#003: Your Ticket to Pitching Expertise With Dr. James Buffi

Listen to the episode:

Senior Analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dr. James Buffi Ph.D., joins Todd Stewart and Bob Calise to discuss the perfect pitching motion, the importance of technology in major league baseball, and the future of sports technology. We highlight how his career started off with mechanical and aerospace engineering, shifted to the human hand and prosthetics, and finally took a curveball into studying the pitching motion.

Dr. James Buffi Ph.D. Quick-Hit Career Timeline

How Jimmy became interested in pitching

Even as a kid playing Little League baseball, the mechanics of pitching fascinated Jimmy. He wanted to improve his ability on the mound so he picked up a book called The Science of Pitching, which helped him became one of the first kids in his league who could throw a curveball.

A long and winding path back to baseball

Not knowing that studying pitching was a viable career option, Jimmy studied mechanical and aerospace engineering at Notre Dame and began to pursue what he thought was his dream job: working on airplanes at Boeing. After an internship, Jimmy realized this wasn’t the right path for him and wanted to do something different.

Interested in the human body and movement, he decided to apply for a Ph.D., landing at Northwestern University in Chicago. He began studying the biomechanics of the human hand and initially wanted to build robotic hands — just like Tony Stark and Iron Man.

While pursuing an understanding of how the forearm muscles could potentially control a prosthetic hand, Jimmy discovered research on pitching and how the same muscles protect the elbow while pitching.

Published during his Ph.D. program, Jimmy’s study on the relationship between muscle strength and pitching was the first of its kind. The baseball world took note, which created the opportunity for Jimmy to publish more content online and ultimately caught the attention of the Dodgers.

The importance of science in baseball

In the mid-2000s and early-2010, there was an uptick in elbow ligament injuries. These require a procedure commonly called Tommy John surgery to fix, generally taking a pitcher off the mound for 12-14 months, with some never able to return. This type of injury occurs all the way down to youth baseball, underscoring the need at all levels to understand and properly train the muscles that sustain the force of each pitch.

Jimmy talks to us about the intricacies of pitching (we’re just mentioning a few here!)

What goes into throwing a 100 MPH fastball?

While there’s no perfect motion for every single pitcher, the pitching motion can be distilled down to a few simple components. When you pitch, you’re generating movement in your body that impacts and pushes against the ground, which then pushes back. Energy transfers from the ground, through your body, through your arm, and out into the baseball.

While some physical traits play a role in how someone pitches, their technique is also very important: the efficiency of that energy transfer, the alignment of joints, the angle of the elbow relative to the torso, and more.

The most dangerous pitch is the one you don’t train for

Pitching is intense, but the human body adapts to what you train it for. Jimmy rejects the idea that pitchers are fragile and need to throw less in order to prevent injury. He believes taking a smart approach to training and progressing slowly can help a pitcher safely throw the way they want.

And much much more!

Connect with Jimmy and say hi!