Golf and baseball have a lot in common. They’re both played outdoors, on grass, with a club (bat) and a ball. Now, a Danish company with an office in Connecticut is intent on utilizing technology originally developed to evaluate and improve a golfer’s game to do the same for baseball players.
TrackMan is the brainchild of Klaus Eldrup Jorgensen, once a top amateur golfer in his home country of Denmark. In an effort to improve his game, Jorgensen adapted the technology used to make radar equipment to design a unit that could track the trajectory of a golf ball along with the swing path of the club. Today, the equipment is installed in driving ranges around the globe and a number of PGA players, including Martin Kaymer, currently ranked third in the world, regularly use the technology to hone their game.
Jorgensen admits he doesn’t know much about baseball, but in 2008, seeking additional applications for his invention, he decided to modify the equipment to track a baseball. After a number of adjustments to the technology, TrackMan partnered with one Major League Baseball team to track pitchers and hitters during pre-draft workouts.
The technology provides information on the flight of the ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand until it is caught, unless the ball is hit, in which case it tracks the ball until it is caught or hits the ground. By using TrackMan, teams are able to chart pitchers’ release points, extension, the speed of the ball out of the hand, the flight trajectory of the ball, and the ball’s spin. If the ball is hit, the technology also records the speed of the ball off the bat, launch angle, distance, hang time and where the ball lands.
By 2009, several MLB teams had signed up to use the technology in their Minor League systems. Radar units approximately 1 ½’ wide by 2 ½’ tall and weighing 23 pounds are installed in Minor League ballparks close to the home plate camera. Devices are located at strategic locations around the ballpark to serve as reference points to calibrate the radar unit. Teams pay an annual licensing fee for the software, along with a set price per unit. In parks where the equipment is located, teams can track information on every pitcher who toes the rubber and every hitter who steps to the plate.
In addition, the company has established a “network” arrangement with its partners. Any team that has purchased a license and installed hardware can opt into a data sharing program to access the information obtained by other teams in the network at no additional charge. If TrackMan’s partners have affiliates in different Minor Leagues at the same level, it’s possible for all subscribers to gain access to information on every Minor League player.
For 2010, the company had two MLB teams as partners. Citing confidentiality, company spokesperson John Olshan, who formerly worked in the licensing division of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, wouldn’t divulge which teams were involved. But it makes sense that teams who value technology in scouting and development are the most likely candidates.
Although the technology was designed with pitchers and hitters in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine its application to help evaluate and improve players’ fielding ability. The information available on batted balls can help a team determine the strengths – and weaknesses – of their fielders, thereby indicating where improvement is needed.
TrackMan’s biggest competitor is Sports Vision’s Pitch FX which is installed in every MLB ballpark and is available to virtually anyone. Both companies track the trajectory of the pitch, but one major difference is TrackMan picks up the ball at the moment of release, while Pitch FX uses the same assumed release distance for every pitcher. In reality, pitchers release the ball at varying distances from home plate and their release point may affect how successful they are against hitters.
TrackMan technology provides teams with information but the company doesn’t tell clubs how to use it. The application of that information is only limited by the creativity of the user. Thanks to Jorgensen, technology that was designed to improve a golfer’s game now gives baseball coaches, scouts, and general managers another tool to help evaluate and develop players.
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