NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—He didn’t know it, but Masahiro Tanaka spent nearly 18 hours over three days throwing batting practice to complete strangers at this year’s Winter Meetings, held at the Gaylord National hotel on the outskirts of Washington D.C.
Of course, it wasn’t the actual Masahiro Tanaka doing the pitching. Rather, it was a three-dimensional replication of the Yankees ace virtually pitching to anyone who wanted to step up and take their cuts against a top-line major leaguer.
Tanaka’s virtual presence was made possible by Trinity VR’s program DiamondFX, which will make its public debut after this year’s trade show. The program takes PITCHF/x data and uses it to help hitters face any pitcher imaginable.
If a major league team were to face a pitcher just up from the minor leagues for the first time, it could use DiamondFX to allow its hitters to take virtual BP against that pitcher, track his pitches live or to simply use it as a supplement to the library of available.
“From PITCHF/x data, we can things like spin rate, ball velocity, position, and then in a 3-D environment we can re-create any pitch from any major league player as long as they’ve been recorded there,” said Zach Lynn, Trinity VR’s co-founder and vice president of software. “We have a dashboard when you start where you can say you want to go against this specific pitcher, I want to use these pitch types—like curveballs, fastballs—and these pitch speeds, and then we can replicate any of those pitches.”
What’s more, if you make virtual contact you can get instant feedback about how your swing would translate. That means exit velocity, launch angle and everything else you could want to know about your results is available to read instantly without taking off the virtual reality headgear.
“After you swing we save all that data and send it up to our database, where we can look at it later in a dashboard and say, for example, you were fast here, you were slow here,” Lynn said. “Here’s your hit ratio, your swing speed, those kind of stats.”
Even without anything actually exiting, DiamondFX can still measure exit velocity.
“We model based on where the ball collided with the bat and the energy transferred, because we know it’s like a spring function,” he said. “It’s very technical in terms of the physics function and it does try to model, as realistically as it can, what the exit speed and the trajectory would actually be.”
DiamondFX has been in development for about six months, and this week’s trade show was its first showing. Lynn and the team envision the program as both a scouting and development training tool, but also as a concourse game to be played in minor league ballparks. In that sense, it would essentially be the opposite of the popular Speed Pitch games at nearly every stadium. Instead of trying to throw as hard as a major leaguer, fans can try to get a hit off of a major leaguer.
Participants at the trade show could try out the software using a smaller version of a real bat, but DiamondFX will work using any model of wood or metal bat. The device that tracks all of the hitter’s statistics is attached to the knob of the bat. In time, Lynn said, they’d like to make the device even smaller, to the size of a small puck attacked to the same area of the bat.
The hardware itself is called the HTC Vive, and retails for $800. DiamondFX is the software needed to run the program. You also need a computer equipped to easily run games with sophisticated graphics. All this means the DiamondFX technology is cost-effective enough to be used by an individual for home training as well as teams or other groups with bigger budgets.
So if you’ve ever wanted to step to the plate against a major leaguer, that chance might be coming sooner than you think.