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The Next Generation of Blast Baseball 360

At Blast, we know the daily drive to improve starts with the right tools. We recently launched the next generation Blast Baseball 360 app (available in the App Store and Google Play), giving players and coaches a new toolkit to train smarter and get better.

The update brings a very different look and feel to the app. Our own Armando Santana, Director of Product Management, and Julia Putzeys, Product Manager, provide an in-depth look at the new features and functionalities, along with the inspiration behind the update.

Experience the Difference

After extensive research, feedback, and testing to see what players and coaches wanted out of Baseball 360, our team found several ways to improve the overall experience.

“We have an amazing technology in our sensor, and it’s something that’s super valuable to the people who are using it to train and be better in their sport,”said Putzeys. “But really, that’s not helpful to them unless they have an app that goes with it that is just as great. It needs to be easy to use and perfectly showcase all the functionality the sensor has, and we think that’s what we’re bringing to our customers with the new generation of our app.”

From a fresh new user interface to enhanced ease-of-use to smarter, faster technology, the update was designed with coaches and hitters in mind, for a quicker path to improvement.

“With our new Baseball 360 app, you’re going to see some general improvements of the interface,” explained Santana. “You’re going to be able to find things easier. You’re going to be able to see where your swings are, where your videos are, where your metrics are, and how you’re progressing. The overall flow fits with the way you’re going to be able to digest this information and train faster.”

From research and development to planning and implementation, many people and perspectives were involved in the new Blast Baseball 360 app.

“Early on, we spent a lot of time talking to our users and our ambassadors,” said Santana. “We have designers on staff who really take that feedback in, and we have these collaborative design sessions. We whiteboard ideas. We work together, then we work with engineering, who is coming up with solutions to those problems that our customers are sharing. They’re figuring out ways we can make this app faster, sync with the cloud, and provide video capabilities that are differentiating features in our Baseball 360 app.”

Users Played a Big Role

In addition to our in-house team, our loyal user base, along with our valued Blast Coaches played an important role in the introduction of this next phase of Baseball 360 technology.

“Our users give us feedback on a daily-basis about how they’re experiencing the product, what they like about it, and also what they don’t like about it,” explained Putzeys. “So we really take that to heart and work with our users. We get feedback from all different kinds of channels – through our customer support team and on the app stores. We also bring a lot of users and ambassadors into our lab and we work with them on the product, and we come up with ideas from there and ways that it can improve based on how they use it.”

“We started with the customer first, and we realized that we needed to build something that worked the way they work,” added Santana. “So we spent a lot of time talking to our ambassadors and pro users, and really understanding how they’re using Blast Baseball today.”

Two Audiences, One Solution

When designing and implementing this update, it was important to keep two distinct audiences in mind:

Baseball and softball hitters of all levels. And their coaches and coaching academies. In the end, we came up with one solution to meet the needs of both groups.

“We’re targeting two different people,” explained Putzeys. “The first is a player that just wants to get better. So we want to provide them with all the tools they need to train on their own, including drills, ideas, and content from our ambassadors to help them get better, then teach them how to use the Blast sensor and our application to train on their own.

“But we’re also targeting coaches who have a team of players that may be using a sensor that they share among them – or each player on the team might have a sensor and the coach is running a practice while using our solution with all of their team members. It’s a very different use case, but I think a lot of times they’re looking for the same results. So, we focused on those main users and optimize a solution that would work for both of them.”

“We wanted to build this app for anybody who wants to improve their swing,” added Santana, who is also an active coach himself. “So the Baseball 360 app needs to be really easy to use, whether it’s the youth coach who is just learning about Blast Baseball and really want to improve a youth player, all the way up to the pro player who’s really trying to take their game to the next level. And it needs to satisfy everybody in between.”

A Bold New UI

A big part of meeting those needs lay in developing an intuitive new user interface – or UI, for short. This revamped UI needed to be not only easier to use, but more enjoyable to interact with.

“We have this amazing solution and we want to have an app that really helps our users use our sensor,” said Putzeys. “We want our app to be fun to use and easy to use, where it makes someone want to pick it up every day and train with it. We want to provide new content for our users and we want to provide an ultimate training experience.”

Training Center + Blast Connect

One of the major improvements is the development of the Training Center, an online and in-app repository for videos and other content that focuses on training and interactive drills. Some of those drills are even offered by luminaries like Blast Baseball Athlete, and Houstons Astros shortstop, Carlos Correa.

The Training Center resides in the main bottom navigation of the new Blast Baseball 360 app – making it easily accessible from anywhere in the app.

“We’ve gotten some feedback on our new training center, which provides something that users have really been asking for,” explained Putzeys. “It’s a place to learn how to get better, and also learn how to use our sensor and integrate it into their training and really get the most out of it. This way, they can make sure they’re using the sensor the way it should be used, and improving on all the metrics we measure. It outlines each metric, along with ways to improve on each.”

This new focus on content-rich training is also fully integrated into Blast Connect, to create the total improvement solution.

“If you’re using the full solution, you get all your workouts and practices from your coach, you can access them on your mobile phone, and you can complete the workouts and practices while you’re on the go” said Putzeys.

“With the new Blast Baseball 360 app, coaches and academies can expect some improvements on how we have integrated with Blast Connect,” said Santana. “Coaches can capture swings and videos and sync that to the cloud, then they can go to Blast Connect and really analyze that information. One of our goals with this new app is to empower athletes to improve and just work smarter. And as they work smarter, they are going to master the game and ultimately enjoy the game more.”

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Building Efficient Swings with Time to Contact

Time to contact
When coaching and developing young baseball players, metrics like time to contact can play a prominent role in improving a player’s swing efficiency.

To discuss the ins and outs of an efficient baseball swing, we sat down with veteran coach and hitting instructor Rick Strickland. In addition to overseeing Sandlot Elite Baseball in St. Louis, Missouri, Strickland also serves as a pro scout and Blast Baseball Ambassador.

As the director of the most tech-prominent and progressive baseball academy in the Midwest, Rick has accumulated a wealth of knowledge, insight and experience – while helping pro players and young hitters refine and enhance their approach and execution at the plate.

We already know the value of swing speed when it comes to hitting for power and average – as well as building overall confidence as a hitter. But what about the aspect of timing and efficiency?

We’re talking about time to contact. With Rick Strickland.

Part of the Puzzle

Just what is time to contact? We asked Strickland this question, and his answer was equally informative and interesting.

“Everybody’s looking at swing speed and efficiency,” Strickland told us. “One of the big things that we see is that most kids are in a race to see how quickly they can get to the ball – but one of the things we saw right off the bat is that they weren’t very efficient with their swing. They were getting to the ball quickly, but they weren’t in the zone long enough with their swing. They basically went with the bat down directly at the ball. Yes, we want to be quick to the ball, but we want to be quick in a fashion where the bat’s traveling through the zone the longest.”

Strickland says that at Sandlot Elite Baseball, this balance of speed and efficiency is vital to developing smart, successful hitters.

“We want to make sure the time to contact is paired to what your efficiency index is,” explained Strickland. “And all those things tie together. If time to contact is too slow or too fast, we start to look at the video and see if there are some things on the video that tell us what could be affecting that number. That’s how we look at time to contact. It’s a part of that big giant puzzle. It’s a metric that, once we figure out what that range of that player is, we’re always trying to move that needle forward and make them better and improve that number.”

Every Moment Matters

So just why is time to contact so important for hitters?

“It’s a measurement of how fast they can move some mass,” said Strickland. “You’ve got a situation where you want the ability to wait and process information as long as you can, but to also have the ability to take the bat and be able to move it in a correct path through the strike zone – as fast as you possibly can.”

According to Strickland, time to contact can be a misleading metric at times. Because it’s not just about how fast you get there – but the route you take to get there.

“It’s a race, of course, to see how fast you can move the bat through (the strike zone), with the longest possible distance you can move it through. But sometimes, you may see a good hitter who has a little bit slower time to contact – because of how long the bat stays in the strike zone. You may see a slower time to contact, but that means that bat’s traveling through the zone longer.”

Drill, Drill, Drill…

When it comes to looking closer at a hitter’s swing path – and identifying an ideal swing path – Strickland uses an analogy related to another physical activity.

“When your path with the barrel of your bat is not very efficient, it’s almost like instead of walking around the sidewalk, you’re cutting across the grass to get there. What we try to do is we try to get them to stay on the sidewalk as fast as they possibly can to get to the other side.”

When it comes to improving time to contact – and taking the right route to the other side – Strickland says that certain drills can add great value and accelerate development.

“You’ve got to focus on the bat path. The bat path is critical,” says Strickland. “If you put these guys in a contest to be quick to the ball, they’re going to competitively try to win that race every single time – but they’re probably not going to do it very efficiently. So you’ve got to attack it both ways. You’ve got to attack it by path, and you’ve got to attack it by quickness.”

In addition, Strickland believes good old-fashioned strength training must also always remain a top priority.

“The other thing is kids have to have strength,” said Strickland. “We do a lot of overload, underload type of activities with the swing, so we can build some strength, and the ability to move that bat as quick as they can.”

Ongoing Evolution

Developing a deeper understanding and “awareness” of metrics like time to contact is doing more than helping hitters raise their games – it’s also forcing the game of baseball to evolve and grow in new directions.

Strickland sees this as a positive development for hitters, coaches and instructors, because the more you know, the less you have to guess.

“We all played somewhere where people thought that you should hold your hands in this position or that position,” said Strickland. “All of that, the ‘guessing’, put us further away from what the truth was about the swing.”

Just the Facts
To really understand the swing, a developing hitter can use a variety of tips, tactics, training and tools. Few training tools available on the market today are as versatile and valuable as Blast’s Baseball 360.

By automatically clipping video in slow-motion, and overlaying the applicable metrics, the sensor and app help hitters analyze and improve upon key hitting metrics like time to contact.

“It takes the guessing out of it,” said Strickland. “Being able to know your time to contact, bat path, efficiency index – all the things that Blast puts into the sensor are extremely important. It really takes the guesswork out of it, and it becomes more fact-based teaching.”

To Strickland, you can’t beat objective metrics, evaluation and insight. Once you absorb the information, you can fine-tune the mechanics, efficiency and timing of your mechanics and swing. When all these pieces begin to fall into place, you start building a better hitter.

“The sensors actually tell us exactly what your body’s supposed to be doing. And when you know what the body’s capable of doing and what it should be doing, it’s easy to teach a kid or a player to swing the bat the way that he needs to swing it to be successful.”

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Baseball Swing Speed

September's theme for baseball is Swing Speed. We will be breaking down what swing speed is and the importance in this blog post.
We recently sat down with Blast Baseball Manager Justin Goltz and Blast Motion Lead Biomechanist/Algorithm Developer Patrick Cherveny to take an illuminating and in-depth look at a valuable and often misunderstood metric – softball and baseball bat swing speed.

As softball and baseball organizations of all levels continue to dive deeper into data analysis, swing speed stands out as one that many organizations and clubs have yet to truly tap into and benefit from.

Swing speed also happens to be a metric that Blast Motion is uniquely qualified to analyze. In addition to our standing as the official swing sensor of Major League Baseball, our top-performing technology was recently used to measure and display swing speed of players in the 2016 MLB All-Star Futures Game. During that game, won 11-3 by the World Futures Team, the swing speed of hitters from both teams was continuously displayed on the state-of-the-art video boards at PETCO Park in downtown San Diego.

THE VALUE OF SWING SPEED

Fans of baseball and attendees at MLB games are no doubt quite familiar with the pitch speed metric, which is frequently and prominently displayed both on stadiums’ video boards and during television broadcasts. Exit velocity (also known as batted ball speed) is also becoming a more commonly cited and displayed metric, especially since these speeds at which baseballs leave the hitters’ bats can exceed 100 miles per hour – always a captivating and almost “magic” number for sports fans.

But what about swing speed? Just how much value does it hold – and how does it correlate with more established “speed metrics” in baseball?

“The baseball world has gone to more relevant metrics,” said Cherveny. “It used to simply be batting average, now it’s more about exit velocity, because it takes some of the randomness out of it. If you hit a ball softly and it’s hit away from a player, you may get a hit. In another at bat you may hit it hard but right at a player resulting in an out. The reality is that the more frequently you hit the ball hard, the higher the probability of a successful outcome.”

In a way, it’s really rather simple. The harder you hit the ball, the more likely your chances of getting on base. And the faster you swing the bat, the quicker the ball will leave the bat upon contact.

“Swing speed’s a very important metric, because it ultimately determines how fast the ball’s going to come off the bat,” said Cherveny. “The faster that you swing, the more likely that you will achieve a higher exit velocity, which will more often result in successful outcomes. Major League Baseball has put an increased emphasis on exit velocity and launch angle as two primary metrics for assessing players, and that’s already filtered down to hitting coaches who work with younger players. There’s a big emphasis on trying to maximize exit velocity and launch angle. If you don’t have a high swing speed, you’re going to limit your ability to have a high exit velocity.”

JUST HOW FAST IS FAST?

Unlike exit velocity or pitch speed, swing speeds of elite baseball players don’t approach or exceed triple digits. In fact, truly superior swing speeds don’t even come close to reaching 100 miles per hour – at least not if you’re measuring them the “right” way.

“We can confidently say that in-game swing speeds in the 90s or 100s aren’t really humanly possible,” said Goltz. “With some of the data we collected, we see in-game swing speeds in the 65- to 85-miles-per-hour speeds for some of the top professionals in baseball.”

According to Cherveny, the average swing speed in Major League Baseball games is around 70 miles per hour. That might not sound like a lot, but once you understand more about the dynamics behind the metrics, it starts to become pretty impressive.

“We see some swing speeds where people claim that you get into the 90s,” added Cherveny. “That would make sense if it’s at the end of the bat, but if you hit it at the end of the bat, it’s not going to travel as far because some of the energy is lost in the bat’s vibration. So that kind of a swing speed is essentially ‘false.’ Swing speed it dependent on where you’re measuring on the bat. In order to maximize quality of contact, the best hitters want to hit the ball in the “sweet spot” of the bat.

HITTING THE SWEET SPOT

Just as the casual sports fan may be misled about the nature and rate of swing speed, there is likely a good bit of confusion and illusion when it comes to the exact nature of the infamous “sweet spot” on a softball or baseball bat. Cherveny shared more fascinating and illuminating details regarding this renowned but misunderstood sporting hot spot. You might call it the “sweet science” of the swing.

“As a player swings the bat in a rotational arc, the further that you get down the radial length of the bat, the higher the swing speed,” said Cherveny. “So the speed at the hands will be much slower than the speed at the tip of the bat – and where you’re actually measuring is important in terms of what the measurable swing speed is.

“We measure at what’s called the ‘sweet spot.’ We define this is as a point six inches from the end of the bat. The sweet spot is actually defined as the point where the ball will release with the maximum amount of energy to the ball. Scientifically, this is the region in the bat between the first and second bending modes of vibration, which results in very small vibrational modes on impact in this region.

In truth, said Cherveny, the “sweet spot” on your bat isn’t really a spot at all.

“That’s where the best hitters want to make contact, that “sweet spot,” but in reality, it’s not a spot,” said Cherveny. “It’s actually an area along the bat that’s approximately
two inches in length. You can make contact anywhere along that area, and the ball will rebound and come off as fast as possible.”

Even along that “hit zone,” however, every inch matters. In fact, you might be surprised just how much an inch or two can mean, speed-wise.

“Let’s say that at an average Major League Baseball swing is 70 miles per hour, if you hit an inch further towards the hands from that sweet spot, you could lose 2.5
miles per hour,” explained Cherveny. “If you hit an inch further down the bat, it could be an additional 2.5 miles per hour. So you’re looking at around a 5 mile per hour
difference in the sweet spot or sweet zone of the bat, depending on where you hit it.”

MOVING ON UP…

It’s one thing for a young MLB star like Carlos Correa or Mike Trout to whip his bat through the hitting zone with a 75- or 80-mile-per-hour swing speed. But what about even younger, lower-level players?

“At the Little League level, the average swing speed is around 45 to 55 miles per hour,” said Goltz. “For senior league, we’re talking high 40s to maybe low 60s. High school, mid-50s to mid 70s. College and pro, mid-60s to maybe mid-80s. Those are the ranges and averages, but there are a few factors, including the bat size and age, that would affect swing speed.”

“There’s a lot of variables, but the biggest one is just the strength of the athlete,” added Cherveny. “With a more rotational swing, you could have a younger player that could actually move up into a higher swing speed class, but that gets down to the efficiency of the swing. Somebody who has a very rotationally efficient swing can generally produce higher swing speeds than somebody who doesn’t. So you can easily see kids in travel or high school baseball, 15 to 18 years old, who have swing speeds approaching the 80s. We see it all the time, especially working with trainers in batting cages where kids are developing the intent to hit the ball as hard as possible. This is especially true in use cases of tee and drill work where players don’t have to worry about pitch speed and movement.”

One might wonder if swing speed is a metric that’s really even that important for a college, high school or youth travel baseball player. According to Cherveny, swing speed is a very important metric in today’s baseball world. It’s also one that stands to become even more vital (and valued) as the game continues to advance.

“There’s a big emphasis on exit velocity,” added Cherveny. “And as you move up the baseball ladder, swing speed will always be important – not only from how far you can ultimately hit it, but to get playing time at the high school level, to getting recognized and identified for scholarships, and to move up through the minor league system. It’s always going to be a swing-speed dependent game.

“The intent to be able to swing fast is something that young hitters need to have, so that the motor skills become ingrained and they can do it repeatedly. So that when they get to the game situation, they have the ability to actually produce a high swing speed.”

WHAT BLAST DOES BEST

Baseball and softball are difficult and challenging sports. They are also games where mere inches frequently mean the difference between success and failure; hits and outs; wins and losses. Just as it’s important for a hitter to constantly practice and fine-tune his or her swing, it’s vital for Goltz, Cherveny and the entire Blast Baseball team to continually test, tinker, experiment, evolve and practice.

Practice makes perfect. Or something close to it.

“We do a lot of work on accuracy testing, because of the importance of it to today’s game,” said Cherveny. “When you’re trying to actually fuse player input data such as swing speed with ball output system technologies, you have to have confidence in the accuracy of the underlying data. So we do a lot of internal accuracy testing.”

Cherveny explained that a lot of that internal work and testing for maximizing accuracy involves motion-capture technology tools – using reflective markers that are placed on the bat, much as the Blast swing sensor itself is.

“We can then compare directly between our sensor and the motion-capture data for a particular swing for any type of swing across different levels,” said Cherveny. “But we go beyond that in our internal testing for checking the accuracy of our algorithms. We not only look at the speed at impact, but we also look at the build-up of speed throughout the swing too.”

It’s not just internal testing and evaluation that helps the Blast Baseball team fine-tune its swing sensor and out-hit the competition. In fact, a recent external, third-party validation test verified the rarified and repeated level of excellence achieved by the Blast swing sensor.

The test compared the swing sensors of Blast with those of competitors Diamond Kinetics and Zepp. It was conducted by the Center of Human Performance in San Diego, and was overseen by the center’s director, Arnel Aguinaldo. Blast came out on top in several categories, including lowest margin of error (a swing speed average deviation of 3 mph, compared to 5 mph for Diamond Kinetics and 7 mph for Zepp).

“They used our sensor, the Zepp sensor and the Diamond Kinetics sensor, and had players swing in the batting cage to compare it to motion-capture data,” explained Cherveny. “And what they found verified what we have found in our internal testing, that we are the most accurate – 95 percent of our swings fall within plus or minus three miles per hour. We’ve heard from other external parties that have done their own testing and they have also validated these results.”

The test not only showed that the Diamond Kinetics app was not as consistent as Blast in detecting swing readings, but setup time for Diamond Kinetics took between five and 10 minutes – compared to an average setup time of just 90 seconds for the Blast swing sensor and companion app. More importantly, Blast implements a dynamic calibration that allows the hitter to just grab the bat and swing away with no laboratory-like static calibrations prior to each swing. Thus, the batter can use their natural swing style to produce the highest swing speeds possible, which is important for both player assessment and development.

“Blast’s accuracy and ability to not disrupt an athlete’s or coach’s natural routine gives us the best swing sensor solution available on the market,” said Goltz. “We take great pride in the accuracy of the information and data we provide to teams and their players – including MLB clubs.”