Nats introduce new medical staff, structure

Club will focus efforts on injury prevention and take proactive approach

Nats introduce new medical staff, structure

WASHINGTON -- When Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo conducted his postmortem on the 2015 season, one of the main conclusions he drew was a simple one. The team's key players were spending too much time injured and not enough time contributing.

As a result, the Nationals went about transforming not only the makeup of their medical and training staff, but also the structure and direction of the entire operation. Going forward, the club will seek to focus its efforts much more on injury prevention, using modern analytics to drive a proactive rather than a reactive approach.

"We wanted to not only have great veterans of your traditional baseball medicine, but we also wanted to think outside the box and how could we do better." Rizzo said Wednesday. "It may be the next frontier, the next 'Moneyball' -- keeping players on the field."

Rizzo introduced the plan at a news conference at Nationals Park, along with Dr. Keith Pyne and Dr. Robin West. Pyne will serve as chairman of the team's newly constructed medical services advisory board, along with West -- the lead team physician -- and Nats vice president and assistant GM Bob Miller. New executive director of medical services Harvey Sharman, formerly of England's Leeds United Football Club, will work with the board to oversee the Nats' training and strength and conditioning programs.

According to Pyne, many English soccer teams use analytics to help in the prevention of injuries, and the Nats have stated that under Sharman's direction, Leeds saw more than a 50 percent reduction in injuries.

Last season, 17 Washington players spent time on the disabled list, many of them more than once, and the team endured the seventh-most DL days in the Majors, according to ManGamesLost.com. A preseason favorite, the Nats fell from 96 to 83 wins and missed the playoffs, setting the stage for significant changes.

"It's a real financial undertaking that we've asked ownership for, and they've agreed to," Rizzo said. "They see this is something that can really help us in the win-loss column."

Pyne provided a taste of how the new system actually will work to accomplish that goal. For example, every Nats player will undergo an evaluation that will establish his "normal" biomarkers, such as hydration or range of motion in a certain joint. Based on the results, the medical staff will tailor a training program specifically for that player, then monitor his progress while continually collecting data. If the player gets hurt, the staff then can look to see what needs to be tweaked.

The data also will go into predictive models that can provide an idea of who might be at risk of injury or a drop in performance. Stretches and other corrective exercises can be used to mitigate that risk, and the medical staff also could recommend rest.

"One of the biggest factors we have in baseball is you play 162 games, and it's usually every day," Pyne said. "One of the factors we'll be looking at is inflammation and player fatigue, and this will be in our analytics, so we can make objective decisions, and management can make objective decisions, and say, 'This guy needs a day off,' or 'This player can do a little more.'"

One important factor in making the system work will be creating a smooth flow of information from the advisory board to the field staff and players. To that end, Rizzo believes new director of athletic trainer Paul Lessard will play a key role in bringing together the cutting-edge analytics with the traditional baseball side.

Lessard previously has spent time as head athletic trainer for the D-backs, Red Sox and Reds, working with Rizzo and manager Dusty Baker along the way. He will lead a staff that includes two other athletic trainers, a strength and conditioning coach and two corrective exercise specialists.

As for the players, Rizzo will meet with them before Spring Training to discuss the changes. Ultimately, he doesn't foresee any problems.

"We already have several players that know a lot about this stuff, buy into it," Rizzo said. "I think some of our most key and veteran players are totally locked into it, and see this is going to keep them on the field longer, which means more production, which means more money, higher arbitration, more free-agent dollars. It's going to be something I think these guys not only accept, but dive into and get involved with."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.