Connect with us

Published

on

FOR DECADES, the story of a major league game has been told by the familiar numbers in a box score: runs, hits, errors, home runs, strikeouts.

But now, there is another chart your favorite team looks at after games, one that few outside the sport’s inner circle have seen: color-coded grid-like documents that measure the workload of every player who took the field that day.

Baseball might not be the first sport that comes to mind when you hear the term “load management,” but MLB teams are becoming obsessed with it. In baseball, the discussion is about keeping position players on the field and performing their best.

Teams monitor everything players do, starting with the obvious — how much distance has he covered on a given night, both on the basepaths and defensively in the field. Tracking also takes into account the small details that go into the equation — how many times did a player take off from first base on a full count? How frequently did he dive for a ball in the infield? Each bit of information helps teams get ahead of potential health problems or dips in production.

“I’ve taken a lot of interest in it in my second career as a manager,” Cincinnati Reds skipper David Bell said. “As a player, you think you’re invincible and can play every day. But the grind of the season in baseball is an extreme challenge. Over time, it’s compounded.

“The grind is harder. The game is more difficult.”

At a time when analytics have become a standard element of almost every front office decision, optimizing player workload is seen as one of the few remaining areas teams can gain an edge. Now that technology has emerged to allow clubs to measure movement like never before, the race to find the best information — and how to communicate it to players — is on.

“There are other sports that are way ahead of us,” Milwaukee Brewers general manager Matt Arnold said. “Soccer and NBA teams have been tracking this kind of stuff for years. We have room to grow in our industry.”

With clubs learning every day, ESPN asked MLB executives, managers and players what the increasing interest in load management means to their sport — and how their teams are using the data.


THERE IS NO other sport that demands its athletes take the field as often as professional baseball does. Sure, MLB players aren’t tasked with constant running, but every movement adds up and leads to a cumulative fatigue over the length of the season.

“You might go 10 games without ever accelerating, but you might throw a bunch from the outfield,” Chicago Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said.

Enter the grids, which track each of those movements cumulatively. The San Diego Padres, for example, track workloads for their players in running 30-day increments, using sheets color-coded for high-effort runs, top sprint speed and taxing defensive movements. Some teams believe their information is proprietary, keeping it close to the vest. Everyone has a different slant as to how they track load management.

“We have a report that comes out every morning that includes what’s pertinent from the last game,” Seattle Mariners executive vice president and general manager of baseball operations Justin Hollander said. “Sort of a running total on where guys might be at, based on workload over a longer period of time.”

ESPN was granted permission to observe several teams’ load management grids, and while the tracking tools look different in every front office, there is a common theme in many of the printouts: The darker the color, the more that player has moved around, often on a gradient of white to dark red.

As you would expect, baseball’s biggest stars often have their names in the darkest hues, as they are in the lineup every day and, with a few exceptions, run the bases more than the average player.

“He lives in the red zone,” Houston Astros manager Joe Espada said of two-time All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman.

Once a team has identified a player entering that danger range, the process shifts from spreadsheets to action plans. The challenge in adjusting pre and postgame work is that fatigue is a moving target. Is the team in a stretch of the schedule without days off? Did it play extra innings recently? And what has the player actually been doing on the field?

“We have a more evidenced-based way to measure where you’re truly at, fatigue-wise,” Hollander said. “I think a lot of teams incorporate that into routines, work you do in pregame, work you do in postgame and, of course, days off.”

Each manager faces a different challenge. After his team’s deal for Luis Arraez, Padres manager Mike Shildt revolves around rotating infielders between their regular position and DHing. In the Astros’ case, Espada is particularly cognizant of the additional workload over the past few years thanks to the team’s postseason success. As one rival executive put it: “The whole team lives in the red zone.”

“I take into consideration that our players have played the most games of any team over the last six, seven years,” Espada said. “When guys are starting to trend in the red zone, we try to make sure to control the volume of their pregame work or give them a day at DH or a day off. But we try to do that before they get into the red zone.”


FRONT OFFICES ALSO face the reality that players don’t all love the idea of being told to sit down because a heat map says it might be time. It’s been ingrained in many of them to play every day no matter how their bodies feel, and some simply prefer to play through fatigue rather than listen to what tracking technology tells them.

Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson had that mindset, playing in all but two regular-season games from 2020 to 2022. Now, though, a late-season dip in production at the end of last year and a slow start to this season have him thinking differently.

“I don’t like changing what works for me but I’ve had to this year, in order to be the best player possible,” said Swanson, who turned 30 during the offseason. “We all sat down and collaborated on a new [pre/postgame] plan that would work for me like just two weeks ago.

“It’s a different way of putting pennies into the piggy bank.”

Other stars still prefer the heavier workload, fearing that sitting even for a game will hurt their production more than resting would help it.

“I feel like I play better when I’m in the red,” Bregman said. “I feel like I show up to the ballpark to play every single day and I want to play 162 plus postseason every year.”

This is where front offices and coaching staffs have learned to collaborate with players, finding ways to lighten their load behind the scenes while still allowing them to appear in games. The manager is often the middleman between the medical team, strength coaches and players.

In the Astros’ case, Bregman works with Espada to control pregame volume. Padres infielder Xander Bogaerts does the same with Shildt, starting with eliminating batting practice and then, if needed, cutting down on lifting weights.

In his first year as San Diego’s manager after spending last year as the team’s bench coach, Shildt has learned that telling a player he needs to take a game off isn’t the best approach. Instead, he’ll suggest a DH day or an altered plan for before and after the game.

“If that collaboration isn’t taking place and we don’t mesh those things appropriately, you’re going to have a much higher risk of injury or poor performance,” Shildt said. “From my seat, what’s important is the daily schedule. We monitor the efficiency of the pregame work. That’s the best word to use, I think. How efficient are we with our work beyond the game?”

As the concept of load management spreads through baseball, the sheets telling the story of a player’s status might look a little different in every front office. But the goal for every team is the same: Getting ahead of fatigue so players can perform at their best — instead of learning too late that they could have used a day off after experiencing an injury or a prolonged slump.

“It’s not about trying to limit anybody,” Arnold said. “It’s about keeping them on the field as much as possible.”

Continue Reading

Sports

Braves star Acuña out for season with torn ACL

Published

on

By

Braves star Acuña out for season with torn ACL

Atlanta Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. will miss the rest of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Sunday’s 8-1 victory at Pittsburgh.

The reigning NL MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuña started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee gave way. Acuña remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

The Braves’ initial diagnosis was left knee soreness. But the team announced Sunday night that an MRI showed a complete ACL tear that will require season-ending surgery.

Acuña tore his right ACL on July 20, 2021. Wearing a brace in the clubhouse after Sunday’s win, the 26-year-old outfielder said this injury felt less severe.

“(I) don’t feel that painful, any pop or anything. … Don’t think it’s that bad,” Acuña said.

Acuña said he was looking to take third when he anticipated a slow throw back to the mound from catcher Joey Bart. The toss came in harder than expected, leading to an abrupt pivot back to second with his knee twisting.

Acuña is batting .250 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Atlanta already was missing All-Star right-hander Spencer Strider, whose season ended on April 13 when he had internal brace surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Third baseman Austin Riley is day to day with a left intercostal strain, and catcher Sean Murphy remains on the 10-day injured list with an oblique injury after he got hurt on opening day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Continue Reading

Sports

Reds extend Dodgers’ skid to 5; Ohtani at ‘90%’

Published

on

By

Reds extend Dodgers' skid to 5; Ohtani at '90%'

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of their longest losing streak since 2019, but first baseman Freddie Freeman has no doubt that there’s no concern.

“It’s May, it’s baseball,” Freeman said. “Two weeks ago, we were winning every game. I don’t think anybody needs to question in our lineup. We’ll be fine.”

The Cincinnati Reds finished off a sweep of the Dodgers with a 4-1 victory Sunday, extending LA’s slide to five games — it’s longest since dropping six in a row April 8-13, 2019.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani went 3-for-12 in the series while dealing with a bruised right hamstring. He batted second Sunday and went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter, reaching on an infield single while scoring the Dodgers’ only run.

“It’s right around 90%,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Ohtani’s hamstring. “Assuming it will keep getting better, I feel confident that he can play smart and not push it. Talked to him about not trying to steal a base. Be smart. The value of having him in the lineup is everything.”

Los Angeles’ lineup has been hampered by inconsistency. The Dodgers scored six times in the series opener, and then scored two more over the next two games.They have been shut out twice this month while scoring two or fewer runs six times.

“When you’re not hitting, it certainly seems lifeless,” Roberts said. “Seems like we’re running cold. I know it’s not from care or preparation. Bottom line, it’s about results and we’re not getting them right now. They outplayed us this series and won three.”

Roberts hinted at a couple of changes to the lineup when the Dodgers begin a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

“Some guys might be pressing a little bit,” Roberts said. “Every time I write the lineup, I feel good that we’re going to put up some runs. It’s not a big picture-type thing. It’s certainly been two weeks where it hasn’t been good.”

Jonathan India and Nick Martini each drove in two runs for the Reds, and Brent Suter, Nick Martinez, Carson Spiers and Alexis Diaz combined for a five-hitter.

Martinez (2-3) pitched 4⅓ innings of one-hit ball on a bullpen day for Cincinnati, and Díaz got two outs for his 10th save.

“It starts with our pitchers,” Reds manager David Bell said. “They’re ready to take the ball. Starting with Brent Suter, who did his job. That’s where it starts. Nick Martinez took over. Nick continues to show when he executes his pitches how good he is. To pitch so well against this team really says a lot.”

Freeman hit an RBI double in the ninth, stopping a 0-for-22 slide for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position. Freeman then advanced on defensive indifference, but Díaz struck out Teoscar Hernandez and Andy Pages swinging.

The start of the game was moved up from 1:40 p.m. EDT to 12:10 p.m. due to the threat of severe storms that arrived in the sixth inning. The teams then waited through a delay for just over an hour.

Cincinnati scored four times in the third off Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-2). India had a bases-loaded single, and Martini’s bloop hit scored two more.

Yamamoto allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked two in five innings.

“They found a way to fight with two outs and find some outfield grass,” Roberts said. “They stayed inside the baseball. When you fight, you get those breaks sometimes. Outside of that, I thought Yoshi was fantastic. He was one hitter away from going five scoreless.”

UP NEXT

Dodgers: Right-hander Gavin Stone (4-2, 3.60 ERA) will oppose Mets right-hander Tylor Megill (0-2, 3.00 ERA) on Monday in the opener of a three-game series.

Reds: Left-hander Nick Lodolo (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will come off the injured list to start the series opener against the Cardinals on Monday. Lance Lynn (2-2, 3.68 ERA) starts for St. Louis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Continue Reading

Sports

Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

Published

on

By

Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

DETROIT — Matt Vierling homered twice, including a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Jordan Romano in the ninth inning that gave Detroit a wild 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday after the Tigers wasted a five-run lead and recovered from a two-run deficit.

Vierling had four hits and tied career highs with two homers and four RBIs.

“My brother and I in the back yard, we’d always be doing situations like that,” Vierling said. “It’s kind of cool when it actually happens.”

Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and Spencer Torkelson hit a solo shot for Detroit, which led 5-0 after three innings, 8-3 after five and 9-5 after six. The Tigers set a season high for runs and tied their high with 17 hits.

Torkelson had three hits and scored three runs.

“He’s really easy to root for,” Torkelson said of Vierling. “To see him come through, we had all the faith in the world and confidence he’d get the job done there. That’s exactly what he did.”

Toronto’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa homered in the seventh off Tyler Holton, and the Blue Jays took an 11-9 lead with a five-run eighth when Bo Bichette hit a two-run single off Jason Foley and Daulton Varsho hit a three-run homer.

Toronto manager John Schneider drew some consolation by the way his team kept fighting back.

“It’s easy to kind of quit after that and the guys did the exact opposite,” he said. “Chipped away and came back with huge hits from Bo and Varsh.”

Mark Canha tied the score with a two-run single against Yimi Garcia in the bottom half, his third hit.

Vierling, who hit a solo homer in the fifth off Zach Pop, drove a full-count slider from Romano (1-2) over the left-field wall for his first big league walk-off hit. A two-time All-Star, Romano has allowed three homers this year, half his total last season.

“I was ready for that pitch that he threw me 3-2,” Vierling said. “I was kind of looking for it 2-2, as well, but it was low and I was able to check my swing enough. The next pitch was the same pitch, just a little more up.”

Mason Englert (1-0) pitched a hitless ninth for the Tigers (26-27), who won the last three games of a four-game series against the last-place Blue Jays (23-29).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his second four-hit game of the season for the Blue Jays.

Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs and eight hits in 4⅓ innings. Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings. Mize and Kikuchi are 0-3 each in their six starts.

Continue Reading

Trending