How the Red Sox turned Fenway Park into a biomechanics lab for prospects
Several Red Sox minor leaguers have been enjoying special field trips this season.
Pitching prospects such as Bryan Mata, Tanner Houck, Mike Shawaryn, Darwinzon Hernandez, Kutter Crawford, and many more have come to Fenway Park for side sessions in a setting unlike any they’ve experienced.
“We get to go out there and we’re able to work on the things we’re working on in our sides, but we get to do it on probably the best mound we’ve ever thrown off of. It was awesome,” said Shawaryn, a 23-year-old who is 4-7 with a 3.65 ERA for Double A Portland. “That’s where your dream is. You want to eventually do that in a game. To be able to have that experience in very low pressure, it’s good. You can soak in all that’s amazing at Fenway and kind of imagine what it would be like with all the fans. You take it as an experience you can learn from — not just what to do, what to do better, but the awe of Fenway and being out there on the mound, throwing.”
This is the first year that the Red Sox have conducted regular visits to Fenway for such a large number of prospects (vice president of pitching analysis Brian Bannister said that roughly 20 pitchers had come in and out of Boston). The visits serve a number of purposes.
First, as Shawaryn suggested, the visits create a sense of familiarity at Fenway. Whenever such a pitcher makes his debut in Boston, he will have at least one prior visit to the park’s mound to draw upon in the excited hours leading up to that moment.
Further, such visits offer an opportunity for a broader-than-usual cross-section of Red Sox officials and coaches to get a glimpse at the pitcher together. The visits are particularly valuable for Bannister, who spends the vast majority of the season with the big league team. With a morning side session at Fenway, he can not only get a first-person look at pitching prospects, but also do so while meeting with player development officials such as VP of player development Ben Crockett, pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel, and a shifting cast of team officials.
Yet perhaps the most significant reason for the visits is to get the pitchers in front of some sparkling new toys. At Fenway, for instance, the Red Sox have a high-speed camera that can capture a delivery in detail that can’t be replicated in minor league parks. That video can allow for biomechanical analysis that allows the team to better understand their pitchers’ deliveries in order to monitor their health, form comparisons to (and sometimes make adjustments to more closely replicate) deliveries of established big league pitchers, and get a more precise feel for the way the pitcher is releasing the ball (a critical element in determining spin).
“Why don’t we just turn Fenway into a biomechanics lab? If a pitcher gets hurt, we have a timestamp of how they were throwing at a certain point in time,” Bannister explained. “What we wanted to do was leverage all the resources we have at Fenway and also start to give more personalized attention to the minor leaguers, just because we have those capabilities now.
“Instead of having to wait till the offseason and . . . going to a specialized facility, let’s recreate that experience in-season while your arm is in shape. That’s one of the difficulties of the offseason: You stop throwing, and then you’re not quite at the performance level or peak physical condition because you’re losing your strength, trying to recover.
“It just makes sense. Why do they have to wait until the offseason to get better? We can do something special and unique for your minor league guys where, not only do they get the experience of pitching at Fenway, where we want them to perform someday, but we get to leverage some of those additional resources that we have at Fenway, and it can also facilitate the conversation with minor league staff and give us a little more data to show the pitcher.”
Among minor league pitchers who are showing increasing hunger for data, the value of the Fenway technologies is considerable.
“[Biomechanical analysis] is one use of [the trip to Fenway] they told me about, and a very valuable use as well, just to have a basis point of your delivery and have it on camera. When things are going bad, you’re able to look at what was successful,” said Shawaryn. “With the technology, it’s definitely a possibility to have those types of talks, like, ‘This is why a slider is a better pitch for you,’ or, ‘This is why this pitch isn’t working for you so we need to try it a different way.’ To have that technology is great.
“You only get one shot to do this. When you have the tools and resources like the Red Sox provide, it’s very helpful. You need to take advantage of it.”
■ High Single A Salem third baseman Bobby Dalbec is amid a scorching run, hitting .543/.575/1.257 with 12 extra-base hits (including six homers) in his last nine games. The run has boosted the 23-year-old’s season line to .260/.371/.568 with 47 extra-base hits (second most in the minors) and 21 homers (tied for the fourth).
■ Salem lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez, who had a rough first half (5.40 ERA in 13 starts), has looked virtually unhittable since the break. In four starts, he has a 2.01 ERA with 31 strikeouts and 12 walks in 22⅓ innings; he has thrown 11⅔ shutout innings this month, including 5⅔ no-hit innings with 10 strikeouts in his most recent outing. His control raises questions about whether he can remain a starter, but at the least he has the tools to be a wipeout late-innings lefthander.
■ At Single A Greenville, third-round pick Durbin Feltman impressed in his debut on Wednesday, throwing a scoreless inning (despite allowing his first hit since turning pro) while striking out three and showing an overpowering combination of a 94-95-m.p.h. fastball and a hard 85-m.p.h. breaking ball. In five pro innings with Lowell and Greenville, he has a 0.00 ERA while holding hitters to a 1-for-17 line (.059) with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
■ Promising Dominican Summer League third baseman Danny Diaz suffered a broken hamate on July 2. After surgery on Tuesday, his DSL season is likely over. He hit .238/.283/.476 with six homers (a rare total for a 17-year-old) in 26 games.
■ At a time when the Red Sox have been looking for lefthanded relief options, Pawtucket’s Williams Jerez has garnered little mention, with the team instead turning to Jalen Beeks and Robby Scott this week. Jerez has held lefties to a .211/.258/.298 line with a 34 percent strikeout rate, but his vulnerability to homers (six in 42⅔ innings at Pawtucket) and 4.4 walks per nine innings have put other options in front of him.
■ Though first baseman Adam Lind elected to remain in the organization beyond his July 1 opt-out, he’s struggled since, going 1 for 13 with five strikeouts this month. The 34-year-old is hitting .241/.304/.411 with the PawSox.