Will Smart-Baseballs Help U.S. Pitchers?

As data and technology overtake baseball, a new product out of Japan may help pitchers develop their pitches by delivering exact data on what the ball is doing after it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Things like rotation and speed are already measurable by sophisticated radar systems, but those systems can’t track pitches thrown while in the bullpen or during a side-session with coaches. They’re also hugely priced making them out of reach for amateur pitchers.

Enter Robo-Ball, officially known as Technical Pitch, which was released in Japan this past September by smartphone app maker Acrodea. A similar product produced in part by Mizuno will debut in the Spring. For now, both will only be for sale in Japan, but they could expand to the U.S. and other areas before too long. The balls retail for around $180.

The ball looks and feels like any other baseball.

To use the ball, a pitcher does what he routinely does in a bullpen session; throws to the catcher. Sensors record the speed, the tilt of the ball’s rotation and rotations-per-minute. Those readings are recorded on a smartphone app. The sensors can also measure a ball’s speed at any point in its path, meaning that pitchers can see if their pitches are slowing down too much as they approach the hitter. Even in-park systems can only measure the speed of the pitch at one point in its path.

The balls aren’t designed to be used in a game or to be hit, only for bullpen sessions. Don’t be surprised if in the future, a ball is designed that can be hit and measure things like velocity and launch angle, two things that have become favorites among some players, coaches and fans. Of course, they would need to get the price down and figure out a way to protect the sensors from the pounding that they would take.

The technology comes right from smartphones which routinely include technology that measures the location and orientation of the handset. A gyro sensor measures rotation speed and a geomagnetic sensor acts as a compass, orienting the device toward magnetic fields. Together, that technology can provide data on what direction phone users are walking and also manipulates the layout of the screen depending on whether the phone is being held horizontally or vertically.

Chuck Hixson

Chuck has a wide and varied background in covering sports both locally and nationally. Living in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania, Chuck has the distinction of being the only person to have covered both the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Lehigh Valley Phantoms in every season of their existence. Chuck began covering sports in 1998 when he was the first program director and morning host at WTKZ-AM in Allentown, Pennsylvania when the station switched to an all sports format. Chuck produced the stations coverage of the Allentown Ambassadors baseball team, which played in the independent Northeast League. From there, Chuck was the editor and writer of Pinstripes magazine, covering Phillies baseball. That led to Chuck founding Philly Baseball Insider in 2003. Chuck has done freelance work for national entities such as USA TODAY, CBS, FOX Sports, Washington Times and others.

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