MLB Approves In-Game, On-Bat Sensor for Minor League Play This Season
The progression for in-game sensor technology from 2017 to 2018 took a major step forward in professional baseball. And it may just signify a start to in-game sensors.
Blast Motion, MLB’s sensor technology sponsor, will take its data-gathering sensor from the Rookie-level in 2017 to the entire Minor League system in 2018, all while expanding the Rookie-level use from just on-bat technology to add in-bat sensors.
“You can see what Major League Baseball is doing, using the Rookie League to test,” Michael Fitzpatrick, Blast Motion CEO, tells Baseball America.
The progression, which Fitzpatrick hopes eventually moves into the big leagues, shows a growing interest in in-game data.
Blast's baseball "hitting solution," a .3-ounce sensor attached to the end of the bat, uses an algorithm to track swing data and display the results via software. The most recent release of the Blast product expanded its baseline metrics beyond swing speed, time to contact, swing direction and power to include vertical bat angle, body rotation scores and swing plane data. Blast Vision allows players to make adjustments to their swing and see real-time results and a "cause-and-effect" view of their swing.
Fitzpatrick says that more teams have already started to take notice of the product following the company’s public partnership with the Houston Astros. The Astros went from 21st out of 30 teams in hitting categories to the top team in MLB in 2017, leading in nine of the 11 hitting categories tracked by MLB.
“Most people know they are working with us,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have been working with a number of teams and can tell you that since the World Series, teams have been flocking (to us).”
By expanding its use into the minor leagues, Fitzpatrick says that teams can start to build data on players, both how hitters react in-game and by leveraging pitching data to learn about pitchers’ tendencies.
“There can be differences in the insights that come from the data we collect when a player is under the pressure of a real game situation,” he says. “What happens in a game is you can’t swing at full speed because of what is occurring in the game, if someone is on base of if you need to hit a long, high fly ball. What they are interested in is not just the kind of metrics they get in batting practice, but how did this particular hitter do during specific situations.”
That data could help determine many things for coaches, including helping determine when a player should get bumped onto the organization’s 40-man roster.
“It is all about the data,” Fitzpatrick says. “The more data they collect, the better the insights.”
In that vein, as Blast continues to work with youth leagues and elite academies, teams can have swing histories and data on a player from the time they were a youth player. Fitzpatrick says that by using the same technology for a youth player or major leaguer support the improvement of young players and allows coaches to monitor development and track improvements (or the lack thereof) over the course of a player’s career.
Last year’s trial run of Blast in Rookie ball expanded greatly starting in April, reaching the 200-plus minor league teams, although it will fall on each individual club to determine if they use Blast or not. The Rookie-level teams will also have the option to select sensors embedded in bats. Fitzpatrick says Blast is working with bat manufacturers to get sensor-embedded bats in the hands of players and have already passed the MLB testing requirements to make it happen.
“It is a very exciting announcement,” Fitzpatrick says. “The progression from Rookie on the bat to in the bat this year and allowing Minor League on bat in the game, I think there are some exciting metrics that could come in the future that we collect that will be of great interest to viewers, whether in the ballpark or at home watching on TV.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.