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Can Rockies use the new performance lab to fully embrace the biomechanics age?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, December 14, 2023

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When it comes to research, development, analytics, and biomechanics, the Tampa Bay Rays lead the way in Major League Baseball.

The Rockies have been on the other side of the measuring stick.

For example, in 2023, the Rays had the biggest research and development department with 44 employees. The Rockies R&D has grown from its laughable staff of one in 2020 to 11 in 2023, which was still tied for second lowest in MLB according to Four Rings Sports Solutions and the Denver Post.

In 2015, Tampa Bay implemented a baseball technology revolution, which is detailed in Eno Sarris and Alec Lewis’s 2022 Athletic article “The future — and present — of baseball is in biomechanics.” While most analytics data captures output, like velocity and spin rate after a ball leaves a pitcher’s hand, they wanted to improve their abilities to gather inputs, like where a pitcher’s hips are in relation to the throwing shoulder and if the torso rotation is aligned at the right time. This biomechanical data was challenging to capture with invasive and uncomfortable markers needing to be attached to multiple parts of a player’s body. This was only possible in the lab and not in a game.

Tampa Bay changed the game by introducing motion capture without markers with Kinatrax, a system with “new, ultra-high-speed cameras with extreme computing power, good enough to gather three-dimensional biomechanical data,” as Sarris and Lewis explain.

Eight years later, the Rockies have completed construction on a performance lab in Scottsdale, Ariz. that will allow them to capture and monitor biomechanics data on all of its Major and Minor League players. The lab will open in January.

Improving development and performance

This is a big move for the Rockies to try to inch closer from the Luddite edge of the analytics measuring stick to being more data-informed in player development.

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding wrote about the lab on Dec. 10 and gave an example of how this type of data helped Elehuris Montero last season. Contracting the work out to a biomechanics lab, the Rockies learned Montero had problematic head movement and issues early in his swing that were hindering “his ability to recognize breaking balls and had his bat pulling out of the zone too quickly.”

The Rockies coaching staff was able to translate that into mechanical changes that made a noticeable difference. In the 49 games before the adjustments, Montero hit .192/.220/.327 with four home runs. In the 36 games after, Montero hit .305/.371/.541 with seven homers.

Now instead of having to contract out biomechanical data collection in limited situations to try to help a struggling player, the Rockies will be able to do it all in-house for all their players. As the Rockies look to a bright future led by Nolan Jones and Ezequiel Tovar, as well as prospects like Yanquiel Fernandez, Jordan Beck, Sterlin Thompson, Benny Montgomery, and Adael Amador, Colorado’s offensive and defensive products are on track to help the team improve.

The questions about pitching remain. As Bill Schmidt told MLB Network in the Winter Meetings, the Rockies “We acquired 37 pitchers here in the last 18 months through the draft, through the trades at the trade deadline. You’d like to think some of those numbers, you’re going to hit on a couple of those guys.”

The Rockies have more pitchers throughout the farm system and the effectiveness of the performance lab is paramount to their development to one day find success at the Major League level.

Leadership and implementation

Now the next questions arise: Who will run the lab? Can the Rockies front office and coaching staff implement these changes? Could the data lead to changes in Coors Field pitching philosophies?

In November, the Rockies posted a job opening for a coordinator of sports sciences to run the Scottsdale lab. The application process closed on Nov. 21 and the posting estimates that the recruitment process will be completed by Dec. 22. The position includes overseeing all data collection and distribution, including the “ability to creatively visualize biomechanics datasets.”

Other requirements and responsibilities include the ability to

• “Process collected motion capture data and compile player reports for distribution to Major League and Player Development staff (coaches, trainers, physical therapists).”

• “Support the physical performance staff in responsibilities related to athlete evaluation, training, and performance enhancement, while efficiently collaborating with on-field staff.”

• “Conduct regular biomechanics review and education sessions with staff and players to enhance player performance and minimize injury risk.”

• “Collaborate in identifying, developing, and implementing measurement techniques, processes, and staying updated on current scientific literature and emerging technologies.”

Sarris and Lewis list all the steps that are needed for biomechanics analytics to translate to success for players and an organization:

“Being able to measure the physical changes in a player before and after drills selected by their coaches is one thing. It’s another to then use those measurements to create benchmarks with which to judge the efficacy of the coaches and the organization in developing players. It’s a third thing to actually then make organizational changes based on hitting those benchmarks. It’s maybe a fourth thing to understand your organizational strengths through this lens and then acquire players who will benefit the most from your ability to help them move better.”

All of these align with the Rockies coordinator of sports sciences job requirements, which is a good sign. The lab itself is a huge shift in thinking for the organization.

A new course for R&D?

In the Denver Post’s The Rockie Way series that was published in September chronicling the organization’s three decades of mediocrity, “The Post found a franchise walled off from its peers, that lags behind innovative industry leaders” as two of the main reasons for the Rockies only having nine winning seasons in 31 seasons.

The Rockies often hire from within as evidenced by the current R&D department. When the Rockies last ventured into bringing in an outside perspective, it didn’t go very well. In September of 2021, the Rockies hired Scott Van Lenten from the Washington Nationals to lead R&D. He was fired less than six months later, in the middle of Spring Training, due to “major disagreements,” according to the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders.

Brian Jones, who has been with the Rockies since 2002, was promoted from video coordinator to director of research and development in 2022. Brittany Haby, the manager of research, is fairly new to the organization, especially in Rockies years. Haby, who has been with the Rockies since 2018, was the lone holdover in 2020 after the R&D laundry mass exodus.

Will the Rockies hire from within again? Are they capable of bringing in someone from outside the organization? Will Dick Monfort allow substantive changes if the data shows the need?

The new coordinator of sports sciences will hopefully be announced soon, which will answer some questions. Time will tell if the organization can join the biomechanical age and innovate in ways that match the challenge of playing at Coors Field.

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Reds Sign Austin Wynns To Major League Deal | MLB Trade Rumors

Austin Wynns played games with the Rockies, Dodgers, and Giants in 2023. In 2024, he’ll start out with the Reds. After being cut by the Giants, signed and cut by the Dodgers, the Rockies claimed Wynns off waivers on May 4. He served as the backup catcher for the remainder of the season, playing in 45 games and hitting .214/.273/.282. He elected free agency after the season ended and signed with the Reds on Thursday.

Comedian Roy Wood Jr. ready to host 2023 All-MLB Team show: ‘Kick back and laugh and celebrate the players’ | CBSSports

For the first time ever, MLB will be announcing the 2023 All-MLB Team during a live show with a host and current and former players on hand in an Oscar-like award show. Former Daily Show correspondent and huge Cubs fan, Roy Wood Jr., will be hosting the event, which will be broadcast on MLB Network, MLB.com, and MLB.tv. on Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. MT. Nolan Jones was the Rockies lone nominee for the 2023 All-MLB Team as one of 21 total outfielders.

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