Brewers trio has biomechanics tested
Peterson's approach helps keep hurlers healthy
PHOENIX -- The Brewers made baseball history of sorts on Friday when they began putting their Major League pitchers through a motion analysis exercise in a batting cage-turned laboratory at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush and Doug Davis were among the pitchers stripped to their skivvies and strapped with sensors for a 10-pitch throwing session. The sensors recorded more than 40 individual measurements in the pitchers' delivery and compared those readings to normative ranges established over the past two decades at Dr. James Andrews' lab in Birmingham, Ala. The idea is to identify potential areas of injury risk.
It's part of a program that new pitching coach Rick Peterson calls his "life's work," but the Brewers have been interested in biomechanics for at least the past five years. The team's head physician, Dr. William Raasch, established a portable lab in Milwaukee -- the only such in-house setup in baseball, the Brewers believe -- and has used it to analyze pitchers in Milwaukee's Minor League system. Friday marked the first time that the team began running all of its Major League pitchers through the process.
"Probably my fifth time doing it," said Gallardo, who came up through the Brewers' system. "It's nice to know the certain points you may be putting more stress, like your shoulder or your elbow or whatever it is."
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The program likes Gallardo. He went through a test last year in Milwaukee and found that of all the pitchers tested, he put the least stress both on his shoulder and his elbow.
"It's good to hear that," he said. "It makes you want to work even more on keeping your mechanics."
Said Bush: "It's a little bit awkward because you're standing there without any clothes on but your sliders, but it's going to be pretty cool to see what it says. I have an open mind about everything. I'm not saying I'm going to go along with everything it says, but I'm definitely open to talking about it."
Left-handers Randy Wolf and Chris Capuano are among the more interesting subjects scheduled for an analysis on Saturday. Wolf was the Brewers' biggest free-agent pickup and Capuano is trying a comeback from his second Tommy John surgery. Capuano underwent an analysis several months ago during his rehabilitation and is curious to see how the results compare.
Wolf was just looking to have a little fun.
"We'll see if I qualify for a game of Tron," he joked.
This is serious stuff for Peterson, who was thrilled to join the Brewers over the winter because of the team's existing work in biomechanics. He got his start in the field in 1989, when he was the White Sox's Double-A pitching coach in Birmingham, where Andrews had just founded the American Sports Medicine Institute.
Peterson's strength was taking Andrews' readings and developing solutions for pitchers to lower the red flags. He has come up with a number of drills over the years to fix, for example, hip rotation or stride length. By doing so, Peterson says he can reduce the likelihood of injury -- he says Major League teams spent $1.4 billion on injured pitchers over the past 10 years -- while improving a pitcher's performance.
He has spoken at length with a number of Milwaukee media outlets about his program since joining the Brewers, leading some skeptical fans to wonder whether the team hired a pitching coach or an injury prevention specialist.
That question was posed to Brewers manager Ken Macha, who worked with Peterson previously in Oakland, on Friday morning.
"The way to answer that is to tell them to check the guy's record," Macha said. "At one particular time, the Toronto Blue Jays had [Roy] Halladay, [Kelvim] Escobar and [Chris] Carpenter all in their snake [Minor League system]. A little later, we had [Tim] Hudson, [Mark] Mulder and [Barry] Zito. All three of those guys became extremely productive pitchers at an early age for the A's.
"Whereas, Carpenter didn't become productive until he got [to St. Louis]. Escobar, so-so. And Halladay wound up getting sent back to A-ball to restructure himself. You look at that particular example, and that says a lot for [Peterson]."
Peterson's passion, Macha said, is his best trait.
"I think the best coaches are the guys who can break down the basic movements into such small parts," Macha said. "Whether it's teaching a ground ball or the hitting stroke or whatever, you simplify it for these players so they're looking to improve their small parts."
So far, the reviews of Peterson have been positive.
"He's extremely smart, and he knows a lot about what he believes in," said Bush, whose 2009 season was ruined by an elbow injury. "It's definitely a different program than the ones I've been involved with in the past. I've never worked with someone who has this much knowledge of the biomechanics of pitching. We've talked about mechanics a lot, but this is different. I'm curious to see where it goes."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.