Virtual reality isn’t just a game. It isn’t just entertainment. The minds behind TrinityVR’s DiamondFX system have given virtual reality real heft in data collecting, data generation and training.
The VR platform uses proprietary physics-based calculations to turn multiple-source pitching data into realistic hitting scenarios. It is currently in beta use by three big league teams and ready for a full June commercial roll-out that the owners hope will see it expand across Major League Baseball and eventually into colleges and youth leagues.
Teams can employ those simulations to help train batters in pitch recognition, collect virtual data on young hitters facing big league arms or even have top-level batters prep for the evening’s game, as the Mariners’ Dee Gordon does. These are all aspects of a system that has evolved throughout the beta testing process since its debut at the 2016 Winter Meetings.
“We are unlocking the value to figure out how to better train and test players across some key sports science dimensions,” co-founder Julian Volyn said. Whether cognitive, vision, perception or motor, the crux of the platform takes a sports science tool that simply happens to be in VR to deliver tests and exercises.
“VR is a great vehicle. What we capture can be more measurable. It allows us to track where a player is looking, track motor inputs,” Volyn said. “VR is a great platform to do all these things and it minimizes the gap between the simulation and the physical environment.”
Using a VR headset, TrinityVR offers high-fidelity 3D full-pitch trajectory with ball flight and spin that features the closest thing, Volyn said, to the real pitch. Expect to see the entire ball flight and moving laces, making pitch recognition the most popular training aspect of the system.
“The hypothesis is if you are able to train your pitch recognition skills, identify pitch type and location, you will see better results at the plate,” Volyn said.
The platform allows players to test skills, measure reaction speeds and test vision skills. Organizations use those tests to create player profiles and benchmarks.
Co-founder Rahat Ahmed said the system turns from not just a testing and evaluation tool, but also a training tool, allowing hitters to take unlimited swings off the toughest pitchers in the game. And all the while the hitter takes those swings, DiamondFX builds new data for the organization with metrics such as swing speed, exit velocity and more, even in a virtual scenario. Where else will a Class A player have the opportunity to face the biggest-name pitchers in the majors? And hundreds of times?
The data that players develop virtually gives sports science directors insight needed to identify which young players have the greatest big league potential.
Since MLB testing started in September 2017, Volyn said they have seen some teams use the system in the Dominican Republic to promote players based on simulation results, giving depth to the scouting and talent identification ability of the platform. “You are covering some of those blind spots,” he said. “It is empowering analytics to look and have a broader view of an organization and players within it.”
While TrinityVR tests, evaluates and trains, it collects data that each organization can use as it likes. Maybe a coach sees a deficiency in a player that needs improvement. Maybe they see positives that should be explored. “(Teams) want data, want a lot of it and want data to tell them new things,” Volyn said. “We believe TrinityVR shows new insights, not just game performance, but training data and simulation data, which we anticipate being highly correlated to the on-field performance.”
Through DiamondFX, coaches can create their own simulations, whether having one player work against lefthanders or another face a pitcher with a propensity for a difficult curveball. With that, Ahmed said organizations have already started using DiamondFX completely differently. Some want to measure one player over time to see improvement in pitch recognition. Another wants to create norms for groups of athletes by level. Others have seen pitchers use the platform to analyze their own pitches, especially against batters they have struggled against.
Gordon, who won the NL batting title in 2015, uses TrinityVR consistently, logging into the system on game day to simulate at-bats against the pitcher he will face that night.
“We have this abundance of data that’s never been utilized this way before,” Ahmed said. “The teams that have the foresight to jump in first will have a sizable edge.”