With Opening Day approaching, Pirates pitchers are busy on the mound in Bradenton. Skill, strategy and practice all play a role in their preparation. Increasingly, so does technology.
This season, Pittsburgh-based Diamond Kinetics is introducing their latest innovation: PitchTracker, a baseball with embedded electronics to go beyond what the eyes of even the best pitching coaches can see.
In each PitchTracker ball, there’s a tiny chip with a sensor and battery system that provides comprehensive data about what the ball is doing during the pitcher’s motion and on its way to home plate. Used during practice along with a companion app, PitchTracker provides data for use in optimizing performance.
This is not the first time Diamond Kinetics, led by CEO CJ Handron, has revolutionized how data is used in the national pastime.
In 2013, the company developed SwingTracker, which uses electronics embedded on bats to provide data to improve swings for baseball and softball batters. It has since become a go-to technology for college softball and baseball programs and professional baseball clubs.
Although Handron won’t divulge which Major League clubs use his batting product, he says the company works with most MLB teams. And they’ve already lined up a handful of pilot programs to use the new PitchTracker starting in April.
Handron says the most likely MLB-related place to find his products is within talent evaluation, scouting and in the minor leagues. For games, it has been approved for use in the Arizona Summer League and Gulf Coast League.
Top NCAA women’s softball and men’s baseball programs are also users.
Getting PitchTracker to market has taken two years of research and difficult development work.
The biggest challenges were ensuring that the ball maintains its balance and that the electronics don’t change the flight of the ball, Handron says.
“It needed to look and feel just like a standard ball,” he explains, “or pitchers won’t use it.”
An additional tech challenge: Finding a way to wirelessly charge the ball.
Handron believes Diamond Kinetics’ opportunity in selling pitching products is equal in size to the market for hitting solutions among his core audience of upcoming professionals and amateur athletes between the ages of 8 to 18.
Previous methods for gatherings data cost thousands of dollars and were hard to use. With PitchTracker, he says, the expense shrinks to less than $100 in hardware and a $5/month subscription, putting the product in the price sweet spot for this audience.
Currently, the company has 15 full-time employees, 12 of whom are in Pittsburgh. With PitchTracker hitting the market, Handron expects to add six to eight more people to his North Side office, mostly in engineering and development.