(This article originally appears in the December 2018 edition of “FastPitch Delivery” – the NFCA’s monthly member newspaper, and one of the nation’s best softball publications. A printed or electronic subscription to Fastpitch Delivery is included with a full NFCA membership).
PITTSBURGH – It is not very often that you stand on the edge, about to embark on something totally new, exciting, and innovative. That’s where we, the collective “we,” are with the launch of Diamond Kinetics PitchTracker Smart Softball.
We are not going to claim it is better than sliced bread. It isn’t. Sliced bread is pretty awesome. We aren’t even claiming it will fundamentally change the game of softball. It won’t.
Jackie Traina topped out around 73 mph. Paige Parker regularly dominated with pitches that registered 65 mph. Alexis Osorio made batters look silly throwing in the mid-60’s as well.
Pitchers aren’t going to all of a sudden start throwing 80 mph anytime soon because of a smart softball.
But the PitchTracker Smart Softball does have the potential to inform and empower softball coaches and players like never before, helping them set benchmarks, understand pitching mechanics, streamlining player development and fostering new coaching techniques.
Bold claims, you say? Maybe.
But not when you think about one simple fact – collective data on softball pitching metrics is very limited. That means there is nothing but upside on the intelligence that can be developed. So, we’re just teeing it up for you to start considering the possibilities.
Let us pose a few questions:
1) What’s the national average fastball velocity for U12 players? What sort of spin rate do we see from elite-level high school pitchers?
- When thousands of players across all age groups throw hundreds of thousands of pitches annually, and those pitchers are recorded in a massive database, those benchmarks will begin to solidify. And that’s quantifiable, objective data, not a random assessment from a coach or organization.
2) What effect does a slight variation of grip or a last second finger-flick have on spin direction on a screwball?
- Testing and repetition by a pitching coach in conjunction with immediate in-app feedback could help lock-in pitching mechanics for her pitchers.
3) What sort of strength & conditioning regimes work best to push velocity up a few MPH during an off-season?
- Imagine strength & conditioning coaches A-B testing lifting programs to see what combo of exercises have the biggest impact on velo – then refining those programs year after year.
4) How does a pitcher develop the college standard of a swing and miss rate of 33% or higher?
- Spin Rate is the key to great pitch movement. Developing high spin rates are a must. Moreover, pitchers must be able to develop spin on all their pitches – not just drop balls or rise balls – but fastballs and screwballs. Imagine seeing instant spin rates on every pitch. Maybe there is a high school pitcher with raw talent and tools, who has an incredibly high spin rate but lacks some control. Because of PitchTracker, coaches will be able to see she that has a huge weapon in her arsenal (high spin rate) and recruit her into their program knowing if they can help her with her control, they will have a future ace on their hands.
The concepts we are talking about aren’t new. Great coaches and dedicated, hard-working players are already doing this in pockets, on their own.
But the data is limited.
For instance, if you do a search for “average softball velocity by age” you get a mishmash of articles – some over 10 years old – that give a range of numbers, but nothing objectively quantifiable or statistically reliable.
With the PitchTracker Softball and the database behind it, there is – for the first time – set statistical benchmarks based on scaled data. There is the possibility of quantifiable feedback delivered in real-time.
So here is the challenge we issue to the members of the NFCA.
Buy the ball and start using it. A lot.
Yeah, that’s good for Diamond Kinetics. But it will also be good for softball. Every pitch thrown by every player is a data point. Those data points can be amassed into a collective intelligence while also being used individually to get the most out of each player – which is ultimately the goal, right?
PitchTracker Smart Softball gives you the opportunity to do just that.
The ball was designed and crafted by mechanical engineers – and those same engineers also have had daughters playing tee ball at age 4 and, in some cases, eventually college ball in a Power 5 conference. So we get it.
At Diamond Kinetics, we are more than just a company who make softball tech products. We feel proud to call ourselves a part of the softball community.
And as part of that softball community, here’s what we promise to do:
At the 2019 NFCA convention we will present our findings, insights and analysis on the data the Smart Softball collects. We will report on what we AND and the softball community uncover over the course of the next 12 months.
We will aggregate the stories, mine the data, and drive the intelligence forward for the benefit of all. We will start to set the benchmarks for each age group. We will share case studies and testimonials from power users sharing what they have learned and gained from using the PitchTracker Smart Softball.
While we won’t share data on any specific player or team, we will try to find snippets from coaches like, “I wanted my pitcher’s drop ball to break down and to the left. And with PitchTracker we were able to figure out the parameters to make that happen.”
We will dig deep to understand ways to develop better mechanics. Understand how to increase velocity and spin rate. How to create just perfect amount of extension through the pitch. How to help coaches better understand and apply the metrics. How to help players have more fun as they train.
While we certainly want to paint a bright picture, we understand not every adjustment is going to work or bring instant improvement. There are limitations to what certain players can do. And the ball is just a tool. It still takes great coaches to connect the dots, facilitate training, and use the tech to unlock a player’s potential.
The coach will still need to instruct a player, “Try this grip pattern. Try this arm slot. Try this grip pressure. Does that work? No? OK. That doesn’t feel good. How about this?”
Ultimately, it’s about experimenting, pushing forward and trying new things while monitoring the player and collecting the data. The feedback you get from the PitchTracker Smart Softball is much more objective than a catcher saying, “That was a good one.”
So come along for the ride. We are excited about where it can take us and what we will learn along the way.