In a quiet offseason (by Jerry Dipoto’s standards, anyway) Dr. Lorena Martin was one of the Mariners’ biggest acquisitions—in terms of splash, at least. Hired to coordinate off-field efforts to maximize performance, it hasn’t been particularly clear what sorts of effects she has had on the team’s training or preparation. This is by design, of course; the hire was part of a long-term plan to revolutionize how the Mariners get ready for games and recover. Six months on, this piece in something called “SportTechie” gives a first look at what concrete steps the Mariners have taken, in addition to their overall efforts to embrace technology.
The pitching staff has had access to a couple new pieces of technology: the Motus baseball sleeve and Rapsodo’s pitching camera. The Motus is the more interesting piece of information as far as the Mariners’ health efforts are concerned; James Paxton made a point in the offseason to enter 2018 in better shape (all together now: Best Shape Of His Life!), and right here he specifically credits the Motus with teaching him that he was throwing too hard in between starts, allowing him to dial things back to keep his arm in better shape overall. I think we may have seen the dividends thus far in 2018: he has yet to miss any time with injury, and is throwing more pitches per start than any season this far in his career—and of course there’s the legendary no-hitter, sitting 99-100 mph on his final pitches.
The article does name Paxton, Marco Gonzales, and Wade LeBlanc as the most proactive users of these tools; Paxton even name drops the Jake Mailhot special, pitch tunneling. This should probably inform our understanding of Marco and Wade’s seasons to some degree; both “overperformers” to date, the use of advanced tracking data complicates things a little bit; changes in things like sequencing and arm slot, driven by use of technology, are likely culprits for the cause of their improvements.
On the hitting side, it’s admitted readily by the article and by Jerry Dipoto that it’s tougher to utilize technology because the technology hasn’t caught up quite as much as the pitching side yet—but the use of K-Motion’s baseball vest is a big step up from past efforts only involving the use of barrel sensors. Mostly in use in the minor leagues, the vest measures a hitter’s kinetic chain, which should help technically knowledgeable coaches identify and correct weak links in swings. It’s too early to say it’s because of technology like this, but it’s worth noting a number of the Mariners’ minor league hitters (outside of the big names) have been having quietly resurgent years.
The article also notes that the Mariners are doing exactly what we’ve seen many cries for them to do; working to change the culture surrounding injury and performance inside the clubhouse, and encourage players to proactively seek preventative treatment. This is always going to be a fine line; getting players to take a day off at the right time to heal without needlessly wasting days is probably going to remain partly an art and partly a science. Articles like this notwithstanding, it’s going to remain mostly guesswork for us maybe permanently trying to figure out if what the club is doing is working. The broad trends they’re working on will require more data than we can reasonably collect to fully evaluate; in the meantime, the Mariners are saying and apparently doing the right things in their effort to be at the front of sport science.