“It’s just very clear that this is the correct direction baseball needs to go.”
Without any hints of hesitation, Kyle Boddy understands that the reality is that the game of baseball is changing on the fly. The founder of Driveline Baseball can pat himself on the back for recognizing the shift as it was in its early stages. Now, he has built an entire empire based out of Seattle, Washington. Driveline has become the face of this seismic change in baseball thinking, with Boddy as the mastermind behind it all.
“Player development was going to move in a quantitative way,” explained Boddy on my podcast, Pitching to Contact. “I knew within two weeks when I was working with the [Houston] Astros that someday that leadership team and the way they did things was going to win a World Series.”
The Astros would go onto prove Boddy right, winning the 2017 World Series behind an assortment of superstar bats and an intriguing collection of arms, which included a seemingly declining Justin Verlander, a rejuvenated Charlie Morton, and a Brad Peacock boasting a redefined wipeout slider, among others.
🚨 New Episode of Pitching to Contact! 🚨
Lots of great discussion on the work Driveline does and how the game of ⚾️ is quickly changing!
— Rich Birfer (@richardbirfs) April 12, 2019
The Astros were altering the way the game was played and at the point, no body knew it.
As Morton heaved 97 mph heaters and air-bending breaking balls on the World Series stage against the Los Angeles Dodgers, most people failed to even notice what was happening right in front of their very eyes.
Why is that?
Well, simply put, it is because the true arms race in the sport of baseball has been happening behind the scenes all along.
For some teams, it’s been a slower process than for others, but now, the player development revolution has pushed its way to the forefront of baseball and if certain teams aren’t willing to adapt, they are left behind in the past. It’s the levelling of the playing field. It’s this decade’s version of Moneyball and this time it’s not only the Oakland Athletics that are playing the game.
We've opened up video for >EVERY< pitch since 2018. Here's how you can view them. When you run a search you can click on the players row and see a link on the right with a video icon. Here's a search, click a row and watch a video. Much more to come!https://t.co/BDmbz0nfQw pic.twitter.com/cTgUYC7rkK
— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 4, 2019
Low budget teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians can now compete against the big market giants of the calibre of the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That is not to say that one end of the spectrum is far behind the other, not at all. It is more so a sentiment to how each of these four aforementioned teams have been able to take advantage of the now readily-available quantitative data and utilize it in their own unique ways.
In some ways, this is one of many the beauties of baseball.
There are numbers for just about everything nowadays — and for everything that has yet to be quantified, it too will come sooner rather than later.
“Just imagine that,” exclaimed Boddy. “Every pitch from every game, every batted ball in a database somewhere that we can analyze the physics of it. There could be error, yes, but we can adjust for that. There’s answers on why batters get out, there’s answer on why pitchers get outs.”
Moreover, Major League Baseball has taken quantitative data a step further.
As teams continue to turn to analytics in an effort to construct a more competitive and complete roster, they also look to utilize new technology in order to develop their players. Using shiny new toys to either find players who just did not seem to piece everything together on their former clubs and attempt to figuratively recreate the wheel, or to create major leaguer regulars out of 26th round draft picks and so on and so forth.
In essence, these technological advancements have been integrated into the game to do two things: help maximize an athlete’s performance and to reduce risk of sustaining injury.
“The general technology that is required that has a ton of value on its own is some kind of high speed camera and some sort of pitch tracking technology,” explained Boddy. “It’s pretty much mandatory. Almost in that tier I would include bat sensors, like blast sensors, I think they’re really really good.”
The pitching and the hitting motion are created through the kinetic chain, a combination of biomechanical movements and muscle outputs that initiate from the ground up. As the pitcher and the hitter load, they conserve potential energy, which they transfer into kinetic energy when they explode towards the mound or accelerate towards the ball with their bat. Both acts are feats characterized for being extreme, dynamic movements — so quick, that parts of the movement may not be visible to the human eye in real time.
here's a simple explanation in video form (that I'm irresponsibly stealing from Espn) of Donaldson pic.twitter.com/8TecnWac2w
— Jason Ochart (@JasonOchart) March 24, 2017
This is the reason as to why the Astros became one of the early adopters of Edgertronic high speed video cameras, a system that can capture movement at a thousand frames per second.
By pairing these cameras with pitch-tracking technology such as RapSodo or swing-analyzing devices such as Blast Motion sensors and K-Vest, not only are teams able to slow down each motion frame by frame, they are also able to virtually recreate a complete picture of everything an athlete is doing, correctly or otherwise, starting from moments leading into the load all the way to the latter stages of the follow-through.
During Spring Training, the general public has seen the growth within professional baseball in this aspect as very noticeably, Twitter gave us images of 29 MLB clubs utilizing RapSodo devices to track their players.
The tool allows coaches and player development staff to measure everything from ball velocity and spin rate to spin axis and spin efficiency. When used in conjunction with Edgertronic cameras, teams can then take the quantitative RapSodo data and look for ways to up a pitcher’s spin rate, increase velocity, or even venture off into the realm of pitch design, recreating a pitcher’s arsenal to better suit their pitching style, arm slot, etc.
A quick look at my graduate school research at Brock University. After labeling my pitchers in Vicon Nexus, I export the files into Visual 3D where I can analyze kinematics, including joint moments pic.twitter.com/VCpyF98wlJ
— Rich Birfer (@richardbirfs) January 16, 2019
That being said, there is more on the horizon and things are not stopping here.
On-field devices are only the start of the heights professional baseball is willing to go. Many teams are currently looking into building their own biomechanics labs, where they hope to incorporate three-dimensional motion capture among other technologies in order to analyze player kinematics as accurately as possible.
More and more teams are hiring coaches who have a more data-driven approach, coaches who may not have any playing experience past high school travel ball, even some coaches that have built a reputation over being baseball gurus over social media. Look no further than the amount of coaches hired this offseason alone with links to Driveline.
The baseball world is truly only just scratching the surface.
“The best years for baseball in terms of quantitative development are still to come.”