Saturday notes: The (neuro)science of building a World Series winner, Mookie Betts and a strong starting rotation

Mike Petraglia
March 22, 2014 - 8:25 am

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Red Sox continue to be on the leading edge of science and baseball. Before the game against the Braves at Champion Stadium, Red Sox manager John Farrell detailed the team's investment in the latest technology to scout and identify talent. It's called neuroscience. And it's a scientific method in which other teams in baseball - and other sports - are now investing a great deal of time and financial resources to identify and refine the talent pool available to them. Want an example? "Mookie Betts, that's how he was identified. He was a bowler," Farrell offered as a name that came immediately to mind. "It wasn't like there were a whole lot of games to witness and watch but then there's follow up work when guys come into the system at the minor league level to always to try to train and enhance that reactionary time. I think that would just continue to grow. "Whether it helps focus and concentration and enhance all that, I just think that we're scratching the surface on what kind of electronic tools can come into play to help players." Betts was drafted by the Red Sox in the 5th round of the 2011 MLB draft from John Overton High School in Brentwood, TN. He is a middle infielder in his fourth season in the system. Without neuroscience and neuro-scouting, Betts may have slipped through the system. Farrell said neuroscience is used in many different ways, including having players use gaming consoles to test their reactions. "Not so much on a daily basis, but it's done on identifying players so there's a neuro-scouting component to it," Farrell said. "Best way I could describe it in general, it helps with some of the processing of information because certain things will be presented to a player that they'll have to identify certain things, whether that's shapes, numbers, trends, and then how quickly you process it and repeat when it comes back up. It's not different than some of the baseline testing for concussions, where you've got to really think back and remember different schematics that are thrown up in front of your eyes," Farrell explained. "Whether it gives an assessment on a player's instincts, it's more for his ability to process information and make decisions. When you're dealing with reaction times that are in the split-seconds, you start to get a better understanding of what that person's ability to make the right decision is. Whether that's shows up on the base paths, the box, pitch recognition, all those things begin to measure the ability to process information and make decisions." The Red Sox have been at the leading edge of this type of evaluation for the better part of five years, starting with Theo Epstein's tenure in the late 2000s. "It was starting to come into the organization around '09 or '10," said Farrell, who was the pitching coach at the time. "This might be kind of where it started. I don't know if other organizations have used it since then. When this was being brought into the game this is where it was being initiated. "It's like a consultant service. These people are certainly way beyond my thinking ability. I haven't gone through and sat down and gone through some of the neuro-scouting that's available." Here are more notes and quotes form Farrell on Saturday:

  • On officially announcing Jon Lester as the opening day starter: "No, we're still waiting but count the days, it's not a secret."
  • Grady Sizemore will have Saturday off before playing three straight games, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
  • David Ortiz, 0-for-3 in a minor league game Friday, will have a full rest day on Saturday before returning to game action on Sunday at JetBlue Park against the Rays.
  • Farrell said he's been very pleased with the progress of all five starting pitchers in camp: "Typically, your secondary stuff is going to come along after you've built your arm strength. Sometimes, guys will get frustrated with the shape or action of the secondary pitches but I've always believed that with arm strength comes fastball command and quality breaking balls. I think Jon [Lester] has shown better secondary stuff than [Friday] in earlier starts. I think it says that their deliveries are pretty much locked in."I like the way our starters are coming along for sure. I think some of the early work plan that we put in place has been one that has physically agreed with them."
  • On Craig Breslow throwing first live BP of camp on Friday, with a game set for Monday: "By all accounts, yesterday was a really good day for him. He was strong. He had good command of his stuff but I think we also have to be realistic. The one thing, being with Craig last year, you had to take him out of the mix on a given day. He always wants the ball and maybe on some days where he was willing to pitch he might have benefitted a little bit more from an additional day of rest. Knowing he's not going to say I need more time, we'll have to make that decision for him."