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Technology Implementation and Data Feedback in Training

Overview

Technology has always had a huge impact on baseball. We are now in an era where more coaches have access to high-end technology, but players are also learning it at a much earlier age with the amount of off-season training programs nationwide. Every high-level academy, college, and professional implements expensive player development technology like Rapsodo, Flight Scope, HitTrax, Blast Motion, high-speed cameras, and more. This has provided more opportunities for coaches and players to learn individual capabilities, how to develop it, and how to track it.

This has not only been a controversial topic amongst the baseball world, but also at times a dangerous opportunity for teaching and learning in youth athletes. Hopefully, by the end of this blog you can gain some understanding of the modern technologies being used in player development and assessment in today’s game.

Each piece of technology has its own capabilities and uses. They all provide instant data and feedback for players in the training and/or in-game performance. This use can expedite the learning curve for athletes and coaches on hitting, pitching, and more.

The following will provide some insight on what and how to implement technology but also the importance for communicating real data feedback for athletes along their path of development.

Commonly Used Technology

Drew Storen pitching with Rapsodo and Sony RX 100V

Drew Storen pitching with Rapsodo and Sony RX 100V

To understand how we can implement technology to the daily development of an athlete, we must know what each is built to do. Each device has strengths and weaknesses. These short summaries of each device are meant to provide a basic understanding. There is a link to each website for you to investigate more about the device and it’s capabilities.

Rapsodo Pitching — Measures spin rate, true spin, velocity, spin-caused movement, provides bullpen tracking, and pitch location. It services all things pitch tracking. Every MLB organization, most college programs, and even training facilities are implementing Rapsodo. Link - Rapsodo

Rapsodo Hitting — Measures exit velocity, launch angle, spin axis, direction, provides session tracking, and 3D ball flight. Link - Rapsodo

Trackman — Used by most D1 colleges and all professional teams as a on-field pitch and hitting tracking device. Provides velocity, spin rates, movement, exit velocity, distance, and more. All MLB teams use this data to track and scout player personnel. Link - Trackman

Flight Scope — Provides in-game data tracking for pitching and hitting. Slightly cheaper than Hit Trax, but provides several similar details. Measures for both pitching and hitting including spin rates, velocities, launch angles, movement, release heights, and more. Several D1 colleges, some tournament companies, and high schools use this product. Link - Flight Scope

Blast Motion — A bat sensor that measures bat speed, hand speed, angle, time to contact, and more. This is used for training facilities, in-game assessments, and more. Several MLB teams use throughout their minor leagues to assess development. Link - blastmotion.com

High-Speed Cameras — A recent takeover for high-speed (and high cost) cameras such as the Edgertronic have been added to most MLB organizations and D1 college programs. These cameras can help pitch design, movement patterning, and more with its ability to capture high-resolution videos at over 500fps. The ability to break down the smallest details with cameras like this or the Sony RX 100V make assessments much clearer for the coach and athlete.

While most programs and facilities are on strict budgets, more coaches are making room for these expensive items in their programming due to its ability to aid player development and assessment.

Technology Implementation

Hitting with HitTrax

Hitting with HitTrax

Shiny new toys don’t provide instant player development. The ability to understand data, track it properly, and communicate it in a way that young athletes can understand is the connecting piece. Players, coaches, and fans are seeing more numbers than ever with TV broadcasting Statcast data. Seeing data for professional athletes on TV doesn’t give much insight for how players at the HS level can utilize it in their own development. Bridging the gap between data consumption and data implementation is key to successful coaching.

First things first. Collect data and assess players. Find ways to implement baseline testing with whatever technology you can get your hands on. Once you have a baseline, you can implement plans for development in the off-season and in-season. Players who know their numbers, and continually track them, will do more to make progress than the athlete who isn’t informed on his or her numbers.

Understanding the data enough to make development plans is where coaches separate themselves. Finding ways to learn what is “good” bat speed, a “high-spin” fastball, “ideal” launch angles, and “useful” movement on pitches is where coaches must do their research. Between Driveline Baseball blogs, our pitch design blog (amongst other programs blogs), Eric Cressey’s blogs on strength training and mobility, and public MLB data on Baseball Savant, the average coach can separate themselves if the research is done.

Personal recommendation would be to invest in a Blast Motion sensor, Rapsodo Pitching, and a Sony RX 100V for your program. Use the high-speed camera for movement breakdowns on all players, both hitting and pitching. Review them with detailed plans. Utilize Blast Motion for assessing bat speed and more. Create a plan that develops their ideal path and bat speed. For Rapsodo, assess their spin rates, axis, and movement profiles at the beginning of the off-season. Keep track of bullpen reports and send them to players. Use the high-speed camera to break down each pitch and communicate the video with the pitcher to see if he is accomplishing what he feels like he’s doing in his video. Set goals for all assessments and revisit often. Doing this not only shows the athlete and parent that you care about their development, but puts numbers to opinions.

Data Feedback

What you track you will improve on!

This can be anything from first pitch strikes to spin rates. Each coach, player, and parent should decide on key areas they want to emphasize and track it. The areas of focus should be clearly communicated and very transparent with results. Weekly check-ins, meetings, and discussion should happen between coach and player.

If you want the athlete to be concerned with being better in 0-2 counts, then emphasize a put-away pitch in bullpens on Rapsodo and a high-speed camera. Find the best way to maximize pitch sequencing with movement profiles. If you want the athlete to improve recovery and strength numbers then have them write down hours of sleep, calories consumed, and weights on lifts.

IMG_9227 2.jpg

To be more specific, a pitcher going through bullpens in an off-season using Rapsodo should go through something similar to the following:

  1. Assess all pitches with their spin rates, movement profiles, high-speed camera video, and velocities.

  2. Find 1 to 2 pitches which could use improvement via their spin rates, spin-caused movement, and/or pitch tunneling.

  3. Use the high-speed camera to find areas to adjust pitch grips, release angles, spin axis, etc.

  4. Track bullpen reports through spreadsheets to keep tabs on spin rates, movement, and velocities.

  5. Test adjusted pitches in scrimmages/live ABs for more feedback.

  6. Revisit areas of need, communicate with player on performance.

Any of the above can be managed by all parties included. It requires time, effort, and consistency. Player development without any of those things is just wishful thinking. All players (or coaches) who expect results to come from showing up without detailed plans and consistent assessments will be let down in the end. Players must commit to the process of tracking their data and learning how to maximize their day to day workload.

Review

Data provides real feedback to players. Coaches and parents can learn more from data to impact player development than they can a coach providing an overload of verbal feedback on mechanics. We must be careful from overloading data and getting away from feel. This is a critical time period for bridging the gap between technology and feel. Coaches, and players, will separate themselves by doing so in the upcoming years at all levels.

Organizations are investing more and more money into this technology but it will require the best of coaches to learn, understand, and communicate the data properly to players. Without proper communication and understanding, this technology goes to waste! Take the guessing out and show your players the numbers and feedback that changes game performance!

For more information, e-mail us below!

The What and Why of Plyocare

What are plyocare balls?

Plyocare balls have become a popular training modality across all levels and ages of throwing athletes.  These plyocare balls are simple rubber-coated weighted balls that are filled with a sand-like material.  The weights range from 3oz to 4lbs depending on company/brand you use. The style of use has a large variety, from “holds” to general throwing conditioning to high-intent throws. They have been branded by major companies such as Driveline Baseball amongst other companies and are used worldwide for all ages of throwers.

Why do we use them?

The easy answer for using plyocare balls is for arm strengthening and conditioning.  The actual reason for using them is adapting better movement patterns while conditioning the arm.  

When training with overload and underload balls, the movement patterns adapt to the load and task.  With certain styles of programming, they can be used for arm strengthening. The volume and style of throw can vary, but some specific drills mixed into general training program can have an impact on throwing velocity and the overall condition of your arm.  

Personally, I am a big believer in warming up to throw instead of throwing to warm-up.  These “throwing” drills are restraint based drills that mix up the tempo, momentum, and allow important patterns to occur during the throw.  By the time we are done with plyocare “drills”, the throwing “mechanics” should have already improved.

Another key reason is the improvement on feel and command.  When throwing different balls of different weights, the body has to program release points each throw.  Preaching the importance of commanding the plyo balls is key to their use. Athletes should retain the feedback on each throw from how they got to a certain release point.

The volume and effort within the throws is where coaching and programming become key.  These weighted balls are not magical toys that will fix movement patterns or add velocity.  Prescribing certain drills and managing the workload throughout the week around game days and bullpens is very important to healthy development.

How to implement plyocare to your program

Plyocare balls are best used as a pre and post throwing modality with different periodization of velocity training and arm maintenance.  Warming-up with the basic shoulder activation drills and arm patterning throws are an easy add-in to your daily programming.  This 5-minute pre and post programming can reduce injury and promote more efficient throwing patterns while leading to better catch play.

Basic drills include reverse throws, upward toss, rebounders, and pivot picks.  These are widely used in programs across the nation. The main difference is how and when they are programmed at different age levels and programs.  

We evaluate players movement patterns and prescribe drills specific to that athlete to attack their movements and feel.  For example, an athlete who struggles with rhythm and tempo we will prescribe more walking wind-ups. If a player struggles with loading backside we will implement step backs or QB drops.  

When and how much to use them is also a challenge that coaches face.  This decision should be based of a few key variables. Time of year, athletes needs, and athlete feedback should be how you shape your programming.  

Typically, off-season (winter) on-ramping should have more plyocare throws than in-season, with a bigger focus on high-intent.  Tracking velocities and videoing movement patterns are great ways to develop throwers during the off-season.

Volume for off-season would typically be 5 days a week with 2 of those being velocity-tracking days.  Volume for in-season would be 3-4 days with 0-1 velocity days depending on the athlete. Each day would consist of 2 or 3 movement patterning drills such as roll ins, walking wind-ups, quick picks, etc.  

Key adjustments:

  1. Athletes who are not competing on the mound regularly should add 1 day of high-intent plyocare.

  2. Athletes who are doing pulldowns should limit high-intent plyocare to 1-2 days depending on comfort and conditioning level.

  3. Give at least 2 days in between competitive bullpens and high-intent plyocare.

  4. In-season pitchers not competing much should maintain 2 days of high-intent plyocare.

  5. Athletes in return to throwing programs should monitor RPE and velocity closely as it should continue an upward progression.

Providing feedback with a radar gun and/or video is key to implementing plyocare properly.  Some athletes struggle to control their RPE. Monitoring soreness week to week throughout return to throwing and off-season programs is key to manage stress workload with plyocare.  

As stated before, a misunderstood aspect of using plyocare balls is the development of command and feel.  Coach the importance of this to your athletes by having targets and competitions for hitting spots!

Take a deeper look

There are a few key components of plyocare use that often get overlooked. We know to focus on movement patterns, arm swing, etc. High-intent or low-intent, we gain feel for our arm, release point, and spin with the extra throwing drills within plyocare programming.

What we often miss is the spin of the plyocare ball. It is very common for throwers to cut (get around) the plyoballs. Pay attention to the spin off of the wall. The ball should bounce directly back to the throwing side if creating true backspin. When athletes throw the ball and it cuts across body, then the thrower immediately knows they got around the ball. If an athlete struggles with it during catch play, this can be a great time to work on staying behind the baseball.

Velocity readings for high-intent plyocare can be the best coach in the room. While managing different levels of intent, seeing feedback in number form helps both the athlete and the coach learn. There isn’t a magic formula for what to expect on velocity readings for different plyo drills, but you can learn from throw to throw and week to week how well you are moving and progressing. The simple goal should be to maximize the velocity of each ball between 1LB and 3.5oz on testing days. For Driveline PlyoCare balls, you should try to beat your positional velocity with the yellow ball in every throw.

Train the decelerators. The reverse throws and rebounders have become more commonly used because of this. Reverse throws are a great drill for posterior shoulder conditioning. Rebounds are equally important for force reception and training the forearm, bicep muscles. These are vital to controlling the arm during deceleration post-release.

Coach the deficiencies. When athletes struggle with specific movements in the throw, there are several drills to attack each pattern. There is a drill chart with a video playlist attached at the bottom of this blog for your use. For example; instead of telling a kid to drive his lead leg into the ground more (when he clearly struggles doing that), try having him do kneeling get ups or move the plyocare drill to going uphill (mound). This will challenge him to use the front leg better from adjusting the environment and task rather than listening to verbal cues.

Having a routine

There are a million ways to implement pre-throwing routines such as plyocare balls.  The programming of drills, managing workloads, and individualizing drills is key but the comfort of your athletes going through a daily routine to improve their game is what matters most.    

Be consistent.  Be firm. Make it a priority.  

Most programs get away from proper plyocare use simply because of practice planning and time management.  There is always time, if it is a priority, to get the daily plyocare work in. Some days it may interfere with other important aspects, but the importance of arm health and having confident throwers often trumps the other practice modalities

Video it.  Track it.

Baseline Velocity to Max Velocity in our Winter PRP using plyocare balls, long toss, pulldowns, med balls, and more!

Baseline Velocity to Max Velocity in our Winter PRP using plyocare balls, long toss, pulldowns, med balls, and more!

The radar guns and videos don’t lie.  Use these as your direct communication to athletes on how well they are moving, managing their RPE, and monitoring their progress.

Summary  

Plyocare has a large effect on the group of players for several reasons.  Implementing a routine of “warming up to throw” or “earning the right to catch play” are key phrases I live by with my athletes.  Developing movement patterns and arm conditioning with the same training tool is another key reason. For some athletes, is a great velocity training tool while most it provides another way to develop command.  



Any way you look at it, plyocare use can develop more confident throwers by challenging them to throw more and throw better.

Free video playlist and drill chart below!


Plyocare Drill Demonstrations - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4zy_hzyhFTEx3Blr4XbN8HCeuoTgnMxT

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Contact - PRPBaseball101@gmail.com

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