By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports

Baseball has consistently been the leader in finding an innovative way to look at a sport that’s been around for well over 100 years. 

The advanced stats movement, ushered in by the “Moneyball” philosophy espoused by Athletics GM Billy Beane has led to a greater understanding of what skill sets are the most valuable on the baseball field.  Weightlifting and training regimens have made players bigger and stronger, but also more durable to some extent.  Medical technology has allowed previously career-ending procedures (ie Tommy John, ACL) to become routine.

In the arms race for finding better and more insightful information in order to quantify every conceivable aspect of an athlete’s performance, MLB teams have always been on the cutting edge.  Now one franchise looks to take another step into the future in order to better understand and prevent arm injuries to their pitching staff.

Yahoo Sports reported yesterday that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed a deal with the company Kinatrax to place their technology in Tropicana field, becoming the first major league team to do so.  The Rays are one of the most forward thinking teams in the MLB so it’s no surprise that they’re the first to make this move. 

What is Kinatrax you ask? Well according to the company’s website, they make marker-less motion capture technology, with results that can be delivered in real time via cloud based services.  You may have heard of motion capture technology being used in movies such as “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” or in any video game that you’ve played within the last 10-15 years.  Usually, the motion capture process requires little reflective markers placed all over the body while the athlete or actor goes through the motions and a camera then picks up those markers creating a computer generated outline of the person’s appearance. 

The difference with Kinatrax and why it’s so interesting to me to see is that Kinatrax replaces those markers with “an optical camera array capable of high speed and long distance capture. After recording a motion event, the data is transmitted to our cloud service for rapid processing via our GPU enabled servers. Our customers can then download the raw motion capture results and biomechanics reports through our user-friendly website portal,” according to the company’s website.

That means that the Rays with the technology in their stadium would be able to get a real-time feed of the biomechanical data from their pitchers and from opponents as well.  How they use that data isn’t clear just yet, but just an outside guess is that over time with a collection of data they may be able to pinpoint the difference in the bio-mechanics between a pitcher who consistently is getting injured and one who is healthy. 

One of the main debates over the past few years, has been the preponderance of torn elbow ligaments suffered by pitchers, leading to them having to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery.  One side of the debate has focused on how much young baseball players are pitching as they come up through the Little League baseball system. Since, many Little Leagues have continued to institute more restricted pitch counts to allow for rest.  The other side of the debate focuses on the mechanics of pitchers and how much stress they’re putting on their arms with the wind-up.  Well, this Kinatrax technology if it does work the way it says, could help to answer what kind of motion for each pitcher allows for the least amount of stress to be put on those ligaments and joints. 

The pursuit of more information and knowledge is a uniquely human trait.  We find it in all aspects of life as we aspire to higher and higher levels of understanding of the world around us.  The same goes for sports, and the Rays are looking for that next step in understanding how the sport interacts with the human body.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email him. 

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