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Paul Canavan says baseball is ‘analytics in motion’

Published on May 05, 2021

Paul Canavan says baseball is ‘analytics in motion’

Xsens motion analysis
Xsens software visualization of the pitch from the stretch position to follow through.

Imagine how many more no-hitters and strikeouts some of America’s most famous baseball pitchers — Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and others — could have thrown had they known about the science of biomechanics.

Paul Canavan

Paul Canavan, assistant professor of health sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University, is an expert on the topic, and recently shared his knowledge and research in the Baseball Research Journal, describing the use of a full-body motion analysis system to enhance pitching performance. Canavan collaborated with Bethany Suderman, Alex Sklar and Nicholas Yang from Guidance Engineering in California, the company that donated the high-speed camera and XsensTM motion analysis suit Canavan used to evaluate Eastern athletes. 

Canavan said biomechanical analyses have been used for more than 50 years to improve pitcher performance, but never before has research like his and his co-researchers been done, using a wearable sensor body suit to analyze accuracy of the baseball pitch. “What is very exciting is that we analyzed the pitcher’s center of mass location along with the lead foot placement related to pitch accuracy,” said Canavan.  Canavan’s research revealed that optimum pitching technique is related to foot position and center of gravity . . . “deviating away from that technique may cause less accurate pitching, which could also potentially lead to injury.”

What is the practical application of Canavan’s research findings? “This technology is portable and analysis can occur at a pitcher’s own training facility or baseball field, unlike now, when individuals need to go to a motion analysis facility with the need for multiple cameras to assess,” said Canavan. “Also, the pitcher is provided with immediate feedback of his results to help improve his performance and he could provide the information to the coaches to possibly improve the reliability, consistency and pitching performance.”

An Eastern student athlete serves as research subject for Canavan's research (photo taken before pandemic).

A student athlete from the baseball team serves as research subject for Canavan's research (photo taken before pandemic).

Health sciences students assist Canavan with reseach on the baseball pitch (photo taken before pandemic).

Canavan said one of the objectives of his research was to also analyze stride length related to limb length as well as motion analysis and pitching performance. “One of the interesting factors to consider is that even though individuals may be the same height, their leg length may be different.”

Canavan said he believes the bottom line is that if baseball pitching coaches and pitchers themselves can determine what is the best technique for them for accuracy, they can practice it. “They can reduce the risk of injuries and re-analyze to determine efficacy of the interventions.”

Canavan acknowledged the funding support of Eastern’s administration, and Eastern’s Head Baseball Coach Brian Hamm, Pitching Coach Chris Wojick and volunteer pitcher participants. He also thanked students Christian Gosselin ’19 and Ashley Kennison ’21 for helping to collect data for his research. 

Written by Dwight Bachman