Aroldis Chapman, the fireball-throwing closer for the New York Yankees, has the record for the fastest pitch thrown in a Major League Baseball game, 105.1 mph.
With his skills, Chapman may be one of the rare few in the baseball world who has the luxury of not needing the services of Driveline, a small company hidden away in a Kent industrial park. Driveline deals in the highly coveted art of throwing a baseball as fast as humanly possible without destroying the arm of the person throwing it.
“I won’t lie to you,” said Driveline CEO Mike Rathwell. “Velocity is definitely a predictor of whether someone will get outs or not.”
And that is why Driveline is showing up on more and more general managers’ speed dials.
However, though the company has a growing number of professionals as clients, Driveline isn’t strictly a training ground for Major Leaguers. The company also works with little leaguers, high schoolers, and college players.
“We offer integrated-baseball player development for serious athletes,” said Rathwell. Driveline wants to create more complete, healthier ballplayers.
To do so, Driveline blends the latest science and technology with some old-school training methods and coaching. Staff is not just made up of coaches but also analysts, biomechanics, and engineers.
“We want to push baseball forward,” said Rathwell. “We use a lot of technology to give a player a very accurate sense of where they are right now in terms of their career, and we’ll do that starting at the age of 9 all the way up to guys at the major league level.”
The data aspect came naturally, as Driveline’s founder, Kyle Boddy, originally was a data scientist at Microsoft. When he got into coaching little league, he couldn’t find any good answers for why pitchers were suffering injuries. He figured science could solve this, so he founded the company in 2009. By 2011, he’d created his own biomechanics lab. In 2014, he split ownership with Rathwell, and their upward trajectory accelerated.
Anyone who follows Major League Baseball knows the industry is a bit hidebound to tradition and slow to accept change. However, analytics have become more and more accepted in recent years. All teams now have a dedicated analytics department, where terms like advanced metrics and peripheral statistics are used on a daily basis. Major League front offices now have conversations around neural networks and machine learning. Hall of Famer Casey Stengel, the “Ol’ Professor,” would be spinning in his grave. This new emphasis on data-based decisions has put Driveline in the enviable position of being a business in demand.
When an aspiring athlete comes to Driveline, he is first given an overall physical assessment to get a baseline of current mechanics and abilities.
“The assessment element is key,” said Rathwell. “We can look at a pitcher and say, “This is what your fastball does; this is what your slider does,’ and then we can also understand, ‘OK; this is how you move as an athlete.’ We get a sense of your biomechanics — how efficient are you with your throwing, or on the hitting side, how efficient are you when you’re sequencing your body to deliver the bat on time? All those things go into getting a clear picture of what’s holding the athlete back, and then we take that data and try to determine what’s the easiest way for you to get the best results.”
Results lead to more clients and a healthy bottom line, but a little word of mouth doesn’t hurt, either. Especially when the word comes from a client who happens to be a top professional pitcher. One of Driveline’s more prominent success stories centers around Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer. In 2013, his ERA was 5.29. Five years later, Bauer had lowered his average to 2.21.
“In 2013, Trevor began working with us,” said Rathwell. “Over several years, he has transformed himself into one of the top 10 pitchers in the majors. (And) Adam Ottavino began working with us to help develop a slider and transformed himself from a guy who had a 5.00 ERA to a pitcher who should have been nominated for the All-Star Game. We had another pitcher who added 8 miles an hour to his velocity and was no longer having arm pain. Other players started asking questions about what he was doing. Word got around.”
Driveline’s standard plan is a $1,799 assessment, which includes the first month of training. Each month is $399 after that. With this plan, after the assessment, members can pretty much show up at their convenience. The company also has pitching and hitting classes (yes, they work with hitters, too) that are geared for youth and high school athletes. These evening classes are more structured and range from $199 to $399 per month. There are no extra fees for using special equipment.
Driveline is getting a national reputation, but it still is committed to giving back to the local community. Free assessments often are offered for high school teams in the region, particularly those in low-income areas.
“We’re also offering, for little league players only, a free physical screening right before little league season starts,” said Rathwell. “We’ve found that athletes between 9 and 15 years old have what I call precursors for low back issues. We want to help them address this before it becomes a problem.”
Everyone’s looking for an edge — some piece of training, technology, or coaching that will take them to the next level, add an extra few points to their batting average, or bump their velocity by a mile or two. That’s what Driveline is all about.
“We want our athletes to compete at their highest level,” said Rathwell. And all serious athletes are welcome. Even Aroldis Chapman.