High-tech training: How avatars can aid modern baseball players

Will October baseball be better with giant blue monsters?

In the futuristic film “Avatar,”  miners working on the lush planet Pandora employ giant blue creatures that mimic their body movements -- genetically engineered avatars, the movie suggests. But this is no fantasy: Modern baseball players are relying on the same concept today.

“It gives us an ability to look at forces and torques, and position of the body,” said Donna Moxley Scarborough, clinical and research director at Mass General Orthopaedics Sports Performance Center, according to Ivanhoe newswire.

Working at the clinic in Foxborough, Mass., researchers recently placed a series of reflective markers on 19-year-old pitcher Jake Murray. Motion-capture cameras then followed the positions of each marker to create a virtual version of Jake -- an avatar, although this one is neither giant nor blue.

By watching his own pitching motion as reflected in the avatar, Scarborough was able to diagnose some flaws in the pitcher’s wind up that caused him pain when employing his curveball.

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“We noticed that he had some limitations in muscle length and some strength issues,” Scarborough said.

According to Mas General, the facility combines advanced 3-D biomechanical imaging technology with the clinical expertise of athletic trainers and surgeons. The markers worn by the patient represent the pitcher’s body parts to create accurate measurements of speed and forces across joints of the body. This analysis allows clinicians to assess how each part of the body moves.

More than a stunning image, it’s like looking at an entire 3-D puzzle at once instead of the separate pieces provided by static 2-D images like an X-ray or MRI.

“The technology we have here allows us to view the whole body motion in three dimensions and from that data we are able to develop specialized training programs for injury recovery or maximizing athletic performance,” explained director Eric Berkson, an MGH orthopaedic surgeon and Red Sox team physician.