzed. “Based on those results,” says Perkins, “we identified what data we should be reporting back to the batter, coach, or parent about how the player is swinging.” So what elements will the technology reveal? And will coaches need a PhD to decode the advanced graphics and calculations that define their players’ swings? Perkins believes coaches will pick up the metrics pretty easily, as some are
A new 3D bat sensor can provide coaches with a wealth of previously untapped information on a player’s swing, such as showing its movement through the contact zone.
already a common part of hitting conversation. “Bat speed is something most coaches talk about now, and I think they’ll grab on to reaction time and swing plane soon as well,” he says. “Hand position is another thing I see coaches getting on board with because it affects so many parts of a swing. “For example, when you talk about bat speed, players who swing the fastest generally hold the knob close to their body—they’re not casting the bat far out and decreasing the inertia,” Perkins continues. “The position of the knob at impact indicates if a player’s hands are in an optimal position to generate high bat speed. I think coaches will become more comfortable with those measurements as they realize exactly how those metrics relate to creating a sweeter swing.” Sportsmanship
Keeping it Down During his 34 years as a baseball coach, Jeff Boyer has almost always been happy after a win. But when his Licking Heights (Ohio) High School team posted a 65-0 victory over Harvest Preparatory School, he was anything but pleased. The blowout made national headlines, and many felt it painted Licking Heights—which has an enrollment of 662 compared to Harvest Prep’s 156—in a bad light. Worst of all, the two schools would play each other again just two weeks later. Determined to avoid a repeat of their first meeting, Boyer faced a difficult task. How could he keep his squad’s run total at a more reasonable level without making a mockery of the game? Rather than rely on any one strategy, Boyer made a variety of moves to avoid making news again. While the final score of the rematch was 29-0, the changes Boyer made had the desired effect—it kept the score from reaching the level of the first meeting while maintaining the integrity of the game. The first step Boyer took was to have his squad use wood bats in hopes of reducing the distance of batted balls. Another tactic was having his players hit from the opposite side of the plate once they got a big lead. “I felt this would be tough for the fans to notice, and wouldn’t show up the other team,” Boyer says. “In addition, it would be a challenge for our players, and would force them to compete a little bit harder.” While a few of the players were skeptical about hitting from the opposite side, Boyer says the team bought into the mandates quickly. “We’ve played Harvest Prep before and our guys understood the situation,” he says. “Several of them talkCoachesNetwork.com