University of Pittsburgh

Alumni Spotlight: Pittsburgh Startup Captures the Science Behind the Swing

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The best hitters in baseball swing the bat with a thrilling combination of speed, power, and control to consistently drive the ball hard, far, and into the spots where the fielders aren't positioned.

Diamond Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based startup, is breaking down the science of the swing to help hitters of all skill levels improve their game. The company makes a lightweight circular sensor called the Swingtrackerthat is attached to the knob of the bat to collect kinetic data on the mechanics of the swing. Batters can view the data by category on their smartphone, tablet, or computer by using an application that includes charts, animation, and videos.

 "We're taking some of the mystery out of the baseball swing," says C.J. Handron (MBA '10), the company CEO and co-founder.

Established in 2013, Diamond Kinetics is a spinoff of technology developed by professor William W. Clark of the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering and professor Noel Perkins of the University of Michigan. Variations of the motion-sensor technology are being used in separate sports-centric startups with a focus on tennis and basketball.

During the past year, Diamond Kinetics has tested and developed its initial product with baseball players from the youth level on up. The company expects to begin shipping its first orders in November 2014. The sensors cost $149 and can be purchased on the company website. The sensors are sold with a mobile application and access to a Web application called the DiamondCLUB, which lets users connect with other players and coaches, as well use more advanced data analysis tools. Users can benchmark themselves against peers in their age group. Additionally, coaches using the product can gather the swing data for their whole team.

"There is a growing interest in the intersection of sports and technology, and we're on the cutting-edge of this movement," Handron says.

Handron, a former second baseman growing up playing competitively in North Carolina, knows what it feels like to put the barrel of the bat on the ball — and what it feels like to whiff completely. Hitting a baseball well on a regular basis is no easy feat. If it were, getting a hit three times out of 10 wouldn't make major league hitters into all-stars.

Although some forms of swing-tracking kinetic technology are used by major league teams, Diamond Kinetics is bringing the technology to the mainstream. The company's SwingTrackersensors capture data invisible to the naked eye, with a focus on four areas that batters and coaches agree on as the most important to a good swing: speed, power, quickness, and control. For each category, the user is rated on a point scale. Each category comprises subcategories as well; for example, speed measurements are segmented into maximum barrel speed, impact bat speed, maximum hand speed, and forward bat speed.

"We will never say there is only one way to swing a bat. It's a question of what is the right balance for each individual player," Handron says.

With a heralded sports tradition and growing tech sector, Pittsburgh has been the ideal environment to launch the business, Handron says. Investment capital for the company was raised in the region and the company has already grown from two employees to eight employees.

Before joining Diamond Kinetics, Handron worked as director of PantherlabWorks at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh. Diamond Kinetics was one of his clients, and as he was assisting the company with its early-stage efforts, he saw its potential and leapt at the opportunity to join the management team.

Handron credits his experience in the MBA program of the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business for preparing him to be a CEO. He sets the strategic vision for Diamond Kinetics and ensures that the appropriate people, capital, and partnerships are in place to meet that vision.

"At Katz, I spent my time heavily focused on strategy and finance coursework. The two couldn't be more perfect for what I do now," Handron says.

Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, may have the biggest appetite for advanced analytics. Major League Baseball teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, have increasingly adopted the principles of Sabermetrics to evaluate players on the roster and have deployed the defensive shift to reposition fielders based on a detailed history of hitter tendencies.

Diamond Kinetics is betting that its technology fits into that niche, capable of helping tomorrow's hitters discover their stroke.

 "We can't guarantee to improve your batting average," Handron says. "But we can promise to make you more informed and able to identify areas of improvement. And if you are practicing a better hitting motion and being more consistent, this will lead to improved performance on the field."