Inside Pitch Magazine, May/June 2023

The Hot Corner: Improve Their Move

Actionable Insights to Athletic Mobility

By Adam Revelette

A headshot of Reboot Motion's Jimmy Buffi Reboot Motion’s momentum-based biomechanics software helps analyze athletes’ movement and create a new kind of player development platform. The company is built on the philosophy that analyzing momentum is superior to analyzing velocity, as it controls mass and includes direction. Reboot can integrate with any motion capture data source, and its approach to offering biomechanics as a service enables athletes to train smarter, optimize momentum, and implement biomechanical training into their everyday routines. 

Simply put, teams send in their data/video and Reboot will deliver actionable biomechanics reports that include the rotation plane as athletes accelerate each body part, sequencing, momentum, balance, range of motion and more. 

“Growing up, I loved sports, math and science,” said Jimmy Buffi, Reboot Co-Founder. “I read The Pitching Edge by Tom House when I was in Little League and I couldn’t throw very hard, but I used that book to learn how to throw a curve ball. I remember just dominating Little League because I was the only kid who knew how to throw one. So all this stuff always fascinated me, but I didn't know it could be a career. I went to college and I was a mechanical/aerospace engineer. I eventually got an internship at GE Aviation working on airplane engines, which really helped me understand ball flight once I got into baseball. I had no idea at the time, but that ended up being really useful.”

Inside Pitch: When did you get the feeling that you were going to be involved in baseball?

Jimmy Buffi: Airplanes are great and all, but they weren’t as exciting as I thought after I was introduced to the mechanics of the human body. So I went to work on building prosthetic hands. I started my Ph.D. using computer simulation to research building better prosthetic hands, simulating arm movements to figure out how the arm muscles control the hand for the purpose of building prosthetic hands. A year or two into that, I discovered baseball biomechanics through some of Dr. Glenn Fleisig’s research on elbow torque and elbow injuries. I was enamored. At a meeting with my Ph.D. dissertation committee, I gave the first part of the presentation on prosthetic hands, but for the last quarter of the presentation I was going into “Look how cool this pitching biomechanics stuff is!” 

The committee noted how much better the last 15 minutes of my presentation were compared to the first 45. “We have no idea if you’ll be able to get a job doing this,” they said, “but if you want, we’ll let you switch your dissertation to studying baseball pitching.”

I just started tweeting about baseball pitching research, and talking about the stuff that I was working on. The real turning point moment for me was when I got an email from Kyle Boddy, who had been reading all the little abstracts that I wrote. That ended up leading into writing some articles for Driveline’s blog and doing some other work with them. 

IP: How did you actually land a job in what was a relatively unknown field at the time? 

JB: Megan Schroeder, one of my classmates at Northwestern, had just submitted her resume to a bunch of MLB teams and boom! the Dodgers hired her, just like that. So Megan told them about me, and they had actually seen my name before on some of the Driveline stuff, and the Dodgers ended up asking Megan, “Do we really need two biomechanists?” Thankfully that answer was a yes!

IP: What’s the missing link between understanding biomechanics and actually applying it to help make your players better? 

JB: What you’re hitting on here is the exact reason why I left the Dodgers and started Reboot with Evan Demchick, who is the business part of the equation. I saw how hard it was to turn motion capture data into things that coaches could actually use. I wasn’t happy with the state of biomechanics analysis for coaches and I wanted to try to make data more useful for them. 

When I was with the Dodgers, I would just sit in the back rooms at Camelback Ranch with a whiteboard, and guys like Connor McGuinness (Dodgers pitching coordinator who developed the Clean Fuego with his brother Mike) would just be jamming on pitching biomechanics and coaching and drawing the connections. The big realization that we had was that good coaches do have an innate, organic understanding of biomechanics; that’s what coaching a pitching delivery is all about. I view what Reboot does as just translating the numbers and the science into language and metrics and actions that coaches are already talking about. 

IP: What kind of vision do you have for Reboot as it relates to your market?

JB: Right now our primary customers are MLB teams, but we are trying to move downmarket. We have a couple of college customers already and we have a web dashboard that a college can use on their own. They take iPhone videos or iPad videos, and they upload to the web dashboard and we analyze them. 

One of the things that I’m very sensitive to is I know coaches already have 20+ different tabs open up on their browsers and the same number of apps running on their iPhones. We’re trying to explore companies that people are already working with in hopes of integrating with them to make it simpler for coaches. 

IP: So between markers, markerless, and iPhone videos, what are some hangups and potential hurdles that you could run into with what seems like three very different methods of gathering motion capture for athletes?

JB: People still like markers in a research context because you can be super precise with your marker placement, the tracking, the cameras, the motion analysis, everything. But for all the reasons you said, markers are brutal in an environment like a college or pro ball, because you want in-game data, right? 

When it’s not necessarily about the research and getting within a millimeter of these measurements, we can indeed take a step back and still make players better. Of course, more accuracy is always better, but at the same time you can get actionable items out of imperfect accurate data—it’s just a matter of whether you’re willing to trade off some accuracy for convenience. 

If you have the bandwidth, the space, the people and the resources to install a KinaTrax multi-camera setup, that’s awesome—you go with that. But if that's just not something that’s possible for your situation, a single camera motion capture is still going to be accurate enough to get useful stuff. That's the primary thing we care about.

IP: Do you have any sort of curriculum for common mechanical flaws that you see in youth, amateur, and/or professional players?

JB: The way we analyze biomechanics is a bit different from the traditional way people analyze biomechanics. What we analyze is the literal flow of energy and momentum through an athlete’s body. Now I know people will say this a lot as something that they subjectively do or sort of do, but from my background as a mechanical and an aerospace engineer, this is how we analyze robots and machines—energy in, energy out, efficiency of joints. That’s literally what we analyze, and it allows us to use facts of physics to give feedback. So part A is not aligned with part B, efficiency is low, and therefore the recommendation is to improve the alignment between those parts.  

IP: Can you give an example?

JB: One very straightforward thing that’s gained traction is the torso rotating in the same plane as the pitching arm. You figure out your arm slot and then you figure out the plane in which that arm is rotating, and the question you have to answer becomes “Are you rotating in the same plane?” If you’re not, the transfer between the torso and the pitching arm is not going to be as good as it could be. 

Within that you’re also looking at what plane the lead arm is rotating within. People don’t know what to do with their lead arm sometimes—it can rotate very flat, overrotate, or hardly do anything at all. There are all sorts of clinical and pitching guru philosophies for what people should do with their lead arm, but it comes down to simple physics: the plane in which your lead arm is rotating transfers energy to your torso in the same plane, which transfers energy to your pitching arm, hopefully within the same plane as before. That’s a really straightforward piece of feedback for the pitcher—when you’re reaching out with your lead arm, reach a little higher so you can pull down in a more vertical plane, which can then more efficiently add to the torso, which can then more efficiently add to the pitching arm. When you can get those three pieces operating in similar planes, you’re in a good spot. 

IP: What would you tell somebody who is aware that biomechanics make a difference and maybe intimidated by, “Well, I don't have a Ph.D. or a million-dollar pitching lab, so how am I supposed to help my players with all this?”

JB: A great majority of the biomechanic solutions out there are really complex; they require a high level of understanding or a Ph.D. in biomechanics, or just lots and lots of time and trial-and-error learning. No one uses words like “anterior” or “posterior” in everyday life, so why should pitching coaches? People talk about hip-shoulder separation, for example. That’s an impactful thing. But what does that look like in a biomechanical system? How do people define that joint angle and what does it look like over time? Take small bites and find things that will be really impactful for you right away. But kind of a shameless plug, work with Reboot! Because that’s the exact challenge we are working to overcome. 

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