Sources: MLB team enlisting potentially revolutionary technology to study pitching

Jeff PassanMLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

In the quest to keep arms healthy, the Tampa Bay Rays have always positioned themselves ahead of baseball, emphasizing a comprehensive shoulder-strengthening program long before other teams caught on. Now the Rays are hoping technology can give them a step up, too.

The Rays will be the first team to install Kinatrax, a markerless motion-capture system, in their stadium, sources told Yahoo Sports. An announcement touting the move is expected Monday.

Kinatrax uses ultra-high-speed cameras and aims to capture the sort of biomechanical data that previously necessitated the placement of reflective markers on different body parts. Should Kinatrax do what it purports to, it would revolutionize baseball by offering looks at pitchers’ in-game biomechanics instead of those revealed in laboratory settings.

By installing Kinatrax at Tropicana Field, not only do the Rays get to analyze their own pitchers, they can track opponents’ biomechanics. Exactly how they will interpret the data is unclear, especially in the immediate future, but years worth of data could provide patterns that show typical biomechanical traits of pitchers who get hurt vs. those who stay healthy. One of the Rays’ analysts, Josh Kalk, was a noted guru in analyzing PITCHf/x data before he joined the team in 2009.

While Kinatrax’s current version measures the angles and velocities of bones and joints, future versions hope to calculate stress and strain on tendons and ligaments – a potential landmark leap that theoretically would show signs of pitchers whose ulnar collateral ligaments are in peril.

Live in-game data from Kinatrax will not immediately be available. Each pitch is 1.3 gigabytes per camera, and with eight cameras, there are upwards of two terabytes of data per game. Kinatrax will upload data from a game into cloud storage, and it will be ready for the Rays to analyze the next day.

[ThePostGame: How Big Data might help against epidemic of Tommy John surgeries]

After years of healthy starting rotations helped propel them into the playoffs, the Rays in the last year-plus have seen a rash of starters go down. First was Matt Moore, who is close to returning from Tommy John surgery. Ace Alex Cobb underwent Tommy John early this season, and fellow starter Drew Smyly has been sidelined with a shoulder injury for a majority of the season.

Nevertheless, the Rays are tied for first place in the American League East at 35-29 with the New York Yankees, whose opening day payroll was three times the size of Tampa Bay’s $76 million.

What to Read Next