Drayer: Mariners get serious in batting cage with revolutionary machine

Feb 26, 2023, 10:21 AM | Updated: 10:55 am
Mariners Cal Raleigh...
Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh hits a home run in the 2022 playoffs against Toronto. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

There has been a buzz in the Mariners’ batting cages this spring, with one lane being of particular interest. Throwing to the hitters in that lane is not a coach behind an L-screen or a JUGS pitching machine; rather, 60 feet, 6 inches from the batter’s box is Justin Verlander. Or Shohei Ohtani. Or Framber Valdez. Heck, one day it was Andrés Muñoz.

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You might have to see it to believe it, but yes, the Mariners have the ability to face these pitchers and more thanks to a pitching machine called the Trajekt Arc, which uses data, machinery and video to emulate the physical stuff and delivery coming from the actual pitcher.

“It’s a phenomenal piece of technology,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said. “You stand in there and you can’t believe how realistic it is.”

While there are machines that can fire in velocity or breaking balls, the Trajekt Arc uses data inputted by the team to replicate exact pitches with the same spin rates and release points of the actual pitcher. Paired with the video, it looks like you are facing the pitcher (you can watch it in action on the Trajekt website).

“It’s not virtual reality where you have a headset on and are transporting to a different world,” Dipoto said. “You are standing in a batter’s box with a real helmet on and you are facing what looks like a real pitcher in a different way from any machine that I have seen before.”

When the system was being installed at T-Mobile Park during the All-Star break last summer, Dipoto stepped in against Justin Verlander to see for himself.

“It did not go well,” he said of his at-bat.

For Mariners hitters, however, it’s an invaluable tool to get ready for the game. You want a preview of Shohei Ohtani the afternoon before you face him? There is video that can be studied, numbers to be checked – or with the Trajekt you can just step into the box and face his actual pitches.

“When you have an opportunity to simply track the ball from the guys you are going to face regularly, it’s a huge advantage to our hitters visually, emotionally,” Dipoto said. “You have an opportunity to pick the best Justin Verlander riding fastball. You go see it 1,000 times, it becomes less threatening when you get the chance to go face it live and that’s the goal.”

The machine has been cloaked in some secrecy with the Cubs and Mets the only other known teams to have it. By the end of last season, however, it was confirmed that there were seven teams using Trajekt, and it is believed a few more have since added the pitching robot to their batting cages. While the price also has not been made publicly available, the number of these machines is limited and it is said to be prohibitively expensive for colleges. It is an investment, and the Mariners have invested in two.

“It’s pretty legit,” Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh said. “It’s amazing what it can do.”

“Legit” is the word Ty France also used to describe the machine. His preference is to use the machine to track pitches from the starter he is facing each night. Some hitters do swing but will only take a small number of max-effort game swings in the cages against game stuff. It is much different than a typical batting practice and France sees the potential advantage it can give a hitter.

“It’s huge for our guys off the bench,” he said. “They can face every reliever they might see before the game.”

“I think it’s good to time pitchers up,” Raleigh said. “I don’t think you necessarily have to swing off it but if you do and you are grinding, competing, you can kind of get that game-like feel which is good. It may not be great results at the time but the more you can see guys and try to replicate the game as close as it can possibly be, the better.”

The Trajekt Arc can help a player who is struggling with a particular pitch or location as they can dial up what that hitter would see in games. It enables a player like Evan White, who has missed the majority of the past two years due to injury, the opportunity to face big league-quality pitching again without a big league game in the the balance. The Mariners have also utilized the pitching robot to help one of their pitchers, with pitching coach Pete Woodworth having Andrés Muñoz step in against… Andrés Muñoz.

“He was able to stand in on himself and be like, ‘Oh, I should really give myself a little more more credit. That’s freakin’ fast,'” Woodworth said.

While he found a way to utilize the pitching machine with a few of his pitchers, Woodworth sees the Trajekt giving hitters an advantage – and perhaps in an age where pitching has dominated, swinging the balance back a bit in their direction.

“It’s not fun because hitters can prepare and train to actually hit real stuff,” he said. “The most difficult part of this game is you can’t practice the actual game unless it’s the game. You can throw a batting practice. You can hit BP, you can challenge as much as you want but it will never be as challenging as the game. That’s the game. That’s the real stuff you are seeing in the game. Now, there’s not 40,000 people in there, there’s nothing on the line, there’s no stressors, but you get to see and actually react. It’s not virtual, it’s real. It’s pretty cool.”

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