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Baseball adds new technology to toolbox

Baseball adds new technology to toolbox

When Major League Baseball (MLB) introduced Statcast in 2015, a new statistical era began for baseball. The sport has evolved so much over the years, and general managers across the league are starting to become more interested in the analytics and statistics to build a successful team. Additionally, as coaches and managers are beginning to adapt to the day and age of these young players. Not only are things changing in the MLB, but in all levels of play.

The Hofstra baseball team, as well as well as other teams in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), have added some new advanced technology that will help players develop, train and improve in ways they haven’t before. These new tools, such as Synergy, Rapsodo and Flightscope, all contribute unique ways to building a better ball club. 

Synergy better prepares the Pride for their upcoming games by providing scouting reports on other teams. 

“We can look at any team that’s on Synergy, especially the CAA since we are all on Synergy, and we can see every single game that they play,” said Hofstra assistant coach Blake Nation, noting that the software gives the Pride a “visual scouting report on other teams so we don’t go into any of the games blindly.”

It can make the Pride a smarter and more educated team, so they can face a new pitcher and still have a good idea of what they are going to get at the plate. 

“We can see all the stats, numbers and percentages,” said Hofstra head coach John Russo.  “That gives us a chance to write down lineups or thoughts [about] guys we think we would be good facing heavy breaking ball guys, or guys who are good at facing high velocity, or even left-handers.”

Rapsodo is a tool that the Hofstra baseball team uses in the bullpen for pitchers that can show all different kinds of statistics, including what a pitcher does well and what they struggle with. It breaks down each pitch and shows data that people didn’t start looking at until only a few years ago such as pitch velocity, spin rate, arm extension and release angles. Even today, many teams don’t look at these aspects of pitching. Velocity has always been the biggest statistic that teams and scouts look for in a pitcher, but Rapsodo shows spin rate, which can analyze a pitcher in a more advanced way. 

A pitcher’s spin rate represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released, measured in revolutions per minute. It shows that pitching is not only about velocity. A pitcher with a low velocity can still be very effective if he has a higher spin rate. The higher the spin rate is, the more movement on the pitch, which makes it difficult to hit. For some Hofstra Pride pitchers, it has given them a lot of success.

“It really helps in explaining Ryan Rue and his success this year,” Nation said. “He has a high spin rate on the fastball, which allows him to be able to pitch up in the zone.” 

Rue has been great at throwing his high fastball effectively because with that higher spin rate, the ball has more of a rising effect and stays up in the zone.

The freshman has been one of the Pride’s best pitchers so far this season. He got off to a great start, pitching to a 2.32 ERA in his first 23 and 2/3 innings and has allowed only three runs in his last two starts. 

“With an average spin rate, the hitter sees a fastball coming in and they’re kind of playing that little average drop of a fastball that you would normally see,” Nation said. “With a higher spin rate, it’s going to stay up longer. The hitter is not used to seeing that, so they’re more likely to swing under the pitch, miss-hit it or something like that.” 

Pitchers who have struggled in the past were able to see what they were doing wrong and adjust.

“We talked with Andrew Mundy earlier in the year just about tunneling pitches,” Nation said. “About his fastball, about his slider, working off of the same tunnel, and Rapsodo gives us a really good visual, like an instant feedback visual.”

Mundy has also pitched well this season with a 4.08 ERA.

Another player who improved by using this tology is Jack Anderson. Anderson, with help from the coaching staff, changed his arm angle and used that to deliver a better change-up and slider. Anderson is second on the team in ERA, with 2.38. The pitching staff has been the strength of this team for years and with this tool, the players and coaches have a lot to look forward to.

On the offensive side of the ball, they use Flightscope, which is similar to Rapsodo, but can also break down a performance for hitters and pitchers during the game.

“Flightscope can give you the same kind of reading that Rapsodo is going to give you, but a lot of the time, what you see from a hitter and pitcher is that their practice is different from what they do in the game,” said assistant coach Matt Wessinger. “So this can show them what they’re actually doing in a game compared to what they’re doing in their practice reps and that can help us tailor their practice plan to try and make it as game-like as possible.”

For hitters practicing in the cages, it shows how important things like launch angle, ball flight and exit velocity are and provides an accurate reading on what kind of pitch gives them a better chance of finding success and reaching base.

This device has created a whole new level of training that can improve an entire offense. 

“We use [Flightscope] as another tool in their training to try and get them to learn a little bit more and to understand themselves as a hitter a little bit more than just hitting into the cages and saying, ‘Oh I just crushed that one, that’s going to be a home run,’” Wessinger said. “Now we’ll get actual feedback on what it would’ve been, so that if it’s getting caught deep in the outfield, we can adjust where we’re trying to hit that ball so that it might fall in, rather than getting under it.”

Just like Rapsodo breaks down a pitcher, Flightscope can break down a hitter in new and more effective ways. Launch angle and exit velocity are two very important pieces of data that can help a hitter improve. Flightscope can show that data and let the hitter know what they can work on. 

“I think the ideal launch angle is 26 degrees and if you’re a guy who can’t hit the ball over 92 miles per hour at that trajectory, then that’s not supposed to be your approach,” Wessinger said. “Your approach isn’t to get it in the air. What that does is allows us to kind of tailor what their approach is going to be.” 

This software allows hitters to use all areas of the field, rather than just trying to hit fly balls over the fence.

This has helped players like Vito Friscia and Anthony D’Onofrio have great success throughout the year. Friscia leads the team in almost every offensive category and has a slash line of .299/.423/.537, while hitting seven home runs and 24 RBIs. D’Onofrio has also had a nice freshman season so far, placing second on the team in RBIs with 16. Offense has been a struggle the past few seasons, but with new technology like Flightscope, they are heading in the right direction.

With where the game of baseball is now and with the amount of new technology that continues to come out, the future of the game is bright. 

“Right now, what it comes down to is there’s a lot of stuff coming out, but it’s so early ... that it’s extremely expensive to get your hands on it,” Wessinger said. 

In what has been an up-and-down 2019 season for Hofstra, seeing these new training tools gives the team, coaches and fans a glimpse into what could be a very bright future.

Image Courtesy of Hofstra Athletics

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