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Saturday
Jun192010

Smoothie recipe: Blueberries and Yogurt

As a part of my personal nutrition, I've been really trying to focus on whole, organic foods. I haven't taken the paleo route, but that's mostly because I'm a sucker for refined carbs. I love pizza, garlic bread, and pasta. I know that there are more "whole" alternatives, but frankly, I do not like eating them.

A particular focus of mine has been to increase my intake of fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fruits, and vegetables. After a bunch of reading, I realized I could improve in each of those areas by ditching Myoplex in favor of handmade smoothies and shakes. (I'm still working on my vegetable problem.)

Last night, I stumbled onto something incredibly delicious and incredibly simple. The recipe is below with the specific brands I used in parentheses. Rather than give it a fancy name, I'm simply calling it Blueberries and Yogurt.

The Greek yogurt tends to stick to the walls of the blender, so I typically blend until there's no sign of it on the walls.

This will produce about 12 oz of smoothie at approximately 300 calories, 18g protein, 7g dietary fiber, and 2g+ Omega-3 fatty acids, along with the yogurt's probiotic cultures.

Obviously, this isn't a perfect shake, but it's definitely very tasty. This recipe is very easy to play with, too. A single serving of your choice of protein powder - I recommend vanilla or a neutral flavor - will boost both the calories and protein. Another 1/2 cup of blueberries will provide extra fiber and antioxidants. Another 1/2 Tbsp of flaxseed will boost both Omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber.

As I discover new combinations of fruits, berries, and flavors that work together, I will post new entries.

Monday
May242010

A great series on the elbow

Eric Cressey, of Cressey Performance, published a series of posts on his personal blog over the past two weeks that takes a fairly comprehensive look at the elbow. His series progresses through anatomy, pathology, and injury before discussing how to go about protecting pitchers.

The first three parts are factual in nature, heavy on scientific facts but without beating you over the head with mumbo-jumbo.

Part 4 of Cressey's series builds on the information from the first three. He uses a 4-category approach to make general suggestions for keeping a pitcher healthy. The last three categories are spot-on, but I have a few issues with his ideas about injurious pitching mechanics.

To kick it off, Cressey shows a photo of a 5' 7" pitcher and a 6' 7" pitcher standing side-by-side and says, "Anyone who thinks these two are going to throw a baseball with velocity and safety via the same mechanics is out of his mind."

This is a very interesting statement to me, since Cressey seems to be suggesting that "safe" mechanics for a tall pitcher are different from "safe" mechanics for a short pitcher. I may be out of my mind, but that's just plain wrong.

Now, in real life, dealing with two different pitchers, yes, safe mechanics for one pitcher aren't necessarily safe for another pitcher, but height has as much to do with it as a pitcher's choice in footwear. The basics of functional anatomy do not vary with a person's height.

Things that will cause variations in "safe" mechanics are long-term training and congenital joint laxity. Long-term training is a very general term that I am using here to refer to how the body has adapted over time to throwing a baseball. This encompasses principles involving conformational changes in the skeleton (i.e. humeral retroversion), increased bone density, changes in muscle contractile force, and changes in tensile strength of ligaments. Congenital joint laxity can be thought of as natural flexibility, and it varies from person to person.

Cressey might as well have included a photo of any two pitchers standing side-by-side.

Kinetically speaking, shorter people have shorter levers, so an equal amount of force applied at a given joint results in less torque for a shorter person than for a taller person. This, however, is unavoidable.

The safest mechanics for an individual will be the same no matter how tall or short that person is. There is no height at which certain mechanics become safe and others become unsafe.

Cressey then discusses two biomechanical studies that correlate horizontal shoulder adduction and external rotation, respectively, to elbow valgus stress. Neither study supports his proposition, but the points are well taken, if somewhat incomplete.

My chief complaint about studies like these is that they focus mainly on peak torque values instead of the loading rates of those torques (i.e. How much time did the joint tissues have to adapt to the stress?). This is a topic for another day, though.

He follows this up with a discussion about balancing health-risk with performance as it pertains to deception and pitch movement. This is an excellent point, but it's one that I think far too many young pitchers fail to understand. This is also a topic for another day.

Cressey has two more posts in this series, and if you aren't already a reader of his, I highly suggest you become one. Click here to visit Eric Cressey's blog.

Tuesday
Apr272010

McCarthy suffers another stress fracture

Jeff Wilson has reported that Brandon McCarthy has been placed on the 7-day DL in Oklahoma City with a stress fracture of his right scapula. Unbelievable.

Seriously unbelievable. Bones get stronger after stress fractures. It's part of the healing process sometimes referred to as overcompensation (or supercompensation). Bones respond to stress and stress fractures by growing thicker, stronger, and more dense.

This is the third diagnosis of a stress fracture in McCarthy's shoulder. Having been through this twice before, McCarthy's shoulder blade should be plenty strong enough to withstand two months of pitching, but it apparently isn't.

Unbelievable.

What is believable, though? I see a couple of possible explanations.

The original stress fracture from 2007 simply may not be healed. If this is the case, the cause is likely dietary, but it could be that the injury has never been given sufficient time to heal. Stress fractures often become pain-free well before they are actually healed.

Another explanation is that the problem is not actually a stress fracture. Soft tissue is much more susceptible to re-injury than is bony tissue, and the location of McCarthy's injury is a confluence of soft tissue that literally encapsulates the glenohumeral joint.

The recommendations here are running short.

McCarthy attempted a mechanical overhaul, but it doesn't seem to have accomplished its chief goal despite leading to a sparking ground ball rate at Oklahoma City where McCarthy has been excellent.

At this point, it looks like mechanics aren't McCarthy's real problem. If it isn't his mechanics, the culprit is one of the following: diet, strength/conditioning, and genetics.

Genetics, of course, can not be changed, but the other two can be addressed.

In addressing the diet, there are three things to watch for, and they all go hand-in-hand. The goal is improved bone density so the main focal points are calcium, vitamin D, and pH balance. I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, so I will stop short of making specific recommendations.

In addressing potential strength and conditioning issues that may be contributing to McCarthy's problems, a recently published DVD set contains just about everything anyone would ever need to know ranging from prehab and diagnosis to rehab and high performance.

You (and Brandon McCarthy) should check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

[[Update: The evidence is apparently quite clear. This is, in fact, a scapular stress fracture. Someone who has seen recent video of McCarthy believes that McCarthy had fallen back into old mechanical habits.]]

Monday
Apr052010

2010 Texas Rangers: Wins, Attendance, and Playoffs

In winning 87 games last season, the Texas Rangers drew an average attendance that was nearly what my model predicted for that win level -- predicted attendance: 27,958 per game; actual attendance: 27,641 per game.

For this year's model, there have been no tweaks to the methodology. I have simply added last year's data to the model. For details on my wins-attendance model, click here. It is based on the model presented by Vince Gennaro in his book Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball.

Here's this year's model of Attendance versus Wins:

2010 Attendance Prediction. For a full description, read the original article (link above).

At 2009's level of 87 wins -- represented by the red dot -- my model predicts the Rangers to crack the 30,000 mark for average attendance at 30,593 per game. The model also predicts the Rangers to maintain last year's attendance level with as few as 73 wins -- represented by the yellow dot.

Regression Notes

The standard error is down from last year's 2,646 attendees per game to 2,602. The R-square and Adjusted R-Square values are nearly identical.

The growth factor variable is slightly more significant than last season, but still seems more significant to the calculations than its relatively low t Stat value (1.326) suggests. Removing it from the regression results in smaller R-Square values and a larger standard error.

Playoff Chances

Using a logistics regression for the past 12 seasons (since the Tampa Bay Rays franchise came into existence), I took a look at the odds of making the playoffs for a given win level. This is based on historical probability rather than a suepr complex mathematic system. For a more in-depth explanation of this process, click here.

Josh Hamilton predicted that the Rangers would win 96 games. Historically, 96 wins gives an American League West team a 94.54% chance of making the playoffs (94.50% across the entire American League).

Team president Nolan Ryan predicted 92 wins. Those four wins dramatically change the team's playoff chances. 92-win AL West teams can expect to make the playoffs 62.77% of the time, while a 92-win team from any AL division can expect to make it 68.44% of the time.

Various projection systems predict the Rangers to win between 81 and 87 games. This represents quite a wide range of playoff chances -- AL West: <0.50% to 8.39%; AL overall: 0.73% to 14.02%.

After about the half-way point in a season, the results from such a logistics regression become fairly meaningless for that season. At that point, the division and wild-card races are taking firm shape, and a daily look at the standings tells a much more complete story.

[Note: When properly applied during the off-season (or at the trade deadline), though, playoff probability added can be used to more accurately estimate a player's true dollar value to an organization. This was to be explained in Part III of my Texas Rangers win-curve series, but I stopped at Part II. I may take another crack at finishing that series this year.]

Friday
Apr022010

A new PITCHf/x chart

For a long time, I've been frustrated by spin movement (Magnus effect) charts because they don't genuinely show how much a pitch actually moves. These charts perfectly demonstrate how the spin of the ball changes its path, but they don't show how velocity adds a vertical element to the pitch's movement.

Take this chart for example. These are the pitches thrown by Texas Rangers LHP Derek Holland during September and October of last season.

Texas Rangers LHP Derek Holland's pitches.

Even though they are much slower pitches, Holland's change ups are located in the exact same place on the graph as his fastballs. If his fastball and change up start with the same trajectory, the change up will always cross the plate lower than the fastball. I wanted to capture this on a chart, so I put gravity back into the equation.

Using Gameday's physics data (initial position, initial velocity, acceleration), I calculated how long each pitch was in the air. Keep in mind, though, that PITCHf/x starts at 50 from the plate and ends just in front. The mapped data covers only about 48 1/2 feet.

With the flight time for each pitch, I calculated the drop caused by [sea-level] gravity. After converting this number from feet to inches, I added the vertical spin movement. Here's how it turned out:

Texas Rangers LHP Derek Holland's pitches on the gravity chart.

Success. The change ups now appear below his fastballs. The chart reflects not only gravity's effect on a pitch, but it also helps separate pitches by velocity, making identification a little bit easier.

This chart does not replace virtualizations by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it does show how different two pitches can be from each other even when spin movement alone can't show it. Taking this a step further could lead to a "hitter's decision" chart that would represent how different the pitches look at a certain time or distance from the plate.

The gravity charts are now available for all pitchers in TexasLeaguers.com's PITCHf/x Database.

[[Update: On April 24, 2010, the Spin Movement w/Gravity charts were updated to reflect gravity's effect from y = 40 to y = 1.417. This change was made based on the information that can be found at Alan Nathan's PITCHf/x site: MLB Extended Gameday Pitch Logs: A Tutorial]]