BY STEVE KRAH
Shelbyville (Ind.) High School baseball has made a commitment to technology.
Through the generosity of parents, donors and the SHS athletic department, the Golden Bears have provided head coach Royce Carlton, his staff and team with several modern tools.
Among those are a 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system, Rapsodo Hitting 2.0, Rapsodo Pitching 2.0, Driveline EDGE, Driveline TRAQ and velocity sensors for the weight room. On the wish list is a Sony slow-motion camera.
But all the gadgets are no good if the data they provide can’t be understood by coaches and players or used is effective ways.
With that in mind, Carlton recruited smart students to be part of the Shelbyville Sabermetrics department. So far there’s juniors Christian DeRolf and Austin Perry and senior Eric Santiago.
“We wanted to squeeze as much baseball out of our players as we possibly could,” says Carlton, a graduate of Morristown Junior/High School (2010) and the University of Indianapolis (2014) who is entering his third season at Shelbyville in 2020. “I saw a couple of college Twitter accounts where they had an analytics team or sabermetrics department.
“I’ve never heard of this done at the high school level so let’s give it a shot.”
The sabermetrics team, which was formed in September, is comprised of students near the top of their class.
“They’re real interested in the game of baseball,” says Carlton. “They may not have the ability to play but they still love the sport. This gives them a chance to help out and be part of the team. They’re just as important as my players as far as I’m concerned.”
DeRolf expresses his excitement about mining the data for information that can help his schoolmates.
“There’s such an opportunity to quantify absolutely everything,” says DeRolf, who sees himself going to college for information systems/computer science and continuing to apply his knowledge to baseball. “It’s not easy to change somebody’s behavior and see that there might be somebody better than what they’re doing.
“But there’s nothing wrong with being able to tweak things. Once they see how this helps, they tend to trust you. The trust is the hardest part to build.”
Santiago was invited to join the sabermetrics team by DeRolf. Before he goes to college to pursue a finance degree, Santiago will crunch the numbers to help the baseball team.
As the Golden Bears work out this winter, they will all be figuring out the best practices.
“It’s a learning process,” says Santiago. “Nobody’s an expert. Everybody is going to learn together.
“We’ll focus on basics and fix small things so we can go onto bigger things.”
Driveline EDGE helps with pitch design. Driveline TRAQ allows for individualized practice plans for each player (who will bring iPads to practice during the off-season to focus on their specific needs). Sensors on bar bells check to see that players are strong and moving in an explosive way.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” says Carlton. “One reason we got the 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system is slow-motion video can lie. You have clothes on. It hides things. To really be able to see the kinematic sequence for the right order of each body part firing, we had to get the sensors. I didn’t want to teach my guys something I saw on video that might actually be wrong.”
Prior to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (which began Dec. 9), Carlton tested the system by taking cuts himself.
“My video looked good, but when I went to the sensors my chest was actually firing before my pelvis,” says Carlton. “So I worked on changing that, where my pelvis would fire before my chest. I added 5 mph on to my bat speed just within a 20-minute session.”
Carlton, who is also the head strength and conditioning coach at Shelbyville, says there is a dynamic in athletics of “feel vs. real” and technology can help with that.
“Now, we can match the real with the feel instead of just guessing,” says Carlton. “A lot of it has been guessing up to this point.
“We can really bridge that gap.”
There’s also a learning curve for coaches.
“Technology’s just blowing up in baseball. Coaches don’t understand how to interpret. They get all these numbers. But what good do the numbers do unless you actually know how to transfer it to high school kids’ minds?
“That can be a chore.”
Carlton says the Golden Bears will be filming every single hitting, pitching and fielding rep through the iPads for analyzation.
“It’s going to be kind of weird having every single player with technology,” says Carlton “It kind of hurts me inside. I’ve still got a little bit of old school in me.
“But the game’s changing.”
Carlton has visited Indiana University to see how the Hoosiers use technology to help their players and recently completed his Driveline pitch design certification. He equates that experience to drinking out of a fire hose.
The program consolidates a great deal of information and involves physics, spin, horizontal and vertical break and much more.
Shelbyville’s plans call for using a pitching report which includes a pitcher’s strengths. Those with high spin rates will generally pitch higher in the strike zone than those with lower spin rates.
“We’re going to get super in-depth,” says Carlton.
Last spring, Shelbyville employed Major League Baseball-style defensive shifts.
“Most of the people on my coaching staff thought I was crazy,” says Carlton. “Most of the teams we played thought I was crazy. But it 100 percent worked for us. Most high school hitters kind of struggle to hit the outside pitches and we’d groove them pitch inside and they’d pull it right into our shift.
“I don’t have any flame throwers. No one who throws over 85 (mph). We had to be really crafty, do the shifts and pitch locations really worked.
“Some didn’t like it, but you’ve got to win.”
Maverick Alexander, one of Carlton’s assistant coaches, does a lot of digging in places like GameChanger and uses historical data against an opponent to put together spray charts to be employed in shifting game plans.
“He puts together a probability packet for us that we go off from batter to batter,” says Carlton, who also counts Mike Jackson, Chase McColley, Jacob Shively and Nate Stonebraker among his assistants. “I think we only got burnt twice all season by shifting and we probably shifted at least 50 percent of the time.
“(My assistants) are all smart. They see what the pro level is doing. We’re at the high school level, but there are still applications we can take. The pros wouldn’t do it if it didn’t win games for them. It’s a money game up there.”
Alexander’s day job is making maps for the State of Indiana. He uses his skills with Excel, Word and data analysis gathered in 2018 and 2019 to produce reports on Shelbyville opponents.
“We hope to be here a long time. It can be a long-term plan,” says Alexander. “If we see a player as a freshman, by the time they are juniors or seniors we’ll be able to see those trends more clearly.”
If possible, players go over Alexander’s pamphlet in practice the day before a game to learn about opponent tendencies and then can go to it during the contest.
“It’s definitely important for pitchers and catchers to know game plan for each inning,” says Alexander.
Carlton has enjoyed watching the way the athletes have taken to the approach.
“It’s neat,” says Carlton. “The players buy into it. They make it their own.”
Beginning in 2020, conference foes will face each other one time on Friday nights. Previously, they had met for Friday doubleheaders.
The Golden Bears are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North and East Central. Shelbyville has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2005.
In 2018, the Bears featured pitcher/outfielder Damon Lux (now at Duke University) and first baseman Lucas Steineker and went 13-12 and then 9-17 with a very young varsity team in 2019.
“This year, we’re looking pretty solid,” says Carlton. “We’ve got our pitching and our offense straightened out.
“We do a lot of the (Driveline) command ball stuff — the oversized and undersized balls and weighted balls.”
Since Carlton arrived (he was formerly head baseball coach at Morristown and Attica), two teams — varsity and junior varsity — have been representing the school with 26 to 28 total players.
Blending the new with the old, Carlton also has plans to honor Shelbyville’s baseball past this spring when his team takes the field in throwback jerseys and limited edition hats from a time when the school’s mascot was the Camels.
“I’m trying to find some neat things to do during the spring to get some people out to enjoy the game and teach the guys a little about the history of baseball,” says Carlton, who has consulted with former Shelbyville head coach and history buff Scott Hughes, old school yearbooks and the local historical society. “Back when the game was super-pure.”
Royce Carlton is entering his third season as head baseball coach at Shelbyville (Ind.) High School in 2020.