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Biomechanics: Baseball's New Moneyball?

Years back, Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics gained recognition for using an analytical, evidence-based approach (called sabermetrics) instead of the typical subjective, flawed system employed for decades, to put together a squad that could compete with the big market teams in the league. By using projections and statistics, Beane and his front office helped make a revenue-strapped franchise a playoff mainstay without breaking the bank. 

With more teams now looking for top-tier talent without spending the money as in years past, and also keeping that talent healthy, front offices are looking for the next advantage in helping their franchise hoist a World Series trophy. If the Tampa Bay Rays are correct, they could be at the forefront of the next Moneyball.

"This would revolutionize baseball"

A recent Yahoo! Sports article detailed how the Rays have emphasized the health of their pitching staffs throughout the franchise and have been ahead of the curve in strength programs in that regard, by utilizing Kinatrax, a markerless motion-capture system, at Tropicana Field. The software allows the Rays to monitor not only their pitchers, but also opposing hurlers. According to the article, should Kinatrax do what it purports, it would revolutionize baseball.”

In addition to the Rays, both the Dodgers and Rockies have been utilizing research and trying to analyze data, be it by partnering with an Irish laboratory, or moving from the traditional five-man rotation to a four-man rotation and shorter pitch counts, to keep their pitching staffs healthy and improve their playoff chances. With all of this new research being touted, I was curious if it really fell under the umbrella of true “biomechanics”. So, to find out, I went to an authority on the subject, Cybex Research Institute’s own Dr. Paul Juris.

Discussing Biomechanics vs. Kinematics

Dr. Juris says, “Motion capture systems are not necessarily new, although the technology infused into these systems is getting more and more sophisticated. They do help provide a more detailed and accurate view of dynamic sports motion, so in this regard, they may be very beneficial to these organizations. That said, the teams that are using this technology are actually practicing kinematics, not biomechanics. Kinematics is the study of motion, while biomechanics is the study of force and motion. Evaluating the forces produced and absorbed during activities like pitching would be more beneficial than looking at motion alone. To some extent, the forces captured during a pitching motion would help explain why athletes move the way they move, which ultimately gives us more insight into how to train them. For now, kinematic systems will have to tell us enough about how they move.”

It will be interesting to see if teams fully dive in on biomechanics in the next few years or if some of these alternative methods end up being the way teams analyze players. Just like multiple teams hired “sabermetric analysts” in the wake of the A’s success, I can see teams hiring “biomechanics specialists” in the coming years. If they need referrals, we’ll be happy to help, as we’ve been doing similar work here at the Cybex Research Institute for years.

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