By STEVE KRAH
Over-use in baseball has led to many injuries and countless hours on the operating table.
Will Carroll, a former Bleacher Report and FanDuel writer who has been tracking athletic injuries for the past two decades, says that 30 percent of Major League Baseball pitchers end up with the tell-tale scare of reconstructive surgery on their elbow.
“Teams, through no fault of their own, are ramping up pitchers wrong and overextending these guys,” says Carroll, who resides in the Indianapolis area. “There were like 106 Tommy John surgeries at the professional level (majors and minors) in 2016. That’s just too many.
“This is a problem in baseball without any solution. We have a chance to really make a dent in it and maybe reverse it.
“Most people don’t understand the forces they’re putting on their elbow. Ask a player, ‘How many times did you throw?’ The player has no idea. Coaches have even less of an idea.”
But what if these throws could be tracked and the subsequent injuries could be prevented while also improving performance?
That’s the idea behind a product from Motus Baseball that tracks every throw and calculates arm stress and throwing workload.
Motus, founded in 2010 and headquartered in New Jersey, makes biomechanics accessible to athletes and more with clinical-grade motion capture data.
A lightweight sensor is placed into a Motus Baseball compression sleeve and data is collected as the player goes about his daily routine — warm-up, bullpen, long toss, game action.
“It is a product that demos itself and manages itself,” says Carroll, who has joined the Motus team as chief storyteller. “All you have to do is put it on.”
With the aim of protecting young arms, the IHSAA adopted a pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in 2017.
Carroll says this approach is better than nothing.
“There are better measures,” says Carroll. “We think there’s a smarter way to do it.”
Motus wearable technology can help track fatigue and show that a pitcher’s arm is dropping.
Before, when a coach suspected this, the exchange would go something like this:
Coach: “How do you feel son?”
Pitcher: “I’m fine, coach.”
“They’ve lied to us for 100 years,” says Carroll. “This is demonstrably better.”
Carroll sees the hesitation of those who see this as another baseball gimmick.
“It’s a tool,” says Carroll. “Gimmicks are just tricks. This isn’t a trick, it’s data and it’s powerful data.”
This data is being used all over baseball and is endorsed by New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances.
The University of Indianapolis has started using it and head coach Gary Vaught reported at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches State Clinic in Indianapolis that he is more than pleased with the early results.
“I haven’t heard a college coach get more excited about something,” says Carroll of Vaught. “This is the big thing. Arm injuries will kill baseball if we don’t fix it. He took a big leap of faith once he saw it.
“I haven’t seen a team buy in like that and I think they’re going to see the results.”
It’s not just UIndy pitchers using the Motus product. The Greyhounds also have sensors for all their hitters.
Since the state clinic in January, Carroll has watched Indiana high school programs like Center Grove and Carmel begin to use Motus and he has a list of schools that want him to visit.
“When Center Grove and Carmel get something, everybody else is going to want it,” says Carroll. “We think we’ll have 10 or 15 by the time school starts and 100 by next year.”
The tool becomes even more effective in the hands of knowledge coaches.
“This is going to make the best coaches better,” says Carroll. “They can make quicker adjustments. At worst, it will be an early warning system for some coaches.”
Carroll says customer services is important to Motus.
“We don’t sell a product and forget you,” says Carroll. “We don’t change what you’re doing. We want to enhance what you’re doing.”
Motus team members, including Carroll, will help teams analyze the data and essentially serve as part of their medical staff.
“It’s like they just hired five new assistant coaches,” says Carroll.
And it’s not just at the high school level where this will make an impact.
“It’s the younger guys that will pick this up, adjust and use the data that they’re getting,” says Carroll. “This is going to grow from the bottom up.”
Understanding this data will only help them when it comes time to talk with college recruiters and pro scouts.
New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances is a Motus Baseball athlete. (Motus Photo)
A lightweight sensor is placed into a Motus Baseball compression sleeve and data is collected as the player goes about his daily routine — warm-up, bullpen, long toss, game action. (Motus Photo)
The Motus Baseball sensor is small, but helps collect much useful data. (Motus Photo)