Excerpt: In ‘The Arm,’ a search for the new frontier of building healthy baseball pitchers

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

From THE ARM: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, by Jeff Passan. Copyright © 2016 by Jeff Passan. Reprinted by arrangement with Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The radar gun doesn’t lie. I learned this long ago, never to forget it, even when the numbers didn’t seem real. I was standing in a warehouse in middle-­of­-nowhere Washington state, watching someone named Casey Weathers, a guy whose elbow had no right to be pushing the limits of human performance, throw a baseball harder than any I’d ever seen.

THE ARM: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports.
THE ARM: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports.

105.8.

When the numbers first flashed, nobody said anything. They were too high. Granted, this wasn’t a normal or legal throw – Weathers took a seven-­step running start, muscled into a crow hop and launched the ball as hard as he could into a net – but still, the fastest anyone had flung a five­-ounce baseball off a mound was then­-Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman at 105.1 miles per hour. Weathers left that nearly a mile in his rearview.

Standing behind the net that mid–November 2014 day was Kyle Boddy, the owner of Driveline Baseball and the man ultimately responsible for these numbers. Which, truth be told, he could barely fathom himself. Even though Boddy trained and nurtured baseball pitchers for a living, he had never seen anyone do with a regulation-­sized baseball what Casey Weathers had just done.

“I don’t know that I believe this,” Boddy said, and he poised the radar gun once more, as Weathers kicked into gear for another rip.

105.3.

About 15 feet to the side, Trevor Bauer, a starting pitcher with the Cleveland Indians, trained a camera on Weathers that captured video at 240 frames per second, necessary for Bauer to study how Weathers’ arm worked. These drills were Bauer’s domain. He’d long held the Driveline record for fastest five­-ounce throw.

“I guess I’m behind now,” Bauer said.

“Don’t worry,” Boddy said. “Nobody else on the planet throws as hard as you two.”

105.8.

Weathers had just done it again. It was an ugly day in Puyallup, Wash., home of Jon Lester and Driveline. Weathers wore a gray T­-shirt, black shorts, and neon orange shoes, Bauer gray sweatpants and a navy hoodie and Boddy his customary uniform of a black Driveline Baseball T­-shirt, gray sweatpants, and old Nikes. Others milled about the complex, as they often do at Driveline. Fourteen­-year­-olds mingle with major leaguers. Loud noises emanate from a combination office­-laboratory upstairs. Boddy rents the space, so the run of the facility isn’t exactly his, even if he and the Driveline crew walk around here – and everywhere, really – like they own the place.

Boddy seemed to ignore the core principles of the arm. It is made of bones and muscles and tendons and ligaments, all of which are fragile; when any piece of the arm is strained or stressed beyond its limit, it breaks. Boddy believed his training allowed pitchers to throw hard and stay healthy, and he saw Driveline as baseball’s Bonneville Salt Flats.

If Weathers could throw a five­-ounce ball 105.8 miles per hour, Boddy wanted to see what he could do with a baseball with the same circumference but an ounce lighter. The first four-ounce ball Weathers threw lit up the gun with a new number: 115.3 miles per hour. The throws with three-­ounce balls topped 118. With a two­-ounce ball, Weathers nearly hit 120 miles per hour.

Kyle Boddy and Casey Weathers. (Driveline Baseball)
Kyle Boddy and Casey Weathers. (Driveline Baseball)

Weathers wasn’t the typical player to seek help at a facility like Driveline. He had pedigree: a distinguished college career as Vanderbilt University’s closer, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft by Colorado in 2007, a nearly $2 million signing bonus, bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics. Two months after the Beijing Games ended, Weathers tore his UCL during an Arizona Fall League game. The fallout was a mess. Weathers didn’t throw until seven months post-­op. Platelet­-rich plasma treatment in his elbow failed to help. A bone spur started to hook off one of the tunnels drilled into his arm. When he returned 20 months after surgery, Weathers couldn’t throw strikes. The Rockies traded him to the Cubs, and at Double-A with them in 2012, he walked 53 batters in 34 innings before being released.

The first step was to reprogram Weathers’s brain as much as his arm. No longer would professional baseball’s take­-it­-easy standard apply. Weathers would subsist on a diet of underweight and overweight baseballs, the product of research Boddy did in his homemade biomechanics lab and reinforced by a paper from University of Hawaii professor Dr. Coop DeRenne that showed training with weighted balls had a significant effect on velocity gains. Throwing weighted balls, a controversial practice that only recently gained traction with major league teams, was at the heart of Boddy’s training.

Weathers bought in. Within a month, he constantly hit 95 off a mound and went from zero prospects to an offer from the Tampa Bay Rays. He shipped out to the low minor leagues and couldn’t throw strikes, but his arm didn’t hurt for the first time in six years. So back he came to Driveline for the winter, took a six-­month lease on a place 15 minutes away in Tacoma, and resolved to learn how to throw strikes. He wanted one more shot. It didn’t feel foolhardy, not when the training at Driveline helped his mashed­-potatoes elbow feel right again, especially not when the ball came out of his hand the way it did.

“There’s no way you should believe that a guy with a destroyed elbow threw 105.8 multiple times,” Boddy said. “There’s no reason to believe it.”

– – – – – – – –

The first time I spoke with Kyle Boddy, he told me I was going to see someone throw a baseball 106 miles per hour. I called him a liar and figured he was just another velocity­-crazed parasite. Boddy, much to my surprise, didn’t turtle away or snap back defensively. “The people that are my enemies or whatever have a point,” he said. “Velocities have never been higher, and those guys sort of tend to get hurt more. It’s kind of close cut. I get it. From a pure biomechanical standpoint, of course torque is incredibly high, right? And so that should lead to injuries. But nobody focuses on the kinesiology of it.”

Over his seven years studying baseball, Boddy has constantly run studies to test his ideas, challenge himself and learn more about whether he really can churn out pitchers who throw hard and stay healthy. Boddy was wrong about one thing: He wasn’t the most skeptical guy in the pitching arm business. That was me, and now I’d seen a guy with a chronically bad elbow throw 105.8 mph and declare himself healthier than ever.

High school pitcher Andrew Pickles. (Driveline Baseball)
High school pitcher Andrew Pickles. (Driveline Baseball)

“His arm was killing him for four years,” Boddy said. “Now it doesn’t, and he can train as hard as he wants and maybe make something out of himself. That’s way more fun. You can’t sell people preventive medicine. I think the American healthcare system and the rise of anti-vaccination people is proof enough of that, and baseball people are at least one order of magnitude dumber than the average American citizen.”

Boddy’s active dislike of the baseball establishment brought him here. I walked into the upstairs portion of the facility and was greeted by a wall with inch­-thick mats backed by two­-by­-four reinforcements every foot or so. Driveline students whipped medicine balls into the padding with reverse throws, like a tennis backhand, to strengthen the three rotator cuff muscles that contract during the deceleration portion of the delivery. On the adjacent wall, there was visible electric piping. The place looked more like a meth lab than a science lab.

Boddy’s desk, which he shares with the CEO he hired, a former waste­-management operations manager named Mike Rathwell, was a disaster covered by weighted balls, batteries, two printers and a PC missing a side panel, its guts exposed. A few feet away, Weathers had dropped a weight on the ground after a grueling set and destroyed the plywood in the floor, leaving a gaping hole beneath the carpet. Rather than fix it, Boddy covered it with a mat and told everyone to avoid the manhole. Of the stack of books on top of a drawer, one was Boddy’s much­-thumbed copy of Gray’s Anatomy and two were in Japanese, written by Kazushi Tezuka and Ryutaro Himeno, the theorists behind the mysterious gyroball pitch. The body­-mobility bible Becoming a Supple Leopard had yet to be cracked. “I am not a supple leopard,” Boddy said. “I think I’m going to celebrate with some pizza tonight.”

Boddy claimed moments like Weathers’s 105.8 as his own victories. They validated his decision to leave behind his previous career as a nerd­-for­-hire and pursue Driveline full­time in 2012. Until then, he had worked exposing security flaws at the gambling operation PokerStars, played cards and bet sports himself, spent a year at Microsoft, and jumped around in data­-science jobs. He was depressed and suffering from anxiety attacks, convinced that he was missing his baseball calling. The game had been his passion since his Cleveland childhood. Boddy’s father worked as an electrician and his mom stayed at home. Boddy was a bad ballplayer, more knowledgeable than skilled. He spent his senior year in high school taking classes at a nearby community college and turned down opportunities at more challenging schools because he couldn’t afford them. Instead, he took a full scholarship to Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, but eventually dropped out.

Driveline Mechanics, the blog Boddy started in 2008, relied significantly on the theories of former major league pitcher Mike Marshall and pitching-mechanics critic Chris O’Leary. Parroting others’ work didn’t satisfy Boddy, so he set out to create something that seemed impossible: a biomechanics lab, just like Glenn Fleisig had at the American Sports Medicine Institute. “It’s just math, man,” Boddy said. “I’m Asian. I got into MIT. I can do this.”

At a dilapidated warehouse in Seattle, Boddy installed four high­-speed cameras. As he moved into bigger, better spaces, the lab grew as well: EMG sensors, force plates, inertial measurement units, and even a contraption made from a Nintendo Wiimote that aimed to measure elbow torque. Working out at Driveline meant being part of a running experiment. Never in professional baseball had any team done this. The most active research that teams do on players involves a biomechanical analysis at ASMI or another lab. As former Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said, “We don’t want to turn them into guinea pigs. If there was a parallel universe somewhere with baseball player clones and there was no human attached to it, you could do whatever you want.”

Cherington’s science-fiction is Boddy’s science. He wants to marry velocity with health, and his simple, reasonable proposal is an extension of the epidemiological study Major League Baseball is undertaking. “You take all first­-year pitchers and measure everything,” Boddy said. “Maybe you even spring for MRIs on everyone to do a cool research project. Then you track specific metrics at all levels every two to four weeks and see where things go from there. When there are large deviations, experiment with recovery techniques. See which ones work well and which ones don’t. … Keep the good stuff. Constantly iterate.”

While Boddy’s weighted­-ball program proliferated throughout college baseball – starting with Vanderbilt and Oregon State, two national championship–caliber programs – as well as in high schools around the country, major league teams retreated to their fiefdoms. This left Boddy with few allies and forced him to dig into the deepest corners of the Internet, seeking intellectual equals to help grow Driveline. Trevor Bauer was one, and he was a good one to have, because he was every bit as smart as Boddy and even more curious. On the day of 105.8, he came to Driveline with his father, Warren, a chemical engineer who helped make Bauer a major leaguer. And amid discussions about health and mechanics and physics, Warren piped up during a lull in the conversation.

“Kyle, Trevor and I had a question for you,” Warren said. “Do you think you can teach command?”

– – – – – – – –

During lunch period in high school, Trevor Bauer used to escape to room J2, which kids called the Physics Palace. Martin Kirby, a renowned teacher at Hart High, 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, presided over it with great majesty. As a sophomore, Bauer took AP Physics with Kirby, and it introduced him to a new world, one with force and momentum and everything else that went into throwing a baseball. Kirby spoke Bauer’s language far better than any of his peers. “I didn’t have a whole lot of friends in high school,” Bauer said. “I’d go in, and I’d play chess in his classroom. Or talk to him about quantum physics at lunch just so I didn’t feel awkward out there standing alone, again.”

Kids used to laugh at Bauer for wearing baseball pants to Meadows Elementary School. He spent his teenage years as an oxymoron: the elite­-athlete outcast. He was too smart for his own good, too dedicated to the craft of throwing a baseball to hone his social skills. When Bauer wanted an ultraheavy ball for training, he drilled holes into softballs and pounded lead fishing sinkers into them with a hammer. Little did those around him understand how hard he had to work to overcome genetics. Even now, after maniacal training, Bauer’s vertical leap is barely 30 inches and he runs a bit like a mule. As a freshman, his fastball was in the mid­-70s.

“Trevor was never an elite arm,” Warren Bauer said. “Trevor made himself an elite arm. There’s a difference.”

Former track star Tosh Semlacher has converted to a pitcher and now throws 90+ MPH. (Driveline Baseball)
Former track star Tosh Semlacher has converted to a pitcher and now throws 90+ MPH. (Driveline Baseball)

Bauer’s routine irked his coaches at UCLA, but nobody questioned it. He estimates that he threw 360 days a year. He struck up a friendship with Alan Jaeger, the long­-toss guru, and became its greatest acolyte, throwing balls 400 feet and beginning his innings with a running crow­hop throw, many of which soared to the backstop. By his junior season, he was the best pitcher in the nation, a 6­-foot­-1, 175­-pound anomaly, a mite next to his 6-foot-4, 220­-pound teammate Gerrit Cole, who was born to throw 100 mph.

Bauer is exhibit one in favor of sport specialization, the exception to the rules against year­-round baseball and year­-round throwing and everything else I’d come to believe. He was a freak of intelligence, self-awareness and dedication. Bauer’s body gave him 80 miles per hour. He discovered the last 20 himself.

“I’m an argument in favor of development, that it’s possible subpar genetics can get to the level I’m at,” Bauer said. “People could be a lot more like me than you see if they did it as long as I’ve done it. It’s one of the reasons I have such a clean throwing pattern and arm action and don’t have pain when I throw. I throw all the time.”

The issue of command stumped Bauer. Control – throwing strikes consistently – was difficult enough. Command is the ability to locate those pitches. It is considered unteachable. Pound strike­-throwing into a guy’s head enough and he probably can get the ball over the plate. Command, the belief goes, is as inborn as eye color, and no matter how hard he tried, Bauer hadn’t found it. He struggled with it after Arizona drafted him third overall in 2011. He wasn’t much better after a trade to Cleveland prior to the 2013 season. Bauer refused to believe he couldn’t master it, and his father wanted to know whether Boddy had any ideas to complement the offseason plan they were about to hatch.

Bauer wanted to expand upon a randomized­-training program from the previous offseason. He would throw either a four­-, a five­- or six­-ounce ball, different every time, and the varying weights would help him gain better proprioception, the subconscious feedback that allows muscles to repeat movements and organize the body. That wasn’t enough for Bauer. Baseball is imperfect. Some mounds are slanted one way, some another. Days are hot or cold, sunny or gloomy. Pitching in the first inning is an entirely different animal than going in in the eighth after 100 pitches. The variables in a game are infinite, Bauer figured, so if his training were the same it could theoretically help him command pitches in any type of environment.

“I throw a pitch, and before the next one I do 20 single­-leg squats with my right leg,” Bauer said. “Now I go to throw the pitch, this [leg] is partially fatigued. I still have to try to hit that at 60 feet, so that’s going to be different, but still trying to execute the pitch. So you teach your body to be able to, if this is slightly fatigued.”

Bauer didn’t stop with the squats. He wanted to “destabilize the system.” After throwing a six­-ounce cutter, he would do some sort of rotational drill. Then he would throw another six­-ounce cutter before reaching randomly for a four­, five­ or six­-ounce ball to throw. One more six­-ounce cutter preceded the final flourish. Bauer would take a ball and shoot into a bucket, like he was playing hoops, or kick a soccer ball, or swing a bat, or jump. And finally he would grab a four­-ounce ball and try to cut it to the same spot he had with the six­-ounce ball.

“The more you change up the system of how your body has to move, the more natural your body actually looks to solve that trick,” Bauer said. “Your body is a great problem solver, so you’re going to solve that equation a lot better.”

Performance determines reputation, and Bauer understood that his career ERA of 4.44 going into the 2015 season gave him little leeway. He was lucky to be with the Indians, an organization deep in pitching minds and willing to let him experiment. If one of the 750 Major League Baseball players in the world wanted to use training modalities rooted in decades of obscure studies to defeat the impossible, the Indians wouldn’t argue. It would be a far easier sell if he cut a point or two off that ERA.

– – – – – – – –

Given Boddy’s bouts of egotism, the email he sent me February 13, 2015, felt uncharacteristic. He linked to two papers written by Dr. James Buffi and said he was close to hiring him:

It’s actual genius­-level material that goes beyond the inverse dynamics of what ASMI does. It could be exceedingly revolutionary. Fortunately for me, he’s read my site and he thinks that I’m the only guy who understands how to train pitchers. Works for me.

Never before had I seen him lavish praise on a peer without caveat. And to call Buffi a peer was a stretch. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University, biding his time for a few more months after finishing his research on the muscles in the forearm and their effect on the UCL. After hours of scouring the Internet for his intellectual and scientific equal, Boddy had found one.

JUCO pitcher Elijah Miller. (Driveline Baseball)
JUCO pitcher Elijah Miller. (Driveline Baseball)

Buffi, who grew up in Smithfield, R.I., playing baseball, was always one of the smallest kids – he stands just 5-foot-6 today – and wanted to learn how to throw as fast as his taller teammates. Buffi’s parents bought him a Tom House book on mechanics. “That’s when I realized how complex the pitching motion really was,” he said. After graduating from Notre Dame, Buffi went to Northwestern to study the forearm muscles in hopes of making better prosthetic limbs. He stumbled across medical literature relating to baseball, got hooked and received permission from his advisor and PhD committee to write his dissertation about the forearm muscles’ impact on the throwing motion. Buffi’s goal was to figure out exactly how much the muscles contribute to protecting the UCL and how it varies from pitcher to pitcher, and to do so, he used a method rarely applied to baseball.

Almost every biomechanics lab, including ASMI’s, uses a process for measuring force on joints called inverse dynamics. It starts by figuring out the total loads on joints, then works backward and assigns the amount of force to individual joints, including the valgus torque on the elbow. Buffi specialized in musculoskeletal modeling, in which he loaded motion-­capture data of a col­lege pitcher throwing a pitch into a computerized version of the human body created by his advisor. He used the model to simulate the force on each of the four forearm muscles that make up the flexor­-pronator mass. This was called forward dynamics, and while in the biomechanical world it’s nothing new – researchers have used it to analyze walking patterns for years – the gait is a far simpler pattern than the throwing motion.

“One of the things Kyle said when we were talking, which really struck a chord with me, was that compared to where technology is, baseball science is like back in the 1970s and ’80s,” Buffi said. “When I follow Kyle’s stuff, he’s fairly close to the present. When I started looking into baseball research, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. I can do anything I want and it’s going to be novel and awesome.’ This whole field is wide open.”

Buffi’s initial research confirmed the importance of the flexor-pronator muscles in the forearm. Perhaps they were what enabled R.A. Dickey to pitch without a UCL. Maybe they explained why some pitchers stayed healthy and others didn’t. To further test his hypothesis, Buffi worked with researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital’s biomechanics lab, which captured the throwing motions of 20 college pitchers with markers as well as ground­-force data collected with force plates. Buffi’s optimization algorithm fit the markers in the model as close as possible to those on the real pitchers. “The goal,” Buffi said, “is to get the model to move in exactly the same way the real pitcher moves.”

Of the 20 pitchers, 13 had no previous major arm injuries and seven did. Blinded to the results, Buffi correctly identified six of the seven injured pitchers and 12 of the 13 without injuries based solely on the model’s data. Buffi then used inverse dynamics, the standard method, to assess all 20 pitchers. It could not tell the difference between who had been injured and who hadn’t.

“I don’t want to say I can fix elbow injuries, but I think I can compensate for the thing that I found with training,” Buffi said. “It’s a really, really hard problem to solve. Hopefully I’m making some good steps toward solving it.”

– – – – – – – –

In the middle of January 2015, Casey Weathers was throwing only 90 mph off the mound. Every day, he came into Driveline Baseball’s rickety gym, and every day he stared at the radar board on the wall and wondered what the hell happened to his arm. It felt fine. He was still healthy. The arm that threw a ball 105.8 miles per hour simply vanished.

Jack Schneidman, a former elite shot putter, threw for fun at a Seattle Mariners game and hit 95 MPH. (Driveline Baseball)
Jack Schneidman, a former elite shot putter, threw for fun at a Seattle Mariners game and hit 95 MPH. (Driveline Baseball)

“I suck,” Weathers muttered, and Kyle Boddy would nod along, still confident his grand plan was unfolding at just the right pace. A month earlier, Weathers agreed to a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. He would report to Goodyear, Ariz., for spring training just like Trevor Bauer, and he’d bring with him stories of playing test subject for Bauer and Boddy’s mad­-scientist routine. Weathers was doing command training, too, a variation on Bauer’s but taxing nevertheless.

Depending on the day, Weathers would throw anywhere from 25 to 60 pitches at a 17­-by­-17­-inch black pad that serves as a strike-­zone proxy and looks like the back of a chair. Bauer first used it at the Texas Baseball Ranch with coach Ron Wolforth, and the thud when the ball hit the pad was a nugget of positive reinforcement for a job well done. Weathers wanted to make the drill even harder. Rather than aiming for a specific area – low and away, high and inside, middle­-out – he spaced dime­-sized colored dots a centimeter or two apart and aimed for one minute spot. Often he was close enough that a miss didn’t feel as much like a miss might have otherwise.

Weathers started at 54 feet with only five­-ounce balls. Once he hit his target on 75 percent of his throws, he moved back to 60 feet, six inches, and added weighted balls to the mix. Five throws at six ounces, five at four ounces, with mixed intent – sometimes 80 percent, sometimes max effort, always chopped up.

“We want them to hate their workouts,” Boddy said. “Well, not really, but the training has that effect. Like, throw a four­-ounce ball at 80 percent of perceived maximum effort to a low target, then your next throw is a regular baseball as hard as possible to a high target. That’s impossible to do. But over time it absolutely helps because you don’t get trapped in ‘throw a pitch, miss, complain, throw a pitch, hit, great, who cares.’ They actually have to think every rep through.”

As February dawned and Boddy tapered down the intensity of Weathers’ workouts, his velocity returned alongside his command. He was sitting at 92, touching 95 and banging his low­-and­-away strikes 70 percent of the time. The plan was working.

“I knew it would,” Boddy said. “I took the foot off the abuse meter. It’s not physical. A guy like Casey has no problem with the physical stuff, but they’ve generally never been mentally challenged or psychologically challenged in that way. It’s very tedious, boring work that they’re bad at. Not only is this boring, it’s really hard and it sucks.”

How it would translate a few weeks down the road Boddy didn’t know. If Weathers and Bauer threw strikes, maybe he was on to something. If they didn’t, he’d try his best to understand the limitations of the training and apply the pieces that did work, adding new components.

“Casey Weathers is worth a lot to an organization even if he never throws a pitch in Major League Baseball,” Boddy said, “because it’s an amazing, not story, but validated experiment, that this can be done.”

During spring training, Weathers kept throwing strikes and was assigned to Class A Lynchburg. At 29, he was seven years older than the average player in the league, and in order to validate his position in the Indians’ organization, he needed to show one of two things: exquisite command or monster velocity. Weathers walked two in his first game with Lynchburg and two more in his second, and his fastball sat around 93. It started ticking up, and he didn’t walk anybody in half of his next 10 games, and the velocity went a little higher, and the outs were coming, the ERA dropping. And on May 24, 2015, the same day Weathers walked two batters, the same day he hung a slider that got tattooed for a three­-run home run, he did something that before going to Driveline never could’ve happened.

The guy with the mashed-­potatoes elbow hit 100 mph off the mound.

– – – – – – – –

Kyle Boddy wasn’t the only one paying attention to Dr. James Buffi. Matt Arnold, the director of pro scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays, one of baseball’s most progressive organizations, reached out to Buffi and asked if he might want a job.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. (Getty Images)
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. (Getty Images)

Another call frightened Boddy far more than Tampa Bay’s: a man named Doug Fearing, the director of research and development for the Los Angeles Dodgers, wanted to speak with Buffi about his findings. The Dodgers were run by Andrew Friedman, the hyperintelligent president of baseball operations who had just left the Rays after a decade-­long run of success. In Los Angeles, no budget bound Friedman. The Dodgers had just started an $8 billion local­-television contract that allowed their annual payrolls to threaten $300 million. Even better, Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi were allowing Fearing to build baseball’s biggest, best think tank. They were seeking experts in quantitative psychology and applied mathematics. One of Buffi’s friends from Northwestern’s PhD program, a data scientist named Megan Schroeder, already was working with the Dodgers as an analyst. She raved to Buffi about the Dodgers’ new front­-office brain trust.

Boddy’s chief concern was that the Dodgers would steal Buffi and his work for their organization alone, further setting back the cause of all baseball pitchers.

“He’s gonna work for the Dodgers,” Bauer told Boddy.

“What makes you say that? ” Boddy said.

“When you were 29 and I met you,” Bauer said, “would you have worked for Ron Wolforth or for the Indians? ”

“Ah, [forget] you,” Boddy said.

“Exactly,” Bauer said.

In June 2015, Buffi accepted a job with the Dodgers about three months after he told me he didn’t want to work for a team. “I did believe that,” Buffi said. “But when I came back from the Dodgers, I was so impressed by the people they had on board. They were talking such a big game about research and creating a premier baseball think tank and hiring the smartest minds in baseball. And they have Andrew and Farhan and Doug.”

Buffi wasn’t a hypocrite. He was a realist. Working for the Dodgers provided an incredible opportunity to continue his research. He had endless money, an available pool of test subjects inside the Dodgers’ farm system and the chance to learn from some of the finest minds in the sport. If he wanted to track the arm using inertial measurement units – a sensor used more often to guide airplanes, spaceships and missiles – track it he could. Buffi could buy all the joint-­angle­-measuring electrogoniometers his heart desired.

“I traded the opportunity to impact a ton of people, which I do want to do because I’m still only 29,” Buffi said. “I just thought this opportunity to get in the ground floor – I had to make a choice. It feels like a selfish decision. But I did the best I could.”

In a conversation with Buffi about spreading potential innovations to the masses, Friedman said all the right things about being open-­minded. Buffi wasn’t so naive as to think the Dodgers would simply give away proprietary information for the good of baseball. There are championships to be won, and the easiest way to do it is with a pitching staff full of healthy arms and the wisdom to flip those whose arms won’t be.

When he called Boddy to tell him he took the Dodgers job, Buffi teared up. “I’m a sensitive guy,” he later said. He was fond of Boddy, appreciative of the opportunity to write about his work, certain that Driveline would maintain its spirit of research and development without him.

“I was pretty pissed for about 20 minutes for the future of Driveline,” Boddy said. “The company is going to go on. It just sucks. For all of baseball. It sucks that not everybody’s going to know about his work, no matter what happens with the Dodgers. The worst­-case scenario is he has a breakthrough with them. Because then the world won’t see it.” He sighed. “You can only learn you hate pro ball one way,” Boddy said. “By working in it.”

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