The use of motion-capture technology and high-speed film to analyze pitchers isn't new — in fact, the latter has been around since the 1960s. But major-league organizations are more willingly turning to such high-tech means as a way to protect and develop their most fragile investments.
And more pitchers with major-league aspirations are using these tools as well as a way to protect and develop their fragile career prospects — a number that should only go up as the technology improves and is made more easily accessible to the general public.
When the American Sports Medicine Institute — founded by famed orthopedic surgeon James Andrews — opened its doors to baseball in 2002, only the Oakland A's sent pitchers to dress up in body suits festooned with light markers, making pitchers look like a walking set of bulbs. Now the Birmingham, Ala., center is up to at least eight major league teams a year sending pitchers for analysis, including the New York Mets, whose pitching coach, Rick Peterson, was the first to bite on the institute's original offer while he held a similar position to the A's.
Hundreds of high-school and college-age players every year trek to Birmingham, paying up to $1,000 apiece to be evaluated. ASMI has a deal with privately held XOS Technologies to market the technology to coaches around the country, who can then send the data to ASMI for analysis.
Glenn Fleisig, ASMI's chair of research, says there have been discussions about farming the technology out for a system of instructional schools nationwide.
The urgency for something to be done to prevent injury is strong.
Various, journal-published research shows pitchers getting injured at a far more marked rate than they did, say, 20 years ago, mostly through stress-related injuries to their shoulders or elbows. Andrews himself reports that the number of players undergoing Tommy John surgery — reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in the pitching elbow — is up nearly fourfold from a decade ago. More disturbingly, the number of high school and youth-age players undergoing the surgery is up sevenfold.
Nobody except Marshall is promising their technology and technique can cure what ails pitchers whose arms have grown sore from fastball after curveball after fastball. But what all promise is that they can measure exactly where the problems might be coming from. In motion-capture technology, the markers on the special suit help researchers figure out such information as the angle and force of the pitching arm, helping them determine where the source of a current problem — or future problem — might lie.
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