Simulating at-bats against professional MLB pitchers using VR.
2019 marks the first season in which the Los Angeles Dodgers are fully integrating VR technology into their official training curriculum, signaling a new era in professional-level athletic training.
The VR training system, developed by immersive training provider WIN Reality, offers professional ballplayers an immersive—yet cost-effective—VR batting practice experience that uses CG images, live-action video, and data-driven models to create a detailed simulation of an opposing pitchers performance down to their release point, velocity, and movement of pitches.
“It just adds to the familiarity [at the plate],” said manager Dave Roberts during an interview with the LA Times. “It’s not really taking the swing, it’s just more seeing where the ball comes out of, the flight, the lane the ball is getting to home plate.”
Dodgers rookie Matt Beaty used the technology recently in preparation for their match against the New York Mets. After some minor data input and configuration, Beaty was able to train against a near-identical replication of Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard and familiarize himself with the player’s specific style.
“Just seeing how his heater moved, obviously that was really hard,” said Beaty. “Just picking it up, seeing it [in the VR session beforehand], it was pretty accurate.”
After strapping into an HTC Vive Pro headset located in a dedicated 12-by-15 foot VR space inside the Dodgers weight room, players are handed a miniature bat equipped with a small button they can trigger to initiate a swing. The system provides a plethora of information regarding each pitch, including speed, location, and a variety of other critical information that can help players better prepare for specific players.
“The idea that [hitters] can get 10 at-bats against us before they get in the box for the day feels like an advantage for them,” added Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling. “It looks like a video game — but a really good video game.”
”I don’t think there’s a right way, an optimized way” to use it, said Chris O’Dowd, co-founder of WIN Reality and former minor league catcher. “It’s more about: What is the specific player looking to take away from the experience?”
Since the introduction of the technology several months back, members of the team have shown a varied interest in the bold new training solution. Some players, such as Corey Seager and A.J. Pollock, have fully implemented the system into their training programs, while others have approached the technology on more of a case-by-case basis, with some still preferring old-school video study.
“I like the fact that it can help with your timing and give you a little bit of feedback on what the pitcher’s pitches are doing,” claims Russell Martin. However, “you’re not seeing a real baseball. It’s like a dot. I’d really like to see the seams and the rotation of the ball.”
Regardless of the current quality of the experience, WIN Reality is steadily gaining the attention of major organizations looking for the next big step in professional athletic training. By offering teams one of the first dedicated—yet entirely portable—VR systems capable of simulating opposing player performances, the company could very well become the go-to provider of immersive batting training.
Featured Image Credit: WIN Reality