Pitch Movement, Part IV: Tunnel Vision

June 25, 2020 • Training

About a week ago, I was inspired to add another entry to the Pitch Movement series. The inspiration was this pair of tweets:

What's particularly great about the videos from Hughes is that the shots are aligned nearly perfectly with the initial trajectory of his pitches and give a great view of the pitch's initial spin (when not overlayed with other pitches). The stationary perspective also lends itself incredibly well to release comparisons and pitch tunneling overlays.

Smith's tweet seemed like a pretty obvious signal to me, so I reached out to Hughes to provide the details for a blog post aimed at helping other pitchers produce their own pitch trajectory overlay videos. He did not disappoint.

What follows is a blogified version of the notes he provided. Those source notes are the result of a collaborative effort by Smith, Hughes, Connor Hinchliffe (@conhinch), and Andrew Smith (@roo1776).

SETUP

The basics of the setup are not hard to understand: get a high-speed video camea, put it on a tall tripod, put the tripod in the right spot, and aim it at the center of the strike zone.

To select an appropriate camera, you need to figure out what you already have, your desired frame rate, and your budget. Hughes uses the Sony RX100 VI digital camera and records at 960 frames per second (fps), but that isn't likely in your budget unless you've played in the bigs, too.

240 fps – roughly 8x slow-motion – might be enough for your needs, and if it is, the GoPro HERO8 might be a better fit for your budget.

Before you go out and buy a camera, check out what your phone or existing digital camera is capable of. You might be surprised. For example, almost every iPhone model can easily record at 120 fps, but certain iPhone 8 and newer models that default to 120 fps for slow motion are capable of 240 fps at Full HD 1080p resolution with a small settings adjustment.

At 240 fps, a video of a 90 MPH pitch from release to the plate is about 3.2 seconds in length. I think most applications of slow-motion video would be fine in the 400-500 fps range which would produce a 6-7 second video. Unfortunately, there aren't many mid-range high-speed cameras out there. 120 fps and 240 fps options are aplenty, but above that, you're looking at 960+ fps cameras that are all quite pricey.

240 fps should provide decent but not ideal results, and with the right editing tools, the playback speed can be adjusted to slow it down – at the cost, of course, of fine detail. If there's another argument to make for lower frame rates, it's that higher frame rates produce longer videos that require extra storage and take longer to process.

Once you've got your camera, you're going to need to get a tall tripod. Compared to the cost of the camera, this won't be expensive, but your standard $25 basic model won't cut it. Since you will need it to look down at the strike zone through your release point, it will need to be pretty tall or elevated on a sturdy surface.

With the camera on the tripod, you'll need to work out the exact location to get the shot lined up with the pitch trajectory. You will need to take some test shots, so I recommend using the standard frame rate during this step. When you find the exact right spot and height, mark it or measure it to save time spent setting up for your next session.

Hughes has a pretty low 5' 6" vertical release height, and after adjusting for breathing room – you won't want the camera crowding you or getting knocked over by a stray limb – his ideal camera height is 7' 1". He also warns that windy days can be trouble for tall tripods.

The tripod will be wide to your arm-side to create the correct angle for the video and, again, far enough away from you so that neither your arm swing nor your back leg hit it. The final position is going to seem far away and really high, but that's where it needs to be to line up the tunnel.

RECORDING

Touch the camera as little as possible once it is in the recording position. If possible, only touch it to start and stop recording. Additional touching runs the risk of unintentional camera movement. If you're feeling fancy, you might be able to find a remote control or trigger to start and stop recording so you don't have to touch the camera at all. If you go the GoPro route, some of their models accept voice commands.

Extremely flexible and/or aggressive pitchers may struggle with the back foot blocking the camera during follow-through. There isn't a good way to deal with this, unfortunately. The clearest option is toning down the follow-through, but that could lead to misleading results due to altered mechanics.

Hughes advises that if you are planning to match up your video with data from a Rapsodo or other tracking device, you will want to take notes on each recorded pitch. In his words:

I typically scribble 4 things on a piece of paper after each recorded pitch. “Pitch type, video #, rapsodo #, release (x,y)”. I include release because it helps me see which pitches will likely tunnel well in an overlay. Also, the goal is to release every pitch from the exact same place. If I’m not at my best release height I can make adjustments to get back to it.

Lighting Note: Hughes also warns that if you are outdoors, bright sunlight may reflect too powerfully off the white baseball leather and create too much glare to be able to see the seams clearly.

BONUS: DATA CONSIDERATIONS

Hughes provided some additional notes to improve data accuracy and consistency:

Use a new baseball if you want a true read on how your pitch is moving. If you want to compare how different grips move, use the same unscuffed baseball each time you throw a new grip. I typically warm up with my batch of scuffed baseballs, but when it comes time to record, I use my new baseballs.

PRODUCING THE VIDEO

There are a lot of options for editing, combining, and overlaying video clips. This is not going to be a full tutorial, but it may provide you with a couple of ideas you hadn't thought before. You should research video editing options for yourself and figure out what works best for you.

For Hughes, who records at 960 fps, he only records a couple of pitches per bullpen due to file size and how long it takes to write the massive video files to storage. The files can be upwards of 1 GB!

You can experiment with on-camera editors, but Hughes offers that trimming and editing on-camera may result in reduced video quality in the form of a lower effective frame rate. To avoid this, he uploads the original files to Dropbox where he keeps a video archive of his recorded pitches along with notes.

The file is then downloaded to his phone (iPhone 11 Pro Max) via Dropbox – the file has now gone from camera to Dropbox to phone – where he loads it into an app called Fused where he creates his overlays. At this point, video quality is greatly reduced but remains more than high enough to visualize release, movement, and how different pitches and locations play well together to create tunnels.

If you own a quality laptop or desktop, you can likely find some free or low cost video editing software, such as Blender or iMovie, that may produce higher quality videos or may simply feel more comfortable to you while editing.

Taiki Green produced a good tutorial for doing this with iMovie a while back:

You will have to experiment to find out what works best for you, but your end result should be a pretty cool, pretty valuable tool for analyzing your pitch tunnels.