Kevin Davidson is a graduate of Rollins College (’02) and spent seven seasons in the Houston Astros organization, reaching the Triple-A level. He was the Astros’ 2003 Minor League Player of the Year. After spending 12 years as a financial advisor, Davidson jumped back into the baseball space as a manager in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, where he won three league championships. He sent more than 70 players to the professional ranks in his nine-year coaching career.
Davidson is now the CEO of Orlando-based DS Sports Ventures (DDSV), which was originally founded in 2017 as a software and technology based company. In short order, DSSV morphed into a baseball-based private equity conglomerate garnering national attention by swiftly acquiring and managing several of the nation’s largest and most influential baseball businesses and product lines. One of his latest projects is BaseballCloud, which was developed with the goal in mind to change the way data is viewed, processed and utilized by providing players, coaches, trainers and scouts with a platform to access data in a centralized location, equipping them with the tools to utilize data as a vehicle to develop talent and revolutionize performance.
Inside Pitch: You were enjoying a highly successful post-playing career as a financial advisor. What led you back into baseball?
One of the players I worked with during my time as a financial advisor was Jose Bautista. He was getting ready to go through his contract negotiations and I was following along and observing how teams were assessing his future value. It was all about the ‘data.’ I picked up the phone and called Wes Johnson, who was at Arkansas at the time. I asked him to explain this ‘data’ phenomenon and he sent me all of these CSV files and numbers, and I’m lost. I’m asking him, ‘but where is the data?’ And he’s telling me, ‘this is the data!’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know what you’re showing me, what about the dots, the charts, the heatmaps?’ Wes told me that what I was talking about was software. I didn’t know the difference. He said he would take those files and he and his grad assistants at Arkansas would spend about 40 hours a week making them into useful, readable information for the coaches and players.
My only knowledge of data was the stuff I saw on Twitter about launch angle and spin rate. I was not a ‘data guy,’ or what I thought a ‘data guy’ meant, so I started digging in and learned that the data wasn’t to blame for some of what we were seeing those days. You can argue at length for how the data was used, but you can’t argue its relevance. Even if you’re the ‘old school’ coach that just wants their players to swing at the right pitches, the data tracks and automates that for you.
IP: And that led to you ‘hanging it up’ in the financial advising world?
I became immersed with it. I called smart people that knew how to build stuff. One of those guys was Cory Whiting, who was an engineer who used to play professional baseball. That was my first validation step, if he’d told me this was a no go, I probably was going to shut it down. But he loved it and the next thing you know, he ended up quitting his job, I sold my business, and we partnered with Joseph Sleiman, who jumped in headfirst, and the rest is history.
IP: What were the early years of BaseballCloud like?
We spent a lot of our time cleaning data, fixing it. Early on, the market wasn’t big enough to find out what was quality data and what wasn’t. You would see dots for where pitches crossed home plate in one place, pull up the video of it and learn that it was six inches off. And if pitch location is off, that means everything else is off. After all, data is essentially a mass formula that explains how the ball gets from point A to point B, so if point B is off, everything is off.
The first two schools I had were Nova Southeastern and Dallas Baptist. Greg Brown (Nova) and Dan Heefner (DBU) are good friends, and we worked around what their thoughts were and how they used the information. I didn’t know what we were doing at all, so it was good that I worked with great coaches who I had a connection with.
That following year, we were at the ABCA Convention for the first time. We partnered with about 45 schools and capped ourselves off around there. If we learned one thing, it was all about attaining and discerning data quality, that doppler tracking systems and optical tracking systems have some distinct differences.
IP: And then you went about adding additional services to your offering…
We added Rapsodo, HitTrax, and Blast Motion. At the next year’s convention, we rolled out what I felt like was our first legitimate product. We picked up about 140 schools at that point.
At the end of 2018 a former teammate Josh Bonifay and I were talking, and he set me up with Sig Mejdal, who is like the Derek Jeter of baseball data, in my opinion. He’s a former NASA Engineer that was the Director of Decision Sciences with the Houston Astros [Mejdal was hired as the Assistant GM with the Baltimore Orioles in November of 2018].
Sig and I talked for about an hour and a half, and I shared what I was doing. Sig and the Astros had a program called Ground Control, which they had built to their specifications. They wanted to use the data how they wanted. And that's true for most MLB organizations, they have their own data software platforms that analyze and represent the data they are tracking.
IP: And you saw a space in there for BaseballCloud to attack?
My feeling was that these MLB organizations were developing these platforms for their own use, for tracking and evaluation, but not as much for player development. This validated where I thought we needed to be; all of that is good information for players to know! I played seven years of professional baseball, and I have no idea where my hot zones were, what my optimal stance and swing would have been, and so forth. I just wanted to build this for that purpose, to build user-friendly resources that help players get better.
IP: And that conversation eventually led you to Yakkertech’s doorstep and a fateful meeting at an ABCA Convention?
Sig asked me to look into Yakkertech, whose owner was a golfer who essentially stumbled upon the baseball market. That was about a month before the 2019 ABCA Convention. I'd never heard of Yakkertech before so I'm freaking out trying to find out about the company, strategizing about how we were going to get to know them and sure enough, we get to the convention and they have a booth right across from us. We spent about a week with them getting set up, going through the technology and some missing variables for the baseball market. Everything they had was right, which validated Yakkertech, and we just added our user-friendly presentation component to it.
Yakkertech was never a part of the original plan, to be honest. It was originally to start building data software, partner with the colleges that had in-game data capturing, and go from there. But I saw the importance of the in-game information that was being tracked. And I know it’s good to track everything at practice, but if I you to choose, most people would go with in-game data, right? I’d been studying about how all that was working, about the efficiency and accuracy of optical tracking system like Yakkertech.
IP: Are there different tiers to what you offer?
Colleges have different levels of resources, I'm a DII guy and Rollins College may not have the same resources as Vanderbilt or Florida. We are working towards getting our product 'downstream' to the high school and travel ball level. It's all about cost, and the only thing that can solve that problem is optics – there's a big difference between a few cameras you can set up and a $40,000 doppler system.
We've moved into the event companies and have about 400,000 players in total that attend our camps throughout the year. They each have access to their own player profiles and products.
We're not expecting people to go to our website and shop for something. Our market is the college level piece and thanks to Yakkertech, we are getting to more and more colleges and their camps. Every college is ideally equipped with a 'tagger' who just identifies the player and the pitch. That data is captured, fed in real-time to player profiles, which are automatically synced up once players register for a camp. So by the time players are done with a BP round, they have data in their profiles. It's a live solution that can help create the most optimal swings, grips, etc. on the fly.
IP: What’s the impression you’re hoping to leave on the game through BaseballCloud?
The only thing I want people to know is that we are baseball guys. This is a baseball and a softball company. We did not start off in another sport and transition to baseball or softball. We rolled up our sleeves and worked directly with some of the brightest minds in the game to build a turn key, end to end solution that focuses on what the players and coaches need. We're not corporate America, we're not Wall Street. We are just regular baseball guys that listened to our customers.