Toronto Blue Jays: Thinking Outside the Box to Build a Champion

Nov 2, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Blue Jays new president Mark Shapiro speaks to the media during an introductory conference at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Blue Jays new president Mark Shapiro speaks to the media during an introductory conference at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Forget baseball analytics – the next edge in MLB is sports science, and the Toronto Blue Jays are leading the way as they look to build a championship team.

Until last season, the Toronto Blue Jays had the longest postseason drought in Major League Baseball. After finally ending that run, they’re now doing everything within their power to once again become World Series champions, as they were in 1992 and 1993.

This involves taking some risks, including attempting to build a championship team with the help of people with little or no baseball experience. While this may sound slightly radical, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated took the time to investigate the next revolution in America’s favorite pastime.

Verducci sat down with Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro, who discussed how they are looking to sports science to gain an edge: “How do we keep the players on the field as much as possible and…performing at the highest potential level of performance possible?

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“And that involves mental, it involves physical and it involves fundamentals, too. Coordination with the coaching staff is the final piece of the puzzle.”

The thinking is that General Manager Ross Atkins already have a lot to contend with, so why not bring someone in, who can concentrate specifically on creating and customizing a performance plan for every player? Dr. Angus Mugford was seen as the ideal candidate, due to his extensive experience as the director of IMG Academy in Florida and as a leading consultant in mental performance and leadership skills for sports and military organizations.

Mugford’s impressive client list included the likes of New Zealand’s All-Blacks rugby team, the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets. This led to a man with no background in baseball being hired as the Blue Jays’ first ever Director of High Performance in December last year.

As Verducci discovered, the 39-year old was given total control over strength and conditioning, mental skills and nutrition and instituted several changes almost immediately. This included introducing yoga classes and adding more “pulling” motions into the strength training program, as opposed to the more traditional “pushing” motion.

The players have everything they need at their disposal, including a nutritionist, a massage therapist and an acupuncturist. The Blue Jays clubhouse has a juice bar and the team always make sure the same fresh and healthy food options are available on their flights and in visiting stadiums.

Toronto Blue Jays
Oct 4, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians president Mark Shapiro stands on the field prior to a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Mugford supplies each player with a personalized, data-based plan to help improve their eating, sleeping, training and recovery. The Blue Jays eventually want to build a state of the art performance training centre in Florida, so the team can get year-round attention.

As Shapiro told Verducci: “I think it also demonstrates to the players that we care deeply about them. We’re going to be focused on everything we can possible do to help them be the best they can be.”

One of the biggest reasons for going down this road, is to find better ways for the body to deal with and recover from the wear and tear of playing 162 games in 183 days. Shapiro said: “We’ll have to navigate through how do we get the information that provides us with the greatest opportunity to understand recovery.

“Some of it you have to always be purposefully vague about because that’s where the greatest competitive advantages lies. That’s probably the area that’s most in its infancy…the rest of it really, to me, is that it’s just a more efficient way of structuring.”

Shapiro may still not be the most popular person among Blue Jays fans, but there is no denying his desire to win. It will be interesting to see how effective his new approach is in Toronto, with us particularly getting some indication of its success during the dog days of summer.

Next: Will Edwin Encarnacion replace David Ortiz in Boston?

What are your thoughts about the increased use of sports science in baseball? Do you see it giving the Blue Jays any edge when it comes to winning games and dealing with the wear and tear of a long season? Let us know in the comments section below.