The new, high-tech approach follows the growing use of big data to track and address players’ health and prevent injury in professional sports. Until recently, Major League Baseball had mostly used such information technology to evaluate players, not necessarily to keep them fit.
The Mets now hope not only to right the ship but to eventually become one of the more advanced teams in analyzing and improving players’ health.
“Over 10 years I’ve been in baseball, there’s been talk about the next wave of medical care,” said the relief pitcher Jerry Blevins. “It’s nice to see that somebody has taken a hands-on progressive change.”
Among the most apparent changes are the daily monitoring of hydration and readiness, which may seem like obvious steps already taken by other teams, but they are just the beginning for the Mets.
When players arrive at the team’s spring training complex here, they are asked to fill out a five-question survey on an iPad in the training room. The goal is to evaluate how they slept, their mood and their level of soreness, using a body chart to pinpoint the trouble spots. They also record the color of their urine; darker shades of yellow suggest poor hydration .
Before and after each spring training workout or game, players also step on a scale to find out how much water weight was lost through sweating and whether they need to rehydrate with water and other fluids to keep muscles healthy.
“More importance has been placed this year on what’s going into our bodies and what’s coming out,” said the Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo. “It’s really good. We should be paying attention.”
Since the end of last season, the Mets have also replaced many longtime officials: their manager (Terry Collins with Mickey Callaway), most of the coaches (notably the pitching coach Dan Warthen with Dave Eiland) and the head athletic trainer (Ray Ramirez with his former assistant Brian Chicklo).
Joseph Golia, the Mets’ minor league medical coordinator, was moved up to Chicklo’s old position. A new massage therapist with a focus on deep tissue was hired. The team asked its new dietitian, Maureen Stoecklein, to spend more time around the players. The Mets added new equipment. Coaches and the training staff were more scrupulous about off-season check-ins with players by phone or in person.
But the biggest change was the hiring of Cavallini, whose background is in exercise science and biomechanics. After several stints as a college strength and conditioning coach, Cavallini said he spent eight years working with the United States Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, N.C., as a contractor for EXOS, a private training company.
For the past three years, Cavallini said he oversaw everything connected to a soldier’s performance, from nutrition to training to mental conditioning. The Mets asked him to do the same with their athletes and to ensure that everyone — from their doctors, led by the medical director, David Altchek, and the trainers to the coaches and players — worked together.
The daily iPad questionnaire and weigh-ins were easy ways to improve habits and communication. The data feeds into an automated daily readiness report for Callaway and his coaching staff. That way, unlike before, the decision makers have centralized and up-to-date information on a sluggish player or who has maladies like a sore shoulder.
“Communication was the biggest issue we had last year,” Syndergaard said. “That’s greatly improved.”
Paul Sewald, a Mets relief pitcher, said coaches are promptly following up on any visit to the training room.
“It definitely feels like they’re around more, paying attention more, and instead of being reactionary they are being more proactive,” Blevins said.
Cavallini said responding to the questionnaire and being weighed in remain voluntary, but players get “We missed you this morning” notices taped in their lockers when they do not complete either.
It helps that Callaway is keenly aware of the medical and training aspects of baseball from his pitching and coaching days. He has preached the value of “prehab,” the stretching or strengthening of the body to prevent injuries, and cut down on idle practice time he thinks leads to injury.
Nutrition has also been improved in the clubhouse, where players often eat at least twice a day, in coordination with the longtime chef, Theresa Corderi, and Stoecklein, the new dietitian. There is less refined sugar and more lean protein. During a recent spring training lunch, chickpea pasta replaced traditional pasta.
“We made an effort to keep a lot of food that they like but also removing the things that are probably going to promote more inflammation than recovery,” Cavallini said.
Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said the Mets also are planning to hire a sports scientist with experience in predictive data to analyze all the information the team collects.
Eventually, Cavallini said, the Mets will incorporate force plates, equipment that can detect hard-to-see irregularities in player’s legs; the data should help improve training or determine days off because of fatigue. Cavallini said the Mets may also offer wearable technology to further measure players’ performance.
Alderson said the Mets have even had conceptual discussions about building a minor league pitching lab that could help answer the following questions: “What’s the best way to condition pitchers? What would be improved throwing mechanics? How are we going to develop more pitching?”
Alderson said among the ways he would measure the success of the new medical and training staff are improved performance, fewer injuries and better fitness, such as lower body mass index.
“Once we establish that player buy-in, a lot of those things will take care of themselves,” Cavallini said. “People will be healthier, they’re going to play more games and the results will come on the field.”
Continue reading the main story