L-3 engineers a high-tech approach to pitching

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L-3 engineers a high-tech approach to pitching

CHICAGO - Defense contractor L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. is touting a new instructional pitching system it hopes catches on with Major League and college baseball coaches.

L-3, a $15.6 billion company better known as one of the Pentagon’s top suppliers, announced on Wednesday the launch of PitchSight, a system designed to help baseball coaches evaluate pitches in real time and determine where adjustment is needed.

“We had a neat piece of technology here and there was a broader application and broader market,” Kenneth Riddle, director of business development for L-3’s aerospace electronics division, said in a telephone interview.

“Having a little bit of commercial business in addition to the government work is something worth doing,” he added. “For us, if this turned out to be a couple million dollar business every year, that’s something we’d be interested in.”

The product provides good branding and better profit margins than L-3’s traditional defense business for the aerospace electronics division, a small part of L-3’s $3.1 billion signals and communications intelligence defense systems group, Riddle said.

PitchSight is based on L-3’s missile-tracking technology that was used in QuesTec’s umpire rating system for nearly a decade by Major League Baseball, until this season. The system costs $30,000 and consists of two high-speed cameras, a wireless server, a laptop and proprietary software that Riddle calls “the secret sauce.”

The system provides in a graphical format a five-point analysis of pitching mechanics - the ball’s release point, speed, location, release angle, and the spin velocity and angle of the ball, the company said. Users can compare sessions, pitchers and pitch types.

“It’s easy to use,” Riddle said. “We didn’t design it so that the poor pitching coach had to be an engineer.”

The company hired former Atlanta Braves all-star pitcher Tom Glavine to help sell to potential clients in MLB, including the minor leagues, as well as top college programs and sports academies.

“Even with video, you don’t get instantaneous feedback. With this, there’s no guesswork. There’s no mistaking what the data is telling you on every pitch,” said Glavine, who won 305 games and two Cy Young awards as his league’s top pitcher before retiring. Glavine acknowledged, however, that baseball coaches and players tend to be resistant to new technology.

Boston College head baseball coach Mik Aoki, whose program has been testing the system since the beginning of the year, said the system is a valuable tool but said its price could be prohibitive for many college programs. He plans to raise funds for it, however.

Riddle said the company is exploring whether to lease the system for programs which find it too pricey. He said L-3 will focus on baseball to start, but the technology could be used to track anything that’s moving, including a tennis ball.

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