Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Over the past 3 days I have been in baseball coaching heaven, sharing the national convention with 7,000 of my peers at the 2020 ABCA in Nashville! If there was a “golden thread” connecting the talks to one another it would be that technology driven player development is the wave of the future, and the FUTURE IS UPON US!
Recently I completed the book “MVP Machine” and the book details how MLB teams are now heavily investing in player development and how they are improving their techniques to make players better. The book also details the rise of Driveline baseball and how they have utilized technology as well as anyone in the industry to reach better results and help players develop at a faster pace. Many of the pieces of technology written about in the book were on full display at the convention: K-Vest, Rapsodo, Motus throw, Blast, deCervo, Force plates, and Im sure there were others.
I absolutely LOVE the technological capabilities of what I observed at the ABCA convention, but I didn’t always love the hefty price tags that came with the technology. What I quickly realized is that many of the presenters who utilized much of this tech were from large universities whose budgets dwarf most high school budgets and have large support staffs to help collect data and implement player development.
This led me to 3 conclusions:
1. The rise in technology is driven by MLB who is searching for faster and better ways to implement player development through DATA and their near unlimited cash flow finances new tech innovation.
2. Due to the larger budgets, support staff, and 24 hour access to players, implementation of technology is done in ways at the college level in which high schools may not be able or even allowed to use the technology.
3. Player development is the LIFEBLOOD of high school baseball since recruiting is not allowed and the lifeblood of small college baseball since small colleges usually do not attract the players with the top tools. The best high school and small college coaches are some of the best problem solvers, most creative thinkers, and best instructors of the game.
Whereas a major league team and large colleges can purchase ALL of this technology and utilize it, a high school team or small college will only be able to have SOME of this technology and unfortunately, the price tags are keeping the tech out of the hands of some of the most innovative thinkers. The baseball breakthroughs that could occur in the game when innovation meets the best differentiation could be astounding. High School and small college coaches have always been innovative thinkers who have had to do more with less.
During my time on the expo floor yesterday I talked to a small college coach who needed to teach a particular front leg movement to his pitching staff. He could have spent $11,000 to buy a force plate but since that purchase is not cost effective for his budget he figured out a way to invent a “contraption” made out of dirt and a modified foam roller that gets him the same differentiated teaching results without the technology! This story has played itself out THOUSANDS of times throughout the course of amateur baseball.
Technologies main existence is to collect data, and data drives DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION individualized to each player. So in a nutshell, the essence of player development is built around teaching players what the data says and creating a coaching plan to improve the data. As educators, high school coaches have been subjected to COUNTLESS HOURS OF training on differentiated teaching strategies. Serious teachers (and coaches) understand the absolute NEED for better data, but we also need to be cost conscious with getting this data. We are GREAT WITH instructing technique but we are being priced out of the best data.
Here is another experience from the convention yesterday:
There is a story to be told about each player on a team, but I am only able to access a part of a players story because our team does not currently have a stat program that can tell me the rest of the story. Being cost conscious, I sat down and thought through the most economical way I could improve my team and I entered the ABCA this year searching for a new stat program to help me drive differentiated practice planning.
My best bang for buck is taking the limited practice time I have with my hitters and creating an instruction program to address their biggest deficiencies which I believe could SIGNIFICANTLY improve a hitters performance. To do this I simply need a more accurate log of what actually occurs during the games. More specific data such as a hitters performance in each count that they hit in as well as pitch type faced in each count would yield much of the rest of my hitters story!
With this data I could tell a hitter countless amount of information about their performance such as:
1. Are they on time with their swing?
a. Hunting pitches and speeds is one of the best techniques a hitter can use and simply seeing their performance through counts can take subjectivity out of whether a hitter is consistently on time or not. This story can be told without the added technology of exit velocity.
2. Does the hitter need to adjust or improve hitting approach
a. With simply knowing how a hitter performs in counts and against certain pitches, knowing where to differentiate practice for that hitter immediately become apparent and possibilities for practice instruction become essentially limitless.
3. How well does a hitter recognize pitches IN GAME
a. Based on swing and misses, takes, and checked swings on pitches through counts, there is much to learn about the speed at which a hitter can process what they are seeing in game. (Is there a need to improve relaxation training, pre at bat visualization, pre-pitch eye patterns, or perhaps a hitter needs corrective lenses.)
This is all information that can be gleaned simply by having the data.
4. Does a hitter need to adjust their swing plane
a. There is literally no substitute for game pitching. Currently, every assumption we make about effectiveness of a hitters swing is based on less than game speed reps or incomplete / subjective data from our stat programs or QAB charts.
b. Making a swing change affects more than the swing as it can affect the speed at which the brain processes pitch recognition or can affect performance on one type of pitch vs another. With data by pitch and counts, we would be able to see the true necessity for a swing change and true impact of the change.
I was told by stat program companies that they could track all this data, but that there is no demand for this data making it cost prohibitive to provide. One stat company, Synergy, told me I could get this data, it would just cost us $5,000. I think the stat companies did not see a usefulness to make the data affordable and when I explained why I wanted the data I felt that they may have had a slight doubt about whether a high school coaching staff had the knowledge base to properly implement the findings. This is where I think the stat companies have it wrong as due to training in differentiation, educators are the ones that could make BEST use of this data.
In summary, here are some of the impacts that I can see potentially occurring due to new tech and its current prices:
1. Players will move to where the tech is because its flashy, bright and new, even if the tech users cannot translate the data into differentiated instruction.
2. Money spent on tech may actually translate in individual results not reflected in win loss records thus hampering efforts of high school coaches and small college coaches to get assistance from athletic directors, Principals, or University Presidents to acquire the tech due to questions of responsible money expenditure or best bang for buck.
3. Due to incredible amount of data gleaned from the tech, coaches may not be able to properly “mine” the tech results to modify the training enough to make the training worth the price of the tech.
4. Tech may actually force the game to go in a direction of specialization at an earlier age, which according to many college coaches, they do not want to occur.
5. The price of the tech may continue to widen the chasm between the economically disadvantaged and those with more money thus ultimately hurting interest in the game.
6. In the meantime while small budget programs save up the cash to acquire tech and better data, coaches of those programs will have to continue to be creative in the utilization of coaching staffs and players to manually collect advanced data while simultaneously compartmentalizing practice in the best ways possible to differentiate instruction.
About the author: Coach Turco is a 6 time state champion coach who coaches a nationally recognized high school baseball and softball program in Marietta, Ga. Coach Turco publishes the blog championshiphitting.com and posts work samples on twitter @championhitter