PITTSBURGH--The floor tilts just a smidge in the fifth-floor Diamond Kinetics office off River Avenue in Pittsburgh. That's just dandy with the 17 employees working out of an incubator office building filled with start-ups pushing the boundaries of technology across Pittsburgh.
The leadership at Diamond Kinetics has embraced that start-up mentality, even though four years has elapsed since Dr. Buddy Clark of the University of Pittsburgh turned his concept into a full-fledged business that tracks swing data for players, coaches and scouts at every level, including the most intense scouting locations. Diamond Kinetics enjoys that incubator-style space--they did have to move the batting cage into space above a storage room just to ease the minds of those trying to work one floor below them--as it allows them to still think nimbly, following their popular SwingTracker sensor and app with the latest rollout, DK Expert, soft-launched at the end of July, which shepherds in a new way to use bat sensor data.
Before Diamond Kinetics could get to DK Expert, which uses the company's app to push swing metrics beyond sheer numbers and teams up with industry experts to let those numbers inform training platforms and tools that can help a baseball player improve, it had to get SwingTracker going.
Clark, who played baseball as a youth, started coaching in the Pittsburgh area when his kids were old enough to play. As a mechanical engineering professor at Pitt, parents constantly came to him for advice on what bats to buy, among other things. "The methods for answering the questions were not that good," he says. "It didn't make a lot of sense to me and I had to solve this problem."
In his search to find an answer based in physics he wanted to find a solution that would apply widely, so he worked with a colleague at the University of Michigan to use inertia sensors to measure swing speeds. "It was a perfect fit and exactly what I was looking for," he says. "Then it dawned on me this could be used for a lot more than just bat fitting. If we understood what the bat did right at ball contact, that could give a full story to the swing." That's where the Ph.D. mind of Clark went to work fleshing out concepts and algorithms.
Clark brought on co-founder and CEO C.J. Handron in July 2013 and the two worked to take Diamond Kinetics' Swing Tracker commercial, adding Jeff Schuldt as a COO. Clark must stay in a consultant role--he still has ownership--as per agreements with the university, but the trio quickly matured SwingTracker over the last four years. And by maturing, the hardware has gotten smaller and the software more robust. Players add the sensor to the end of the bat with a strap and after a one-time calibration every other time they prepare to swing all they do is double-tap the sensor--designed to withstand a hit from a live ball--to activate.
From there, the tracker, which includes gyroscopes and accelerometers, turns swing motion into metrics via an algorithm, dissecting 11 metrics across speed, power, quickness and control. Six of the metrics routinely show up in camps and showcases--such as max barrel speed, impact momentum and max acceleration--while the remaining five serve as teaching metrics, valuable to improve a swing, such as hand cast distance, distance in the zone and speed efficiency. SwingTracker also turns the metrics into 3D models to reinforce the data. The app allows players to compete against peer groups, track progress as part of a team so a coach can watch, view video tutorials or get live customer service seven days a week.
Diamond Kinetics recently integrated Axon Baseball's app into the "family of apps" to offer players a way to train for pitch recognition. Axon uses a variety of different pitchers, allowing the user to build skills across varying handedness, height, release points and types of pitches thrown. Users can also join groups in-app and compete against their teammates.
Diamond Kinetics constantly updates and tweaks its software, sending updates automatically to users every couple of months. "We have always felt this has been a software and information thing and not a widget thing," Clark says about the need to keep software current. "Yes, we do sell sensors, but that is not the core business model. The algorithms that run on the sensor are constantly looking at data and deciding what to do with it. Once the data comes off the sensors, that is where the big difference comes."
And that leads Diamond Kinetics organically into DK Expert, part of the same $150 package that includes a sensor and 12-month subscription to all software and tools (a deal with Marucci also has SwingTracker integrated directly into the company's smart bats).
"The idea for DK Expert comes around answering the 'what now?' question," Handron says. "We do a very, very good job of providing strong in-depth objective information and visual tools, providing objective benchmarks and the 'so what?' in scouting and recruiting, but we have to answer what to do with it."
The addition learns about users as players move through the app, answer questions and swing the bat. Diamond Kinetics has brought in experts, such as Cleveland Indians' hitting coordinator Jim Rickon, Dynamic Strength Training from Houston and hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary to deliver an integrated approach to swing data and training.
If a player wants to improve their approach angle, for example, they can track the data via Swing Tracker, enter a series of drills and then track the data post-workouts to measure improvement. "It is not something you are supposed to do in a day," he says about the roughly 100 drills, "but it is supposed to be done over time, to make changes, understand why and wire them into muscle memory."
The video and sensor-driven app, Handron says, puts a focus on ways to improve players with a program that players--or coaches--can track over time. As DK Expert rolls out, expect Diamond Kinetics to continue to add to it. "At the end of the day, we want to see things we are doing are having a positive impact," he says. We want to help amateur players learn this game in better ways. We want them to learn faster and help engage them in as many ways as we can."
-- Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.