Sign of the Times

May 2, 2017

The San Francisco Giants are tapping into sports science. The three-year-old effort looks at the players’ performance and fatigue through the lens of physiological biomarkers.

“Players are looking for every legal advantage, every edge,” Geoff Head, MS, CSCS, RSCC, CES, PES, the Giants’ Sports Science Specialist, told The Mercury News. “That’s why the game has started to evolve. You can’t take steroids. They test ALL the time—I feel like that there are testers here every day. And that’s a good thing. You want the sport to be clean. But now the question is, ‘OK, how do I adjust and still play 162 games without getting hurt?’” 

Recently, the team has looked to answer that question, in part, by focusing on hydration.

“One of the ways we check players’ hydration daily is through what’s called USG—a urine specific gravity machine,” said Head.

The sports science staff then uses the results of the USG to fuel a Hydration Domination contest. If players are participating in the voluntary competition, they need to post their scores before batting practice. The individual scores are kept private, but the player with the best hydration levels at the end of each series wins an award that looks like a golden urinal.

Along with the Hydration Domination contest, Head implemented a Daily Wellness Questionnaire that is available on iPads for each player. This provides insight on recovery.

“So if a player has had a hamstring injury in the past, the player might touch his hamstring [on an avatar] and say, ‘It’s like a 3,’” Head said. “That area will light up and basically remind me that, ‘Hey, this player had an injury in that area in the past.’”

Like the USG tests, the questionnaires are voluntary, and Head keeps the information private. That’s important for getting players to report honestly.

“We’re all in this together,” said reliever Hunter Strickland. “You can obviously go in there and be dishonest about it and write, ‘Oh, excellent!’ every day. But that’s only hurting yourself and the team.”

Although Head keeps the players’ personal information private, he uses it to help fill in gaps—particularly when it comes to nutrition. For example, he works with the team chefs to develop menus based on the players’ vitamin and mineral readings. Head also makes shakes for the players based on their test results.

“I have a big spreadsheet, and it looks like a football play list,” he said. “Every day I go in and I make these drinks, and it’s based on this environment, the type of game, the intensity.”

At the end of the day, Head says his main goal is to keep players healthy and maximize performance.

“Injuries are a part of baseball,” Head explained. “It is a combat sport at high intensity, and injuries will happen, unfortunately. We are not saying that our sports science program will stop all injuries from happening. But we are doing everything we can as a sports medicine department to help prevent the injuries that can be preventable.”

These efforts don’t go unnoticed, as players express appreciation for the help they get from the sports science program.

“Geoff has worked his tail off the last year or two in trying to find anything he can to give us an edge,” said catcher Buster Posey. “Maybe it’s as simple as paying attention to guys’ weight and keeping enough calories in their system to help them maintain weight. Or maybe it’s different types of recovery. He’s constantly soaking up information and trying to figure out ways we can benefit.”