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Science & Technology

Carlsbad Company Clocks Major League Baseball Swings

Blast Motion's logo shown on a display case at the company's Carlsbad facility, June 1, 2016.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Blast Motion's logo shown on a display case at the company's Carlsbad facility, June 1, 2016.
Carlsbad Company Clocks Major League Baseball Swings
Carlsbad Company Clocks Major League Baseball Swings
Baseball is embracing new technology, and Blast Motion's bat sensor is stepping up to the plate.

Before the 2016 season, Major League Baseball announced the approval of a pair of bat sensors. More recently the MLB said its official bat sensor technology would be the one created by Carlsbad-based Blast Motion.

In sports, motion sensors track the motion and speed of a swing or any other kind of movement. Blast Motion doesn’t just make sensors for baseball, it offers products for golf, basketball and athletic performance in general.

Michael Bentley is the founder of Blast Motion. He grew up fixing and racing bikes but soon moved his attention to golf.

“I raced for many years. I kind of stopped racing when I was 18 years old and really got into golf and started playing at a high level," Bentley said. "I was lucky enough to play in college, then play professional around the world. I was always intrigued with the mechanics side and how do I improve my game.”

Michael Bentley, founder of Blast Motion,  June 1, 2016.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Michael Bentley, founder of Blast Motion, June 1, 2016.

That curiosity led Bentley to create the swing analyzer. Although his company wasn’t officially launched until 2011, Bentley had been developing the technology since the 1980s.

“The goal was — how do we get the sensor small enough so that we can put it on a golf club?" Bentley said. "So in early 2000 we created a sensor. But it was about the size of a Go-Pro camera and we couldn’t put it on the golf club because it was too heavy. We could put it on the (person's) body and get a lot of great data, but we wanted to understand what that golf club is doing.”

In its current version, the sensor is about the size of a quarter and weighs a few grams. Hardly noticeable. The smaller sensor led to interest from PGA tour players.

In April, Major League Baseball announced Blast Motion’s swing analyzer would be allowed for use during batting practice and warmups.

Justin Goltz, baseball channel manager at Blast Motion, works at his desk, June 1, 2016.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Justin Goltz, baseball channel manager at Blast Motion, works at his desk, June 1, 2016.

Justin Goltz is the baseball channel manager at Blast. He said the swing analyzer fills the gap between pre- and post-pitch data.

“The missing kind of piece to the equation was the swing and that’s what Blast brings to the table," Goltz said. "It’s all the pre-impact metrics that can be paired with the pitch data coming in, and the post-impact metrics going out.”

The sensor measures four different metrics: swing speed, time to contact, direction and power in the form of a blast score.

Blast Motion's swing analyzer (right) is synced via bluetooth to a phone providing real-time metrics, June 1, 2016.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Blast Motion's swing analyzer (right) is synced via bluetooth to a phone providing real-time metrics, June 1, 2016.

Now that Blast Motion has the MLB's official bat sensor technology the company is working with multiple clubs.

“Teams are using it for various reasons. Some have very in-depth analytics departments and personnel that are using it for data on the back end," Goltz said. "For other teams it’s their sports technology teams, and then some have even dove into using the swing analyzer for medical reasons.”

But what about average everyday consumers? Blast follows a top-down style of marketing.

“When you’re working with Major League Baseball and your data and sensor is accurate enough to capture the traits that they’re looking for, going forward that should trickle down to the NCAA schools, the elite high schools, elite travel-ball teams and then down to the everyday consumer,” Goltz said.

John Peabody, a former baseball player in the Pittsburg Pirates farm system, owns Peabody Baseball. In addition to his coaching business, Peabody coaches for the San Diego Show baseball program and is the varsity coach for Santa Fe Christian high school.

“Just to kind of throw the sensor or the video aspect into the training, it’s different. It’s a new flavor so the kids are a little motivated by it,” Peabody said.

John Peabody (left) helps a player with his swing,  June 9, 2016.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
John Peabody (left) helps a player with his swing, June 9, 2016.

He said the sensor is changing coaching.

“Us, as coaches, are always trying ways to figure out how to create the perfect swing, how to create the fastest swing, how to create the most powerful swing," Peabody said. "Instead of just using the sound of the bat — I think that was kind of the big thing; 'if it sounds loud then I hit it hard' and I still believe in that. But I want to know some facts behind the loud sounds.”

As of right now, swing analyzers are restricted to only warmups and batting practice. Bentley said that’s going to change.

“We’re going to see it in game," Bentley said. "Eventually the technology will disappear, it’s getting smaller and smaller."

Blast Motion partnered with sporting goods manufacturer Easton Sports to build the baseball swing analyzer. In its new partnership with Major League Baseball, swing data will start to be included in some TV game broadcasts. The first will be the All-Stars Future game on July 10.