Inside the data-driven throwing program that helped revive Dan Straily’s career
Dan Straily wore street clothes and a big smile when he walked into a nondescript warehouse-turned-workout facility in an industrial park outside Seattle last week. He visited for pleasure, not business, to say hello to some of the minds who have helped make him the pitcher he is today and to show Miami Marlins coaches Juan Nieves and Ed Lucas a significant piece of his past two offseasons.
This is Driveline Baseball, a proudly unorthodox and data-driven baseball performance startup that has helped revive Straily’s career. Since he began his work with Driveline and founder/owner Kyle Boddy about a year and a half ago, Straily has transformed from a depth option for a rebuilding franchise to an asset the Marlins traded three prospects for three months ago.
“I thought I was working hard at pitching, at throwing, and I realized I wasn’t,” Straily said. “Driveline has given me a new perspective on what it takes for me to be prepared for a season and what I need to do personally to throw a baseball and be the best pitcher I can be.”
Straily initially sought out Driveline during the 2015-16 offseason, after a year spent mostly with the Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate. His numbers were OK, but his right shoulder – his throwing shoulder – lacked the strength it once had, leading to lower velocity and a general feeling that he wasn’t as prepared as possible. There were no structural issues, no tears. Just nebulous weakness.
Straily knew there was more in there. He hoped Boddy, whom he met through Houston pitching coach Brent Strom, could help him find it.
That winter, Straily made a couple of trips to Driveline’s suburban Seattle facility from his Oregon home. Boddy put him through a series of biomechanical tests to determine Straily’s physical inefficiencies, then prescribed an individualized regimen working largely with Driveline’s signature small medicine “PlyoCare” balls and modified weighted baseballs. (Another takeaway from those tests: Straily’s delivery puts remarkably little stress on his elbow, which is good news for his long-term health.)
Saturday night, before his career-high 14 strikeouts against the Padres, Straily worked through his normal pregame routine, one as methodical as any but different than most. It incorporates Driveline’s Plyo balls – as in plyometrics – that vary in weight from 100 to 2,000 grams. On the field, Straily plays long toss with specialized 11- and 7-ounce baseballs before moving to the normal 5-ounce ball for his bullpen session.
“Post-activation potentiation,” Boddy said. “That’s a fancy way of saying if you throw something heavy, then throw something light, your performance usually improves as a result.”
The heavier equipment also means fewer throws to loosen up, Straily said, “but I get more out of each rep. I feel like it saves my arm in that sense.”
All offseason, working out mostly at Oregon State in a mini-Driveline mobile lab of sorts with other Driveline believers, Straily tracks the velocity of his every throw and sends it to Boddy & Co. During the season, Straily and Boddy touch base after all of Straily’s starts.
Measuring everything – being exact – is a hallmark for Driveline and Boddy, a former Microsoft engineer and professional gambler.
“I know a lot about math and how to apply it,” said Boddy, who started Driveline in his mid-20s eight years ago.
Driveline has about 350 clients, mostly pitchers, ranging from teenage amateurs to pros well into their 30s. The Indians’ Trevor Bauer, Dodgers’ Brandon McCarthy and Tigers’ Matt Boyd are among Driveline’s major leaguers. Boddy has teamed with seven major league organizations (including the forward-thinking Astros, Indians and Dodgers) and several powerhouse Division-I college programs (including Vanderbilt and Oregon State). Shortly after Straily, Nieves and Lucas left last week, Mariners vice president Jeff Kingston visited.
Within the game, Driveline certainly has its critics, skeptics and straight-up hardline opponents. But Straily swears by it.
“People might see it as a fad,” Straily said. “But that’s how all new trends are.”
Driveline’s methods have developed a reputation as a way to add velocity, and some pitchers seek exactly that. Straily has benefited a bit on that front – more so velocity maintenance, raising his floor rather than his ceiling – but has found the most noteworthy gains in the strength and recovery aspects of the program.
“The Plyo balls do a really good job of that,” Boddy said. “I think that’s our biggest calling card and the biggest way we can help most big leaguers.”
Normally, pitchers are very sore the day after their start. Straily used to be no different. During the best year of his career with the Reds in 2016, as well as the early goings of his first season with the Marlins, Straily’s shoulder feels much better.
“Even after my 1/8April 16 start3/8 where I pitched 5 1/3 and threw 90-something pitches and we got on an airplane and flew across the country, I thought for sure I’d be sore when I got here,” Straily said. “I wasn’t.”
For Straily, Driveline is just one piece to his success, alongside his strength coach, his regular deep dives into analytics and the homework he does with his Marlins coaches and catchers. But he might not be where he is now, as the Marlins’ No. 2 starter, without this throwing program. Or whatever you want to call it.
“You’re almost doing it a discredit to call it a throwing program,” Straily said. “You’re not giving enough credit. You can’t call it a weighted-ball program. It’s its own. It’s Driveline.”