Checking in with Will Carroll, the Injury Expert at the Winter Meetings
Will Carroll is the Director of Media Relations with Motus Global, a company that prides itself on educating and innovating in the spaces of arm stress and throwing analysis. Their advances in baseball are most notable, but expanding their tech and knowledge into other sports like football, cricket, and even volleyball, have recently gained traction.
Bringing you another Winter Meetings interview, I grabbed Will and chatted about his thoughts on a variety of college, minor league, and major league, injury-related topics.
I encourage you to follow the man known as the “injury expert” on Twitter for all of his thoughts – @InjuryExpert. (Yes, those are actually his shoes in the picture above).
Lance Brozdowski: Give me the rundown on what you do with Motus, the Motus Sleeve for baseball, and how they brought you on board.
Will Carroll: You know, all this time, for the past 20 years, we’ve talked about arm injuries, and talked about Tommy John surgeries and saw these kids with workload problems, and saw that year after year after year all these guys that are going down. The Motus guys I’ve known for years, back to when they were with teams, and when they first launched they came to me and said, “Hey, here’s this great product,” and I’d never seen one before. I was lucky enough for them to bring me on board.
I’m really excited because it’s not just the Motus Sleeve. Our batting tech is built off the same system, our Motus [Quarterback] tech is built off the same system.
We also have two labs now. One is in Florida and one is just outside New York City, where we do markered motion capture that validates everything we do. We’re able to take that world-class lab and put it into a product that you can wear at the park, on the court; we have that same kind of world-class, lab-accurate results, and then capture all that data, turn it into research, and try to make the game safer.
LB: So how important is the price point of the Motus Sleeve? It’s currently around $130 online and as I think we both agree, the next frontier is educating players in high school about arm care and proper development. It seems like some thought went into allowing a wide range of users to access it for a reasonable cost.
WC: We’ve gotten the price point just about as low as we can. We’d love to get it lower, we’d love to have MLB give grants and pass these out to Little Leagues. Just on the tech side alone, we can’t get it any lower. When you take a look at some of the really great tech out there – look at Rapsodo, for example – you’re not going to have that at every Little League game because it costs tens of thousands of dollars.
Getting [Motus Sleeve] down to around $150, we’re at the same cost of a bat or glove. We think at that range, it’ll be as important as the necessities of the game.
LB: Is the education around interpreting the data output from the Motus Sleeve something you guys have had trouble with?
WC: What we want to have is a usable product at the low end of the market. Let’s say Timmy’s mom knows that pitching too much is bad for you, but she isn’t going to scour the internet for research and consume and understand that research so it helps her kid. With the Motus Sleeve, we have a free app that helps her understand what the sleeve is telling her.
At the same time, we have to go to major league teams, and say, “Look you guys have millions of dollars invested in these guys and you’re not able to track them on the field to get the kind of biomechanical data you need in many instances.”
Yu Darvish is a good example. How many millions of dollars did they have invested in him? And they lost a year of innings from him. Take Brady Aiken, too. Would have drafted him if you could have analyzed his biomechanics?
The Cleveland Indians – whom I consider one of the smarter teams in the game – I can’t talk about specifically what they’re doing, but they’re using our product and they’re using it to maintain guys like [Aiken or Darvish].”
How do you make a device that fits both worlds; that has been a tough balance. But we think we’re there, we have some really good advances.
There is also some research that is going to be put out at the ASMI conference in Birmingham, too. A high school tracked all their pitchers throughout an entire season – 75,000 throws I think – and they found out when they got above a certain level, they were looking at, I think, around 25 times a higher likelihood of soreness than if they kept it at a lower level of work.
We have suggestions for workload, we use world-class machine learning that says if you do this, your workload will be here. If you’re wondering why we have all these injuries during Spring Training and in April and May, it’s because guys aren’t ramping up correctly.
LB: You’ve had a lot of buy-in on the player side as well, I’m interested in how Dellin Betances has used the sleeve and what the “value add” has been for him.
WC: Unfortunately I can’t go into too much detail on that, but he’s very, very involved with his own data. With relievers it’s different because they have to monitor their workload day-to-day and week-to-week. And if you watch Dellin, this isn’t a guy who had many peaks and valleys the way some relievers might gas out. You can monitor [your workload], you can say, “Ok, let’s dial back the workout today,” or, “Maybe I won’t throw as much long toss.” Or, ‘Hey, I didn’t throw yesterday, how do I keep myself in the ‘green’ zone?”
[Betances] is very interested in that. He has a multi-million dollar investment in his arm’s health.
LB: He’s going to hit the open market soon as well…
WC: Exactly, which is why agencies are looking at [Motus Sleeves] as well. If they can put an early warning system on an arm, or if your Jake Arrieta’s agent, and you can go to the Angels and say, “Hey – Jake is worth $200 million because of this and this and this, and his elbow stress is low.”
We’re seeing that at the collegiate level as well. If coaches, with the limited scholarship resources that they have, are out there saying, “Do I want this guy or this guy?” And one of those guys can give you the data and say, “Look I’m going to come in and not have you guys miss of year of me because of shoulder surgery. I have good mobility, I have low arm stress, I’ve managed my workload.”
If the other guy doesn’t have [that data], which player [as the coach] are you going to look at? It could end up being a recruiting advantage.
It could also be a scouting advantage. Teams often bring in guys for tryouts before the draft. I think teams too often draft injuries; there are hundreds of guys in a given year who are injured and this can help that.
There are a ton of things we can do and Dellin is a great example of it.
LB: Jumping off of Dellin, tell me what Motus and yourself are doing down here at the Winter Meetings.
WC: We’re talking to teams that have used it or know of the company and don’t want to fall behind, or they have new ideas about how to use it. Because really this is just another tool. We think it’s a great system, but it has to integrate, you have to have the kind of people who understand the data.
There are a lot of teams that have really smart guys; sometimes biomechanics guys, not a lot of teams have it but some do. Sports science is starting to creep in and being able to talk about what they’re doing and what their goals are; what they want to measure that they haven’t measured, that’s where we want to be.
LB: What can you tell me about what teams want to measure that they currently do not? Was there something a team came to you asking for that you couldn’t provide?
WC: There was a team that had an interesting request about outfielders.
They were more concerned with how they’re progressing guys – especially through Spring Training and instructional leagues – and if they’re doing the right things; getting more efficient.
It wasn’t really something we had done, but we are capable of it.
We’ve talked a lot about third baseman and shortstops that make awkward throws that are biomechanically unsound, but you have to make them that way. So, is it necessary to measure that? What kind of damage are these guys doing?
Or – back to the scouting and recruiting side – can we show that, can we say this guy has an actual arm speed skill.
[That team] had some fairly intriguing ideas.
LB: How badly do you want Andrelton Simmons on your platform to measure the stress on some of his insane throws?
WC: He’s interesting because two years ago when he had surgery on his thumb, same surgeon, same procedure as Trout actually. Steven Shin was the surgeon actually, and he is one of those unknown names who is super valuable.
There is some data that suggests maybe that problem was chronic. Since he has come back, he has a little bit more bat control…
LB: Chronic, as in, from hitting? Because I think that surgery was on his glove hand, right?
WC: Yeah, his thumb was a little bit loose from hitting.
LB: So, you’re saying the data showed that before the injury there was some chronic build up of weakness and then he jammed his thumb and everything else happened?
WC: Yeah, that surely wasn’t the first time he dove. There was some suggestion to what you’re saying.
The other suggestion might just be that he focused more and was doing the rehab.
There is always the thought that Tommy John surgery makes you throw faster, which isn’t true. If you took a year off and did nothing but rehab, you would probably get better, because you took a year off! You were focusing on your arm, and presumably doing all the right things.
I actually talked to a team and thought, let [Motus] just take a guy who has a little bit of an elbow injury, not one who needs Tommy John, but let’s just put him through the rehab and see what happens, and nobody really ever quite bought into that.
LB: That’s tough for a GM to give up an asset…
WC: No! It’s just one minor league guy! You’re going to cut him at the end of the year anyways!
Are you not going to get a few thousand dollars of knowledge out of that?!
LB: That’s a good point too…
I just wanted to finish up by asking on the college baseball side of things, if you had any thoughts around how “feel based” the knowledge is around optimizing two-way players in college and whether they should pitch on Friday and play the field on Saturday and Sunday, or throw towards the end of weekends.
WC: That’s the thing, anytime something is primarily feel-based, it’s because we don’t have enough data. So that’s when we try to match up the data with feel and gauge the outcome.
With Ohtani, you’re putting so much money into a player who can do so much, and then you’re going to minimize what he does. What’s the best way to go about managing him, that’s the biggest question.
People are talking about six-man rotations – it’s utterly stupid, there is no evidence to think this is going to work. There is a ton of evidence that says this is going to be worse for pitchers – not to mention, worse for baseball.
You have Kershaw, one of the best pitchers in baseball, and you’re going to take away twenty of his innings and give them to the sixth guy?
Name one good fifth starter…
LB: That’s tough to do… Cardinals, Dodgers, teams with depth have decent options, but even then, that role fluctuates in-season.
WC: But even at the back end, the drop off is substantial; even the drop off from Kershaw to Yu Darvish is reasonably large.
So why are you giving those innings away?
What would be better to manage his workload, not put him out there for seven innings, put him out there for five and manage his stress.
More Clayton Kershaw is good for baseball. I’m picking on the Dodgers here, but this can apply to any team.
Being able to maximize the resources and manage the workload is really the next step. The team that does that at whatever level, is going to have a massive, massive advantage.
LB: I’m also interested in you thoughts around expanding the two-way player outward through the minor leagues. Can you talk about the workload management around expanding a college or high school two-way player, who plays a few times per week, to a full-season’s workload.
WC: No team ever says you can’t hit every day, it’s a matter of fitting the pitching piece into it… It’s going to be a matter of managing the workload of a pitcher, and we don’t know because we’re not collecting the data. So, let’s start collecting the data – I’d love to see the Rays put [a Motus Sleeve] on McKay.
I’d even love to see the Reds let [Hunter] Green do more. I do think it’s possible, and we want to manage and measure it.
LB: I hear all the time you can’t play the field every day and pitch. Do you think there is a way to construct a workload so that a pitcher can play the outfield or shortstop and make those kinds of high-stress throws consistently?
WC: Yeah, absolutely.
LB: Do you think we’re just scared?
WC: We’re scared, we’re saying, “You can’t do this.”
Why? Babe Ruth did it and Ruth wasn’t in the greatest shape; he didn’t have the physical advantages we do now.
[Green and McKay]; they’re physical specimens. They did it in high school and college, why can’t they do it now?
Yes, the schedule changes, but now we’re just into a management situation… It’s absolutely doable.