When you’re a baseball team with a poorly situated airship hangar of a stadium and the game’s worst attendance, finances are limited, even with revenue sharing. That’s an apt description of the Tampa Bay Rays, a club that thrived during the Andrew Friedman years on victories in the margins–the extra 2%. The organization is still, post-Friedman, looking for incremental gains, with Virtual Reality batting practice part of the future-forward approach. A handful of other clubs are also testing the hardware, which is in an experimental phase now, though it holds promise.
To use the system, Rays players put on high-tech goggles and stand in or at or behind a plate as the specific pitcher they request is shown on a screen throwing his various pitches in true detailed form.
For example, [Steven] Souza — who prefers to stand in the catcher’s position for a straight-on view — said he can get a detailed read on the break on pitches, detect slight changes in release point and get a better sense of the pitcher’s timing.
“It’s as close as you’re going to get to standing in there,” he said.
“It’s pretty neat,” said catcher Curt Casali, another user. “It’s one of the more advanced scouting tools I’ve ever seen.”
Third baseman Evan Longoria has also tried it but is not as sold on the immediate benefits of the system, which is set up in the room with the batting cage near the Rays clubhouse.
“I think over the next year or two we’ll see a lot of fine-tuning to it,” he said. “I think it’s kind of crude right now, but I don’t dispel that there could be some benefits there.”•