Strasburg follow-up: Biomechanical analysis

The first comment on Thursday’s article about Stephen Strasburg related to biomechanical analysis. Regrettably, I glossed over that aspect of the Strasburg puzzle because quite frankly, the article I had written was already a little overwrought. Here’s what reader “tbr” had to say on the subject:

While in theory, I welcome the idea of biomechanical analysis, in practice I wonder if it would work because there is a huge contingency that completely discounts their veracity or value. And for those who do believe, no consensus has been reached as to what constitutes healthy mechanics. Remember that for every “expert” who said that Mark Prior had perfect mechanics you could find another one who pointed out multiple red flags.

I agree wholeheartedly that it could be dangerous to use today’s biomechanical analysis as a means to tinker with a player’s mechanics. To put things as simply as possible, due to the inherent physical differences between players, I don’t believe there is a single set of “perfect” mechanics. Further, there are players who rely on substandard mechanics as their meal ticket to the majors. To draw an absurd example, would you teach Tim Wakefield to be a drop and drive pitcher?

Recently, I had an informative conversation with another baseball enthusiast about injuries. It turns out that many clubs do not collect robust baseline information about a player’s mechanics. Sure, many teams have their trainers do evaluations of their players in spring training. I’ve had similar evaluations performed on me by Phil Donnelly, a physical therapist who consults with a number of major league teams. However, that information is a guideline at best. It mostly entails measuring how the joints bend and where muscular weaknesses may lie, not in how the body uses the kinetic chain to throw the baseball.

This is where biomechanical analysis would be useful. To return to our Strasburg example, let’s say the Nats had a biomechanical analysis done in spring training. They would have robust baseline information on how his body delivered a baseball. Now let’s skip ahead to his first injury. As he goes along the rehab process, the club could take the opportunity to compare his rehab performance and his baseline with a second biomechanical analysis. Perhaps they would have noticed a major red flag and been able to shut him down early. Perhaps not. No one will ever know in this case because they didn’t have a that biomechanical baseline.

Many people seem to believe that the purpose of such an analysis is to change a player’s mechanics. While this valid in some cases, say a pitcher with elbow problems whose mechanics place incredible strain on the joint, it seems that the technique is too young to justify mechanical intervention in all but the most extreme examples.

However, the reason to use biomechanical analysis in a more widespread manner is two-fold. First, related to my last point, the more analyses that are done, the more information we’ll gain about their predictive ability with injuries. When more is learned, clubs might be able to intercede in a more intelligent way. Second, as the bulk of this post discussed, a biomechanical analysis provides an excellent baseline of the player’s kinetics. By comparing a player pre- and post-injury, clubs will be able to see what’s changed on a more detailed level than the naked eye. If I were working for a club, that’s information I’d be very interested in pursuing.

Parting note: Can we call it BMA from now on? Is that already a thing?

Disclaimer: I ignored the cost of BMAs during this post. It should be understood that at this time it’s probably only cost/time effective to perform them on great to elite talent. That still leaves Strasburg as a perfect candidate for BMA. The investment might have saved the Nats the year of his service time that they’ll be losing.

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  1. tbr said...

    A Washington Post article I read today reminded me that, while I knew you had posted a follow-up to your original post, I had not yet read it.  Given that you feel that it would be helpful if Strasburg had been BMA’ed prior to injury, I thought you might be interested to know that he was:

    It’s a long article, but the reference is on page 4 and states that the analysis was done before his contract was signed.

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    Very interesting…I’ll have to look into it more. I don’t want to say too much here, but perhaps sir Boras is telling a bit of a fib.

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