Tech­nolo­gies aid Fly­ing Squir­rels

Pitch­ing mon­i­tor, swing an­a­lyzer pro­vide more data

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS2 - BY JOHN O’CONNOR jo­con­nor@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6233 @RTDjohno­con­nor

For many years, the scene in the Rich­mond Fly­ing Squir­rels’ club­house an hour be­fore a game has been the same: play­ers sit­ting in their lock­ers, fo­cused on their phones.

That hasn’t changed. But this sea­son, the phones may be help­ing im­prove bat­ters’ swings and pitch­ers’ de­liv­er­ies.

The San Fran­cisco Giants’ mi­nor lea­guers are in their first year of us­ing new tech­nol­ogy sup­plied by the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Blast Base­ball Swing An­a­lyzer and the Rap­sodo Pitch­ing Mon­i­tor.

The Rap­sodo sys­tem in­volves a sen­sor held near pitch­ers as they go through after­noon bullpen ses­sions. For all va­ri­eties of pitches, ve­loc­ity, spin rate, spin axis and hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal break are measured. After each de­liv­ery, through phones or iPads, pitch­ers re­ceive data that in­vites in­stant ad­just­ments or ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

Later, a pitcher can re­view the en­tire ses­sion by him­self, or with a team­mate or coach.

The Blast Base­ball Swing An­a­lyzer pack­age in­cludes sen­sors that at­tach to bat knobs. That sen­sor gauges bat speed, hand speed, bat an­gle, time to con­tact and other fac­tors. The Squir­rels’ hit­ters use the sys­tem dur­ing bat­ting prac­tice and in drills and im­me­di­ately see re­sults on their phones, or ob­serve re­sults later with a hit­ting coach.

“What I like to look at is how many times I’m squar­ing up a base­ball,” said Squir­rels out­fielder Dy­lan Davis, re­fer­ring to the de­sired con­tact that re­sults from the bar­rel’s fat­test sec­tion driv­ing the ball. “It takes that into ac­count, which is ben­e­fi­cial to me when I use it.”

Davis ac­knowl­edged that with­out any tech­no­log­i­cal as­sis­tance, hit­ters ap­pre­ci­ate when con­tact is solid, “but is it off by a quar­ter of an inch?” he said. “You get that, ver­sus just how it’s feel­ing. You can break it down like that. It’s all good in­for­ma­tion.”

Davis and other Squir­rels also uti­lize the swing an­a­lyzer when they’re hit­ting balls flipped to them dur­ing work in the in­door bat­ting cage.

“If there’s one day when I feel like there’s some­thing kind of off, I’ll take a look at the [read­out] and see if it can help me pin­point ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing, whether it be I’m get­ting too steep, whether I’m get­ting too loopy, if I’m go­ing around the ball, that kind of thing,” Davis said.

The Giants’ player de­vel­op­ment staff goes over data pro­vided by the swing an­a­lyzer and the pitch­ing mon­i­tor, with the goal of learn­ing more about strengths and weak­nesses of their farmhands.

“I think with the tech­nol­ogy these days, that’s a great tool to get feed­back on your bat an­gles and other stuff,” Fran­cisco Mo­rales, the Squir­rels’ hit­ting coach, said of the swing an­a­lyzer. “Good data.”

A cas­ing sur­rounds the sen­sor and at­taches it to the bat knob, which causes a bat­ter’s grip to “feel a lit­tle weird,” Davis said.

For this rea­son, the Squir­rels gen­er­ally do not keep FLY­ING SQUIR­RELS 3, PORT­LAND 0

Thurs­day: Port­land at Rich­mond, 6:35 p.m.

Ra­dio: 910, 6:05

On­line: See more pho­tos from the game at Rich­mond.com. sen­sors on their bats dur­ing games, though Davis thinks he has no­ticed that some hit­ters from other Eastern League teams had sen­sors at­tached to bats dur­ing games.

The knob sen­sors are kept in a suit­case-look­ing charg­ing sta­tion in the Squir­rels’ club­house.

Miguel Gomez and Jerry Sands, two Squir­rels with big league ex­pe­ri­ence, hit back-to-back homers in the first in­ning to power Rich­mond by Port­land 3-0 be­fore 3,827 at The Di­a­mond on Wed­nes­day night. The Gomez shot to right came with a run­ner aboard.

Four Squir­rels pitch­ers com­bined to strike out 16, es­tab­lish­ing the team’s sea­son high. The fran­chise record is 18.

Notes: When the three­game series in­volv­ing the Squir­rels and Port­land (Bos­ton Red Sox) at The Di­a­mond con­cludes Thurs­day evening at 6:35, righty Shaun An­der­son will see many fa­mil­iar faces.

An­der­son, Rich­mond’s starter, came to the San Fran­cisco sys­tem last July 26, when the Red Sox sent An­der­son and an­other pitcher to the Giants in ex­change for big league in­fielder Ed­uardo Nunez. An­der­son was Bos­ton’s third-round pick in 2016, out of the Univer­sity of Florida. As a Squir­rel, he is 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA.

This is the first series this sea­son Rich­mond and Port­land have met.

For­mer James Madi­son out­fielder Johnny Bladel (last year as a Duke was 2013) was in Port­land’s lineup for Wed­nes­day’s game. Bos­ton re­cently ac­quired Bladel, who’s from Ash­burn, from an in­de­pen­dent league.

ALEXA WELCH ED­LUND/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Squir­rels short­stop C.J. Hinojosa pre­pares to tag Port­land’s Jhon Nunez in Rich­mond’s 3-0 vic­tory.

ALEXA WELCH ED­LUND/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Mike Con­nolly and three Squir­rels pitch­ers com­bined to strike out 16 bat­ters.

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