EON Reality, based in Irvine, California, makes VR apps that simulate real-world experiences. VR is exploding in this market, offering new ways to train a multitude of users on important and life-saving tasks. Those skills meticulously recreating real-life scenarios for training purposes were put to work on a new application called Project OPS, which is aimed at providing a Major League Baseball-style simulator for batters of any skill level.
Project OPS is a baseball simulator, but it’s not like anything you can find on Steam or in the Oculus store. Those games do a good job recreating the feeling of baseball but typically fall short of rendering scenarios that teach good fundamentals. EON believes that Project OPS can change how everyone trains, beginning at the 8+ age range.
In baseball, strike zone awareness separates good hitters from those just playing the game. There are many variables involved when you are determining if a pitch is one you want to swing at, such as how the pitcher throws (offhand or sidearm). Styles that players don’t normally see can completely neutralize otherwise stellar hitters. OPS uses those philosophies as the basis of its training. Jason Giambi is the star of OPS, and he coaches prospective players on the fundamentals of hitting through seven drills.
The goal of OPS is to assign players an “on-base percentage,” which is an attempt to measure and provide a reference for improvement in hitting. Repetition is the key in OPS, as players learn how to judge the speed and direction of a pitch from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hands.
The game begins with a short quiz-type drill that assesses your skills by asking you to judge whether pitches thrown will be balls or strikes. Eye-tracking allows OPS to assess a player’s decision making, and drills train players on every aspect of identifying the pitch with sliding-scale difficulty.
A batter can spend an hour with a machine and learn how to stand and swing and make contact, but that doesn’t teach instinct for the game. That’s where Project OPS believes it provides an edge. Seeing a pitcher’s windup and delivery are equally as important in judging the kind of pitch a bater is likely to face.
The power of the mental-at-bat can influence the game in ways that can be hard to gauge. That might be a contributor to the notorious superstition most ball players are known for. Mental preparation can help players deal with downturns, a major component of major league play. The ability to overcome seemingly poor decisions or situations is another important factor in championship teams.
OPS takes a novel approach to this idea with a fun simulation that offers 30 different pitchers to test your skills. The simulator focuses on four pitches: the fastball, the slider, the curveball and the changeup. The cell-phone-based SIDEKIQ VR headset acts as the simulator’s platform and allows for eye tracking. Players also get an “unlimited” number of pitches, meaning that they can practice as long as they like to improve.
The simulation works with Bluetooth controllers compatible with mobile phones, making things a bit more interactive.
OPS at Work
Priced at $99 for the basic software ($138 as a bundle), OPS is ideal for smaller ball clubs and amateur coaches. EON boasts that the Tampa Bay Rays are utilizing it to improve their slugging, and have results going back to 2016.
OPS is both affordable and practical. It assigns batters scores within the app, eliminating some of the infrastructures that bigger clubs utilize with apps for STRIVR. Manual record keeping is no doubt an important skill, but the game benefits from getting real-time access to this data. If teams kept a history, it would be easy to track a batter’s progression over time and identify the kinds of pitches that seem to throw him or her off.
We would like to see a softball version of this application. Competitive softball, especially at the college level, offers some of the same challenges that baseball players face and more work coaching teams on identifying pitches would be beneficial to the game.
However, it’s important to note that MLB has all of this data already thanks to generations of athletes playing the game and pushing its boundaries. Teams draw from archives of tape footage to watch, but it’s not quite the same as being in that perspective.
We also see a potential for 5G to improve data collection at-bat. In practice, as more batters adopt 5G headsets that allow for real-world interaction, programs like OPS will have data as a baseline to ensure a simulation is accurately portraying a pitcher or style.