Crew proactive with injury prevention at symposium
"What I envision in the future is [players] want to come to Milwaukee because we're at the cutting edge of medicine and we're going to keep you healthy," Caplinger said. "How many times have you heard, 'We've got a lot of talent on this team. If we can just stay healthy, we're going to go a long way.'
"You hear that every year. Every single year. And you know what? Health does, after talent, play a major role in the success of your team."
So Caplinger will host 45 men and women at Miller Park this weekend for an across-the-board examination of the club's medical efforts. Participants run the gamut from front-office personnel to team physicians, athletic trainers and strength-and-conditioning specialists from every level of the organization.
The Brewers have quietly been on the cutting edge of medical matters in Major League Baseball, with the second-fewest disabled-list days over the past 10 seasons, according to Caplinger. The White Sox have had the fewest.
Caplinger, who spent 10 years as a Brewers athletic trainer before a September 2011 promotion, believes Milwaukee was the first club to schedule a formal medical symposium that has become a model across MLB. This year marks Milwaukee's ninth symposium, and the earliest it's ever been held. The gathering typically occurs in January, but because Caplinger transitioned from his daily duties as head athletic trainer and moved into a more administrative role, he pushed the event to an earlier date.
"We've had so many good ideas, so many prospective programs to implement, and you can't do it in a half a month when you're getting ready for Spring Training," he said. "Now, if we do it in November, we can start implementing this stuff in the last half of November, December, January, and get it ready to roll out in Spring Training. ...
"The nature of this game is people get injuries," Caplinger said. "What we want to try to do is minimize that risk of getting hurt, and then if they do get hurt, to return them to the field as fast as possible. That's our goal."
With that goal in mind, here are some of the topics on Caplinger's agenda:
Biomechanical analysis. Dr. William Raasch, the Brewers' head team physician, has led a program at Milwaukee's Froedtert Sports Medicine Center for eight years and has compiled a database of upward of 150 professional pitchers after taking measurements of their deliveries with eight high-speed cameras and 42 digital markers. They measure the forces applied to a pitcher's body while throwing a baseball, and Raasch and the Brewers are trying to use that data to avoid shoulder and elbow injuries.
Range of motion. Caplinger launched an organization-wide study two seasons ago that has been charting pitchers' range of motion every month, looking for red flags that could cause injuries.
Workload. The Brewers have created a database that charts pitches and innings for every pitcher from the Rookie Leagues through the Majors and creates personalized limits. Caplinger will also lead a discussion of the merits of various starting rotation strategies, from a six-man rotation to the typical five-man rotation to a "piggyback" system used often in the lower level of the Minors.
Presentations from Sports Illustrated injury expert Will Carroll and astrophysicist Dr. Meredith Wills about how data from Pitch f/x and the new Field f/x tools can be used to predict injuries, and from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee associate professor Kyle Ebersole about his work in biomechanics and exercise physiology.
A review of ongoing academic studies involving the Brewers, including one pilot program that measures players' heart rate, core temperature, pulse, oxygen saturation and breathing via a "puck" embedded in a pitcher's shirt. Ebersole is helping the Brewers construct a computer algorithm to analyze those results and create fatigue profiles for individual players.
Elbow injuries. Caplinger has gathered anecdotal injuries that Tommy John surgery has a six-to-eight-year shelf life before a pitcher redevelops troublesome symptoms, from forearm strains to changes in range of motion.
MLB's league-wide medical records system, which is gathering and organizing information with the aim of improving injury prevention and continuity of care. All of the Brewers' medical records are now digital, such that assistant general manager Gord Ash can be sitting in the dugout during batting practice at Miller Park and use his iPhone to access the latest medical information about any of the club's dozens of Minor League prospects.
"We made sure we put on the topics that are really at the forefront of medicine and we want to know more about," Caplinger said. "We want to be sure we can deliver that level of expertise to our players."