PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Edwin Diaz was supposed to pitch in the Mets’ game Sunday, an inning against the Astros in what would have been his third Grapefruit League appearance. But at some point between when the Mets penciled him in among the probable pitchers and their pregame workout, pitching coach Jeremy Hefner decided he had a better idea: a motion-capture bullpen session.
Diaz was among a half-dozen major-league pitchers who participated in what amounted to an experiment. They pitched on a Clover Park practice field at the center of a motion-capture system, an assortment of cameras and sensors that collect yet another layer of data for the Mets and their pitchers to have and perhaps learn from.
“There’s some things, just from a coaching perspective, where your eyes will tell you a lot,” Hefner said. “But then there’s other things that can help, whether it be TrackMan or a radar gun or — in this case — a motion-capture system that can help maximize potential.”
How useful is the motion-capture technology and data? Hefner said “it’s tough to answer that question” because the Mets have just begun to use it.
But it is secretive enough that the Mets banned the media from that field during the goings-on — reporters usually can watch spring training workouts without issue — and worthwhile enough that the Mets bumped Diaz from his scheduled relief appearance for the sake of this 25-pitch high-tech bullpen session.
Diaz has pitched in only two Grapefruit games but will see action more regularly in these final two weeks of camp, beginning Wednesday against the Cardinals, Hefner said.
The motion-capture setup is funky. Diaz, Noah Syndergaard and others pitched shirtless and with “mo-cap” markers all over their bodies, as you might see in a behind-the-scenes, making-of feature about a movie or video game. They stood on the mound normally but were surrounded by 10 tripods and pitched to a catcher who had a portable TrackMan unit (a radar system that measures ball movement) behind him. A cadre of pitching, analytics and other staffers watched.
“It was kind of weird doing that,” pitching prospect David Peterson said. “It’s not your regular bullpen.”
Added starter Rick Porcello: “Block that out and treat it like a normal pen.”
Diaz concurred but noted: “It was a little cold. That was the only thing.”
The Mets tested this tech Saturday by having Syndergaard and Diaz wear the markers and play catch. It caused a minor stir when SNY captured on camera a scantily clad Syndergaard throwing in the unusual getup, then aired it on the game broadcast.
Syndergaard did the real thing Sunday, completing a bullpen session after his three innings (one run, zero walks, four strikeouts) against Houston. He said he “thought it was great.”
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon even wandered over toward the end.
“Where baseball is going is the access to the data and technology that we have and using it — and not in a cheating way,” Syndergaard said. “It’s great, because we’re able to supplement the TrackMan data with the motion capture and seek some comparisons and similarities.”
Said Diaz: “It’s good because you can see your mechanics. That’s what I’m looking for. Last year I had a problem with my mechanics, so I’m doing that to see how it’s going.”
Porcello and Syndergaard referenced the Sunday session as a baseline. By collecting this data now, when pitchers are healthy and feeling smooth in their deliveries, they have something to look back on during the season if a pitcher ever feels “out of whack,” Porcello said. The slightest of mechanical flaws or changes, which can significantly affect a pitcher, sometimes are imperceptible to the human eye.
“The way Hef pitched it to me, it was really more for the Mets and their baseline and database than for me,” Porcello said. “I know what it feels like, and the communication verbally between him and I is the best way for me to make adjustments and learn. They’ll take the information and I’ll get it funneled through him.”
Hefner, hired by the Mets in part for his analytics savvy, downplayed the unusualness of the motion-capture presence. But the Mets do plan to use it more during spring training.
“We’ll see how it progresses, the information that is gathered, how useful it is and go from there,” Hefner said. “But it’s no different than anything else we have, all the other things we have access to. It’s just a way to help our guys maximize their performance.”
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