By Mike Lacina and Emma Ostermann
Capturing batting and pitching data, GPS metrics, and force output in isolation can be somewhat useful for professional, college, and developmental baseball organizations. But the true potential of the information is unleashed when it’s combined and visualized in a single, unified platform like the Smartabase athlete management system (AMS). The newest Smartabase integration with Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker and PitchTracker gives clubs the ability to apply hitting and throwing insights and derive even greater value from existing APIs with Catapult GPS and VALD ForceDecks.
Assessing Batting and Pitching
Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker is a versatile swing analysis tool that can be utilized by placing a sensor on the knob of a player’s own bat or via the company’s Smart Bat. One of the benefits of this versus external motion tracking systems is that because the sensor is right on the bat itself, it’s capturing accurate data as the object moves through space. As a result, SwingTracker can apply motion analytics to every stage of the baseball swing. It provides a 3D swing plane and path that can be synched with session metrics for an even more advanced analysis. The Swing Fingerprint feature visualizes the swing through a 3D heat map to display a hitter’s personalized hot and cold zones, while Damage Potential displays exit velocity, ball carry, attack angle, and more.
To enhance pitching coaches’ expertise with objective data, Diamond Kinetics PitchTracker offers a similar system via a sensor embedded in a smart baseball. The system captures ball velocity and spin rate, direction, efficiency, and six other metrics. It also displays the pitch delivery duration and the time to plate. Pitch charting identifies and logs fastballs, curveballs, and other pitch types, while video capture enables pitchers to see how their delivery and arm action impact key stats. Individual session data can be compared against a personalized history to observe pitching trends developing over time. Coaches can set up tailored bullpen sessions to pursue the development goals for each pitcher.
Monitoring Practice Loads
Baseball clubs use Catapult to capture GPS data during practices. This enables coaches, performance staff, and medical practitioners to monitor workload during conditioning, specific drills, and other aspects of on-field training. This is useful both for healthy players and those returning from injury, particularly lower body issues. It’s easy to see how much total distance a player covered, the number of base runs or other sprints they did, and the amount of time spent on each element of the workout. The staff can tailor volume, intensity, and overall load exposure to ensure that each player is doing enough to get the desired training adaptation, without pushing them too far or hard and compromising availability.
Evaluating Force Production and Readiness
Force plates like VALD ForceDecks can be used in the gym or on the field. They allow the strength and conditioning coach to assess lower body power production and velocity. This serves two purposes: first, assessing recovery and the response to previous training and games. Second, comparing current performance against each player’s baseline to inform future workouts and where certain sessions should fit into the upcoming week. In the training facility, force plates can be embedded to show how much power a player is putting into the ground when they’re pitching, weight distribution between their front and back legs, and when they shift their center of mass.
Combining quantitative data from VALD ForceDecks, Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker and PitchTracker, and Catapult GPS in the Smartabase platform enables baseball clubs to connect off-field training to on-field performance. They can see if training in the gym is having the desired impact on pitching, hitting, and other aspects of the game, and if not, make the necessary programming adjustments. In reverse, on-field insights from the two Diamond Kinetics systems and GPS tracking can reveal opportunities for improvement in speed, power, and other physical qualities that can be developed during off-field workouts using ForceDecks.
Informing Injury Surveillance and Return to Play
Injury risk mitigation and management continue to be one of the most daunting challenges in baseball, due to the high amount of force that players are generating and absorbing and the sheer number of games on the schedule. Bringing together data from disparate systems like Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker and PitchTracker, Catapult GPS, and VALD ForceDecks can help teams reduce injury incidence and better manage return-to-play protocols for players that get hurt.
Each system can provide indicators that an injury is likely to occur, but these can be hard to spot when viewing them in isolation. Whereas when such systems are automatically integrated into Smartabase, the data they capture can be consolidated in a more comprehensive and personalized injury risk profile. This allows baseball teams to weight and flag certain risk factors. These could include a decrease in jump height or an increase in left-right imbalance from ForceDecks testing, drop-offs in ball carry or pitch velocity from SwingTracker and PitchTracker, or a reduction in base running explosiveness captured by Catapult GPS. If enough of these indicators flag red or yellow in the daily readiness view, a staff member can dig deeper into the aggregated data to see if the change is an insignificant one-off or a trend that indicates a greater risk of injury and needs to be addressed with the player.
During the return-to-practice and play process, the strength and conditioning staff can use VALD ForceDecks to track improvements in power and velocity and see how close a player is to getting back to their pre-injury benchmarks. They can also keep tabs on any significant alterations in left-right asymmetry, which could indicate that a player’s rehab is regressing due to a mobility issue or that they are favoring their non-injured side too much. Such issues could also be detected by combining the video tracking and metrics in Diamond Kinetics solutions, which can highlight changes in pitching or batting technique that could be caused or exacerbated by injury. For example, players can sometimes struggle with rotation when coming back from hip or torso injuries or may have extension/reach limitations when recovering from elbow or shoulder issues.
Diamond Kinetics PitchTracker and SwingTracker are also useful in the phase of the rehab timeline when a player is available to do individual skills training or participate again in team activities but with certain limitations. These systems can show pitch and throw distribution, total volume for each session, and other metrics tied to daily and weekly volume. As we wrote in a previous article, an injured pitcher can be restricted to a certain total in the bullpen and some pitch types might be limited due to the demands they place on a hurt throwing arm. This technology can compare individualized targets to what actually occurred during training, with coaches addressing any disparities. Some players need to be encouraged to do more when they’re ready, whereas others need to be held back for their own good so that they don’t overdo their reps and risk reinjury or prolonging the rehab process.
This information can be overlaid in a Smartabase report with Catapult data that shows pitch and throw counts for pitching and fielding practice and swing and hit counts for batting. GPS metrics can also be utilized to monitor total running distance, number of base runs and other high-speed efforts, and more on-field stats. When combined with input from additional systems, this helps the performance team gradually increase workload and ensure that injured squad members aren’t ramping up their load exposure too quickly or participating in activities that they’re not yet cleared for.
Enhancing Workload Management
Combining data inputs in Smartabase also enables baseball performance and coaching staff members to better monitor and manage player workloads. If the strength and conditioning coach notices that a player’s overall power or velocity has decreased during a countermovement jump or another force plate test, they can look at the individual’s workload dashboard to see if there has been an increase in overall volume or intensity during training and/or games. If the player’s overall load is too high, their recovery is insufficient, or both, this could explain why the player has dropped below their usual threshold. Data gleaned from Catapult GPS could show a spike in acute-to-chronic workload, a sudden spike in intensity, or a rise in cumulative training volume.
Information from Diamond Kinetics could offer further insights into the issue. In addition to gym workouts, involvement in recent games, and on-field practice activities tracked by other systems factoring into overtraining, SwingTracker and PitchTracker data could show an increase in individual skill development. A rise in batting or pitching volume alone might not have been enough to overload the player, but it could have contributed to the problem. Diamond Kinetics systems offer a detailed breakdown of how batters are spending their time in the box and what pitchers are doing on the mound, enabling staff to see how pitch and hit totals, distribution, and counts contribute to overall load exposure. With such detailed information from various systems, staff can then make adjustments to practice plans and proactively manage workload. Retesting on ForceDecks and reexamining the details of the updated Smartabase dashboard will then show if the change has had the desired effect.
Augmenting Player Development
One of the most promising use cases for baseball teams to apply a combination of swing and pitch tracking, GPS, and force plate data via Smartabase is player development. Sometimes a batter changes their stance or swing mechanics in response to certain types of pitches. This can lead to them swinging at and missing more curveballs, for example, while they continue to hit more sliders and fastballs. Or maybe they make contact with a similar percentage of pitches but do so with less force and ball control. Without combining analytics from multiple systems in one unified view, such issues are hard to pinpoint, even for a veteran hitting coach who is watching out for technique inconsistencies or errors.
Using Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker can show when there’s a decrease in exit velocity, barrel speed, acceleration, or all three. Implementing a system such as VALD ForceDecks in the batter’s box allows the coaching staff to correlate these performance decrements with changes in force distribution. The force plates might show that the player is keeping too much weight on their back leg as a certain kind of pitch comes in, decreasing their overall hitting power. Or perhaps they transfer their weight from the back to front legs at the wrong phase of the swing. Once this connection has been made, the hitting coaches can point out what’s happening to the player, show them the differences in the data, and then work on technique adjustments to help remedy the issue. Baseball-specific algorithms in Catapult GPS can automatically identify how these changes manifest themselves during individual batting and pitching sessions and on-field team practices, adding a deeper layer of analysis to player development. Coaches can then tailor individual skill sessions to increase consistency on the mound or in the box, fine tune batting and pitching technique, and address foot placement errors that are holding players back. Such improvements are particularly valuable in developmental settings and for minor league players trying to make the jump to the majors.