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Mike Trout's new Smart Bat is going to impact baseball in a BIG way

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We know the young man, Mike Trout. We also know what happens to the ball when the young man hits it and can measure it with the oldest of baseball statistics or the newest, demonstrating he is, indeed,  on track to be one of the all-time greats.

So for something new, this is a story about his bat: Old Hickory (the same company he’s been using since high school), 33.5" long, 31.5 oz., black barrel, rock maple, unfinished handle with a cup on the end.

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OK, so that’s not really news either, but Sunday in Tempe, to the fear of MLB pitchers, Mike Trout’s bat just got smarter. In partnership with Old Hickory (a Top 5 supplier of bats to MLB players) and Zepp Labs, the first smart bat was formally introduced at a press conference and demo that Halos Heaven was invited to. Also for the first time, Mike had a chance to show the smart bat off in the batting cage with his team mates while taking live batting practice. Backing up in time, there is some previous history here. I already mentioned Mike has been using Old Hickory bats since high school. In 2014, Trout teamed up with Zepp to use their 3D Swing Analyzer to capture the data needed to constantly improve his swing. At the time, the bat and sensor were two separate parts, the sensor attached to the knob of the bat with a mount, to provide Trout with the best tools for performance - until now.

In late 2015, Trout and the two companies discussed the natural next step: the digitization of sports through the integration of the sensor into a game-day bat. "Introducing a Smart Bat is a big moment for the game," said Mike Trout. "Having Zepp combined with my signature bat will help give me an edge. I’m always looking to improve my swing and have consistency throughout the season."

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The Zepp sensor itself is currently a prototype, but both it and the bat will be released to the public in June at a reasonable price point. The new modification in the Old Hickory wood bat is a 30.8 mm by 28 mm cavity in the knob to house the removable sensor. The versatility allows athletes to charge their Zepp sensor in or out of the bat that is easily removed and locked into place with a turn of the magnetic charger. The sensor itself is an ARM processor with Bluetooth communication and includes dual accelerometers and a 3-axis gyroscope and while over 1000 data points are available for a swing, this ties into Zepp’s software app that can be installed on any Apple or Android device, and they have boiled the software interface down into five simple metrics: Bat Speed Impact, Hand Speed Max, Time to Impact, Attack Angle, and Bat Vertical Angle.

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Covering the Arizona beat, I had a chance to attend the introduction demo and ask Mike a few questions for HH. Before Mike showed up, we received the introduction from the Zepp and Old Hickory representatives, introducing the partnership and talking about the sensor and potential impact to the game we love. Before the event even kicked off, I got a cool tidbit on why Trout’s partnership with Zepp developed. Quite frankly, they saw he literally had the most ideal and consistent swing in the game. When talking to a Zepp rep on Mike's skill-set, the first words were "He’s a freak", implying his swing was so consistent, and had the most ideal angle, and that his short, quick stroke we often hear about is absolutely quantifiable and indeed one of the fastest in time to impact  game, especially for a player his size.

While we worship all things Trout here in the Halosphere, the bigger story is the future impact to the game itself, starting at the lowest levels when kids simultaneously pick up a baseball bat and their smart phone at a young age. From that moment on, they and their coaches will have tools that we never could have dreamed about 10 years ago. They can analyze their swing like a pro and compare theirs real-time to some of the games’ best hitters (besides Trout, others that are on the Zepp team and in there software interface include Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Hunter Pence and Josh Donaldson). This smart bat has already been approved for in game use at the amateur level in two organizations, Perfect Game USA and Ripken Baseball. According to Pat Nicholson of Zepp, we could easily see this product and data in the Show within five years, and an interesting aside was that this was one of the subjects at the Winter Meetings this December. To be sure, the real market for the smart bat is in player development of kids at all levels and scouting when things get more serious.

After about 15 minutes, Mike showed up and immediately started off with a demo in the batting cage where we could watch his results real-time with a monitor they set up for each swing.

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Most pitches come in at a +5 or +6 degree downward angle. Even going back to Ted Williams, the goal was to stay in the hitting zone as long as possible. Having a downward swing, (negative angle) will put the batter at a heavy disadvantage.  The best players have an slight upper cut, +10 to +12 degrees (a line drive swing), or up to a HR swing like Stanton, which might be +20-25 degrees.

A few times during the demo after a cut, Mike stopped to look at the results himself on the monitor. Ideally, that quick stroke for him results in a time to impact of .125 seconds. Once, Mike noted that he felt he was a little long on one swing, checked the data, and yep, he was close to 0.150 seconds. Yeah, dude could tell he was .025 seconds slower. Let that minuscule time frame sink in the kind of skills Trouty has ingrained! Additionally, he shoots for that line drive swing, +12 degrees.

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After the batting cage demo, Trouty sat down to talk about the integration of the product and what it meant for the game. He reiterated the biggest emphasis and market for this is the younger players in development.

We then had a chance for some Q& A. First, I queried Mike on how he was using it to make his swing better. He stated he wasn’t necessarily trying to make it "better", i.e., he wasn’t trying to improve his bat speed or optimize the impact angle.  Exactly – why mess with the fundamentals of a swing that has already put him on track to be the best of all-time and produce such incredible results four years in a row?  Mike said he basically was using it just to monitor and maintain his consistency, swing after swing. It was about making sure his attack angle was +10 to +12(a line drive swing) and time to impact, the short quick swing we often here about, where his baseline is about .125 seconds. We certainly can see the results in OPS+, WAR, and any other batting metric you want to use, but remarkably (or maybe not so remarkable), there is raw bat physics data that backs up why he has the those outstanding numbers: he has the best and most consistent swing in the game! Trout said he doesn’t really try to adjust his angle or speed based on the pitch, pitcher, or situation. He tries to maintain that consistency no matter what the pitch. In conjunction, he knows the zone where his swing best interfaces with a pitch, whether it be a fastball, has movement, or location: his "kill zone", if you will. Knowing this zone and his own swing helps him lay off pitches that don’t fit his profile. Having the knowledge of his swing and that quick swing, allows him to make "better choices and wait longer". He is able to lay off pitches that don’t work within his hitting zone.

He brings that same discipline to just a batting cage environment; he won’t swing at bad pitches in the cage for instance so as not to develop bad habits.

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The main thing the smart bat helps batters at the most elite level is a steady feedback process to get their swing as consistent and ideal as possible for the individual. Makes sense - they’ve already demonstrated an ability to hit the ball to get this far already. For instance, Trouty might take twenty swings in the morning off a tee and aims to have ALL 20 match his ideal profile; he’s not trying to improve his bat swing, like time to impact nor try different attack angles.

While he’d been working in development with Zepp this winter, today was the first day he brought it out to show his team mates, and as expected, the guys were curious and a little competition started up between Trout, C.J. Cron, Craig Gentry, Daniel Nava, and Kole Calhoun. I tried to get a sense of the outcome, but the only thing I got was what we’d guess – Trout quantifiably had the best swing, stating he had to maintain his place at the top of the hill. He mentioned it was still early in the Spring, so the guys weren’t going to go all out but just seeing this new gear will quickly move it mainstream across MLB and my belief is that we’re already passed the ‘early adopter’ stage.

It was amazing to see and hear what a craftsman Mike is with his bat and his intrigue with the feedback that he was being given. For one, he stated he could tell with one swing if he liked a bat or not, i.e. how well-balanced it was. That’s what made the Zepp sensor in the knob all the more remarkable in that Mike stated there was no difference from his normal bat. Zepp admitted if this device interfered at all with the feel and balance of a live bat, the "project would be dead in the water". There were several moments that had me awestruck – Mike has the quickest swing in the game as I mentioned: 0.125 seconds to impact. On one swing, Trout knew his swing was ‘a little long’ and quickly checked the monitor. Yeah, longer meant 0.15 seconds to impact  - Trout could tell the difference of .025 seconds. The other part was how Mike would take a swing in the cage, and then immediately would go over and check the data.

The best use of Zepp’s smart bat sensor isn’t the pro players, though know there swing pretty much and have already demonstrated an aptitude to hit the ball to get them to this level. Where Zepp’s impact will be is with the kids, whose swings are not consistent nor have the ideal attack angle or speed. Now, kids can try to match Mike’s swing (or several other pros) and then try to reproduce it. It’s great for coaching as it makes things easier and ignites a passion. Instead of trying to describe an ideal swing, a coach and player together can offer quantifiable feedback real-time and their swing can be modeled and compared to their idols, the best in the games. The other big impact is scouting hitters. They’ll get real-time looks at the players who quantifiably have the most ideal swings – quick hands, reproducible, and a nice attack angle.

Mike Trout is the future of baseball, so it's only fitting that he get behind the future of baseball bats. Zepp and Old Hickory seemed to have really stepped up to the challenge, and with this premier of their new tech, it's exciting to anticipate the impact it will have on the game...with Mike Trout leading the way, of course.




(I took a lot of pics, and even some video, so head on over to the Flickr link to check it out)