By Koby Close
The American Baseball Biomechanics Society kicked off their first inaugural conference with three days of virtual research presentations and panel discussions. The mission of ABBS is to provide valid, valuable biomechanical information to baseball players, coaches, teams, and organizations and to set standards for biomechanical evaluations and analyses within a baseball setting.
Over 900 people registered for the event and were given the opportunity to see new research, learn about emerging technologies, and hear from world leaders in biomechanics. Those who were able to attend the live presentations also had the chance to ask questions during research and panel discussions.
Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D. and President of ABBS, opened the first day with an overview of biomechanics history and why this was the appropriate time to found the society. PubMed search results for baseball biomechanics demonstrated the rapid expansion of the field and the need to create a central body that individuals, companies, and organizations can rely on. As stated in his letter to ABBS on April 30, 2020, “The biomechanics revolution in baseball brings great opportunity but also many challenges.”
Emerging technologies such as markerless motion capture, pitching mounds with embedded force plates, and wearables will continue to increase the accessibility and interest in biomechanics research in the wider baseball community. ABBS has a tremendous opportunity to spread research and establish best practices for these new technologies that will help push the game forward.
Applications to Player Development
Many of the board members and guest panelists are employed by MLB teams and called out the fact that players and coaches from their organizations were increasingly interested in biomechanics research and how it could be applied to player development. This idea quickly became the popular theme of the conference as live questions were focused on how academic studies and new technologies could be leveraged to increase player performance or prevent injury. Panel discussion topics were polled from participants near the end of the conference with 50% asking for discussions around translating biomechanics findings to applications on the field/in training.
Thursday’s panel of Bryson Nakamura, Ph.D., Ethan Stewart Ph.D.(c), and Ben Hansen, B.S. showed the need for technology validation and standards as they discussed some of the differences in how MLB teams use technologies in their player development departments. Ethan Stewart specifically pointed out that teams largely use the same technologies but how they integrate them into their existing programs is what set organizations apart. The accuracy and application of these technologies in player development has major implications and the need to understand the limitations of a new biomechanics tool was evident.
The final panel on Friday consisted of the ABBS board and, as requested through the poll, spent a good amount of time discussing how their work could be presented to players and coaches in a way that enabled them to make positive changes. Each panel member offered their personal approach to conveying information to players and how they adjust to different audiences. Concepts that were effective at all levels included:
- Using video and demonstrations to effectively convey concepts
- Gaining an understanding of the player’s goals
- Working with coaches/parents to integrate biomechanics findings into their development plan
Many panel members pointed out that the increasing number of coaches and players with fundamental knowledge of biomechanics and data analysis allowed them to have more technical conversations and the ability to introduce plots and tables to convey important information. The ability to communicate with those involved in player development has clearly helped the biomechanists on the panel be successful and is key to the growth of biomechanics for player development.
The emphasis on player development raised some questions about how biomechanists should balance the apparent tradeoffs between performance gains and injury prevention. Dr. Fleisig took his stance on this balance by calling on biomechanics research to continue to quantify and define the risk/benefit while allowing the individual player to weigh the tradeoffs. He also recommended moderation in any training program and reminded the audience that small studies on training effects would add up to deeper understanding over time.
Promoting Growth of Young Biomechanists
Another area that was touched on throughout the panel discussions was helping young biomechanists build a career in baseball. Wednesday’s panel of Gretchen Oliver, Ph.D., Hillary Plummer, Ph.D., and Megan Stewart, M.S. focused on the research opportunities in academia and how to choose a Ph.D. program.
The program at Auburn University, led by Dr. Oliver, puts an emphasis on injury prevention and understanding the throwing motion in baseball and softball pitchers. Her advice to aspiring Ph.D. students was to research advisors more than the schools themselves because their research interests need to align with yours for the experience to be mutually beneficial. The other panel members reiterated this idea and added that speaking to current students was another great way to understand what is expected of a Ph.D. candidate at that school. A drive to learn was the number one characteristic needed to be selected and successful.
Thursday’s Major League Baseball panel also took some time to chime in on the skills needed to be successful as a biomechanist. Ethan Stewart encouraged those who aspire to work for an MLB team to reach out to biomechanists and player development personnel regularly. Making yourself known in a deep talent pool is the first step in getting an interview for an internship or job opening. Ben Hansen added the need for programming skills and Dr. Nakamura said his diverse experiences before joining the Brewers allowed him to see things with new, innovative perspectives.
The baseball biomechanics industry professionals also offered their experiences and recommendations. The panel consisted of William Clark, Ph.D., Patrick Cherveny, M.S., Scott Coleman, M.S., and Patrick Moodie, M.S. Each panelist entered industry with a desire to spread objective measurement and offered insight into the challenges a technology provider faces in the world of baseball. An aspiring biomechanist with the ability to communicate with users and understand their needs would make them an extremely valuable employee. Programming skills were also highly desired in industry in addition to critical thinking skills.
Research Presentations and Guest Speakers
ABBS would like to thank all the individuals who presented research during the conference. Without your contributions the conference would not have been possible. Speakers included Jon Slowik Ph.D., Garret Bullock PT, DPT, Zachary Domire Ph.D., Matt Solomito Ph.D., Cal Haefke, Avery Avina, Arnel Aguinaldo Ph.D., Jacqueline Alderson Ph.D., Eric Burger M.S., Dan Aucoin, Christopher Curran Ph.D., Mike Reinold PT, DPT, SCS, ATC, CSCS C-PS.
ABBS would like to give a special thanks to our sponsors for their support: Dari Motion, Kinatrax, Rapsodo, Vicon, AMTI, Bertec, Qualisys, ProPlayAI, Driveline Baseball, Diamond Kinetics, and SMT.
This summary was written by Koby Close. Koby received his undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2017. He currently works as a data analyst and posts his baseball and biomechanics research on the Phanalytics blog.