At the SABR Virtual Analytics Conference on Friday, March 12, 2021, SABR and the American Baseball Biomechanics Society hosted a panel discussion on Biomechanics in MLB: The Next Competitive Edge in Analytics.
Panelists included Dr. John De Witt, Senior Biomechanist with the Chicago Cubs; Dr. Ben Hansen, Senior Biomechanical Engineer with the Chicago White Sox; Dr. Mike McNally, Biomechanist with the Tampa Bay Rays; and moderator Dr. Glenn Fleisig, Research Director of the American Sports Medicine Institute.
- Video: Click here to watch a replay of the Biomechanics in MLB panel on YouTube
- Audio: Click here to listen to the MLB Statcast Player Pose Tracking and Visualization panel (MP3; 58:32)
ON WHAT EQUIPMENT IS BEING USED
- De Witt: “The major biomechanical data that people use is motion capture data and force platforms. We have a KinaTrax system that’s in Wrigley [Field] so we’re able to collect data from pitchers and hitters live in play. We know that collecting the data when they’re actually doing what they are supposed to do has a lot more validity than putting them in a lab where they may not have the same stressors or the same environmental factors. So a lot of the data that we are going to be using is stuff that’s happening from in the game.”
- McNally: “The main ones that we talk about a lot like the marker motion capture system where they are putting those giant reflective dots on them [people involved in animation for video games or movies]. That’s gotten a lot better over the years now that the cameras are better and that has been considered the gold standard for the longest time. Over the past 5-6 years or so … there are several companies out there doing the marker-less side of things and are really able to take the in-game footage and make it a new type of gold standard. … The other thing that’s really heavily used is the video analysis and there’s a lot of AI [artificial intelligence] that’s starting to come out as well, [and] that’s really the hot new direction of biomechanics.”
- Hansen: “IMUs are inertial measurement units, or a wearable sensor. Our first sensor [at Motus] could store 12 throws, our next one could store an unlimited amount, and so a lot of the IMUs out there are really used for tracking workload. … I still personally think the brick and mortar lab is the gold standard [for biomechanics]. If we are gonna really combine force weight data, motion capture data, and give inches and degrees of feedback, the lab is hands down [worth] it. … That said, the marker-less is super exciting, we use pro play on every pitch captured, we’re in a pilot with KinaTrax in our lab and the utility of those is so great, if you have a few data points that you’re comfortable in data quality and validation, you now contract that every pitch in a game, every outing they make, over a season or over a career. So I think there’s a utility on all three of those things, whether it’s an inertial sensor for workload tracking, the marker-less for tracking things over time, but the biomechanics lab still has such a great utility.”
ON HOW BIOMECHANICAL DATA IS COMMUNICATED
- McNally: “We have some players who maybe can handle a little bit more [information] and sometimes they can’t. A lot of times we will tend to work a little more closely with our coaches, front office staff, R&D, strength and conditioning, athletic training [staff]. Our goal for our players is that when they go between the lines they are ready to go, we don’t want them necessarily thinking about, ‘Is my arm here? Is my arm there?’ … What we’re doing is finding the tools they need to go out there and perform. [When] we are looking at a guy, we won’t necessarily try to tell him, ‘Hey, your elbow torque is really high, you’re not using your legs enough’ or whatever it may be, we might try to work with the coaches or the strength staff so that their main focus [the player] can stay on the game.”
- Hansen: “I’ve tried to become a bit more aggressive in trying to get the athletes involved. I think you’ll find a lot of them want this data. It is my duty to give the players their data, obviously in a responsible way where you don’t overload them. We always meet with a member from each department, the pitching coach, the strength coach, physical therapists, and we try to tell the story of, ‘Hey, [this player] can’t really do the motion we want him to do because his mobility is poor.’ Once we’ve nailed that down from the coaches’ side, then we’ll have a story to tell the athlete.”
- De Witt: “I’m talking to coaches, to front office staff, to other R&D personnel, and I’m also talking to high performance staff. But regardless of who I am talking to, I was told that when I give my information to the head coach, I have to fit it on a 3×5 card … they want the answer as simple as possible and then you can go into detail if they want it. That’s a really important part of the communication of our information across the group.”
ON THE BEST TIMES TO ANALYZE A BASEBALL PLAYER’S BIOMECHANICS
- McNally: “I really start from the injury side of things, that’s the ultimate hindrance to any performance. But then we really get into a lot of the performance aspects of it, as well. Some of it does come down to, ‘How can we prevent injury? OK, now what can we do to maybe get this guy to be a little more efficient in his motion?’ We also use it to kind of monitor guys as they go — if we’re working on things with them, are they actually changing?”
- Hansen: “We’re doing biomechanics testing currently with the major-league players; we’ll do it once or maybe twice a year. There’s a couple cases where we’ve done it a couple days a week on a guy as he makes changes and we really want to hone in on something. Injury does play a big role in this, like a guy coming back from rehab, if we have healthy baseline data it’s a super valuable data point to have. For me, a lot of it is about how do I get a couple extra percent of performance out of somebody and we’ll do it intermittently throughout the year.”
- De Witt: “We do it across the organization and it’s for lots of different purposes. There could be baselining, [for example] we have a healthy guy so we have some comparable data if there’s an injury. It could be to look at how we might tweak something for performance, it could be to just try to better understand a certain player’s mechanics.”
To learn more, visit SABR.org/analytics.
Transcription assistance from Kayla Rinn.
Originally published: June 1, 2021. Last Updated: March 23, 2021.