THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — As the Cal Lutheran baseball team heads into the final stretch of the regular season, the Kingsmen's success on the field is hard to miss. However, for juniors Daniel Stauffer and Matt Sciumbato, they acknowledge a little help from their biomechanics study as an added factor to their performance.
In the fall of 2018, the infielder-outfielder duo embarked on a biomechanics research study focused on the effect of knee flexion (load) and hip rotation on throwing velocity in baseball players.
"Our original hypothesis was that there would be greater velocity in a crow-hop throw than a normal step-and-throw, because you would have more force and momentum coming out of that motion," said Sciumbato.
To test their theory, the two enlisted the help of five current and former teammates – two pitchers, a catcher, an outfielder and an infielder – as subjects for VICON 3-D motion analysis. They suited them up in what could only be described as "the blue suits from The Incredibles" and strategically placed reflective markers on the athletes' greater trochanter (hip), patella (knee) and malleolus (ankle).
"After markering them and calibrating the system on the computer, we then took a video of them doing each motion and replayed that video moment by moment. We had to make sure that each moment didn't have any errors so we knew the [knee] angle the whole time. Then we calculated the force made on the plate by the back leg and the velocity of the throw," Stauffer explained.
Fast forward through extensive moment-by-moment analysis later, and the pair had created their own versions of virtual baseball players.
"The VICON program is so sick. You don't see an actual person, but you see all the marker points – like the ones we put going up the guys' legs – connected by a line," added Sciumbato, "So, you end up seeing somewhat of a stick figure. But like a real-life stick figure!"
And what did their real-life stick figures say about their hypothesis?
"The finding was, with increased knee flexion, we had more velocity going forwards. So, the further you go down on your back knee, the more velocity you have coming out," Sciumbato explained, "There was no change with ankle angle or hip angle, but we found a small correlation in the amount of hip rotation. Therefore, if you rotate your front hip more towards your back hip, you have more velocity bringing it back around when you throw."
"So if you want throw faster, just start crow hopping," Stauffer laughed.
Then why don't more baseball players crow hop?
"It's mainly an outfield thing, because you time to really load up and send it into the infield. I probably use the finding we got more than Stauffer does in the infield, because I can focus more on sinking my legs and turning my front hip to have more rotational power. When you're playing infield, you have to get the ball and throw it to first as fast as you can," said Sciumbato, "It's all about timing. You look at pitchers and they're not crow-hopping, but they're really winding up, sinking their back side and getting a lot of knee flexion to increase their velocity."
So, there it is, a valuable lesson for any outfielder or pitcher – load more to throw faster. But for the Kingsmen duo, the know-how gained extends beyond what they can take with them onto the field.
"It was a really cool experience to get our feet wet in the biomechanics world," Stauffer closes, "Because we had to go through the whole procedure on our own, and we got to see the results of all of our hard work."
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Release by Christy Effendie, Assistant Sports Information Director