LAKELAND, Fla. — Dr. Georgia Giblin, the Detroit Tigers‘ director of performance science, became the first woman in franchise history to win the Dwight Lowry Award, formerly known as the Player Development Man of the Year Award and given out by the Tigers organization every year.
Giblin, hired by the Tigers in September 2019, works with advanced technology and data to maximize player development. She reports to assistant general manager Jay Sartori, who specializes in analytics.
Giblin earned her Doctor of Philosophy in biomechanics and skill acquisition from Victoria University in Australia in 2014. She completed her post-doctoral research at the University of Michigan.
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How do you get feedback about the impact you’re making in this organization?
“It comes in a few different forms, like on the ground level with the players. It’s really nice to be able to work with them one-on-one and get their feedback daily, whether it’s a session in the (batting) cage and they can see something and feel something, or if it’s with the coaches saying, ‘I’ve noticed this on the field, can we test it, can we check it?’ Giving them validation, that’s a good source of feedback. Different departments, different structures, but it’s obviously nice to get some of that positive feedback.”
What goes into your day-to-day activities?
“Right now, spring training is quite busy. We’re trying to create some baseline assessments for some of our players. For example, in our ‘smart cage,’ we have technology from Force Plates to portable TrackMans to sensors that measure how the players are moving. We’re trying to get baseline assessments on the players for hitting and pitching to understand at a fundamental level how they move so we can help the coaches create the best plans for them. That’s a big part of the day-to-day. This year, we’ve invested a lot of money in our Hawk-Eye system that you see around the stadium. We’ve got that at each of our affiliates this year. We’re operating that and looking at some of the data we’re getting, on-field biomechanics for hitters and pitchers. We’re able to break down their movements, create some reports and feed those back to the coaches.”
Having the Hawk-Eye at all the affiliates, how much of a difference will that make during the season?
“It’s going to be great. Previously, we’ve had some technology in Lakeland and some in Detroit, and the fact that we can scale it through the organization means that we can track the players from level to level. That’s going to help us in player development a lot to get a good understand of how players progress through the system and how they’re developing over years. We’ll be able to track them from Lakeland all the way through to Detroit, which I think is really exciting.”
How do the biomechanics work, and then how does that translate to injury prognostication?
“That’s a tough one because injuries are really tough to predict. I work very closely with our strength and conditioning departments and with our sports medicine departments to try to look at the players as a whole and try to find some of those weaknesses. Maybe they have poor ankle mobility, so how’s that going to affect their hitting or their pitching? How’s it going to affect the front side of their hitting? I work closely with the athletic trainers, the strength and conditioning coaches, to try to address those off the field so they hopefully don’t become an issue on the field.”
How long did it take you to be accepted by the traditional trainers, considering you’re coming in with the data and technology?
“Initially, I think there’s always challenges when you come into a new organization, particularly with the rate that technology is moving right now. It’s moving very, very fast. It did take a little while, just purely trying to get everybody up to speed. There’s a lot of technology, and it’s daunting for people, and it’s not been in the game before, so people aren’t familiar with it. There’s a bit of an onboarding and learning process. Once we got through that initial process, everyone’s been really receptive to it. For me, once you can show value with the trainers and coaches, then they seek it out.”
How have you seen the buy-in with the players, especially with the younger players compared to older players?
“A lot of the younger players love the technology, especially some of the players that have come from the big college programs. It’s part of their routine. They seek it out. They ask for it. They know what they’re looking at. For some of the younger players at our academy in the Dominican (Republic), it’s new technology for them, so we’re educating them and trying to get them up to speed. For some of the older players, they’ve gone through their whole career, and maybe they’ve gotten to the big leagues, and they’ve never used any of it before. They can be a little bit more challenging to get on board with the technology. But once we can have that conversation and say, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you stay at that level and hopefully help you improve and get better,’ then, for the most part, they’re pretty open to it.”
The equipment and technology to measure body movements, Hawk-Eye now does that at the major-league level. Will there be someone from your staff in Detroit? Pitching coach Chris Fetter wants that game-to-game feedback, inning-to-inning feedback, not once in a while.
“The Hawk-Eye system in Detroit is a high frame-rate system that can measure all the biomechanics of hitting and pitching. We can actually run that remotely. We will be able to get that data at every one of our affiliates for every single game. One of the great things about performance science over the last year has been the growth of the department. We have hired a biomechanist (Brian Diefenbach). He is going to be in Detroit, so he’s going to be that person that helps Chris understand those reports and work game-to-game, week-to-week, month-to-month to look at trends for the pitchers and that information that we collect.”
What’s the overlap between sports performance and the analytic department?
“There’s a huge amount of overlap. That was another one of the investments we made in the offseason, building that department to handle the huge amounts of data that we’re going to get from the Hawk-Eye system. There’s a huge potential for overlap there to look at the outcome and the pitch metrics, but also, what’s the body doing to get those outcomes, and how can we join that together to get the best possible outcome for the players?”
Is it a challenge to you with changing technology, trying to stay on top and figure out what’s worthwhile?
“That’s a big point of interest. Technology in baseball, it’s moving so rapidly. It seems as though every year there’s a new piece of technology. We don’t want to buy technology for the sake of buying technology. We want it to answer a question for us, and we want it to be valid, reliable and accurate. It’s a challenge to stay on top of those things to make sure we’re getting the right technology for our system and for our development. It’s just continually evolving.”
Where is baseball compared to other sports in terms of the technological evolution?
“Baseball is certainly catching up. The last five years, it’s been moving at an incredibly fast pace. The Hawk-Eye system that we have now has been in tennis. You might have seen it used in tennis for line judgment calls. Baseball is definitely moving very rapidly in this space, and we’re starting to see it become very mainstream. Most organizations now have a sport science or performance science department.”
Is there a certain aspect of your job that you enjoy the most?
“For me, it’s definitely working in the cage or on the mound with players and being able to show them proof of concept. That light-bulb moment for them is the most rewarding. To see them make jumps forward in their development because now they have more information and better understanding about how they move is definitely the coolest part.”
How about the overlap with player development, how important is that?
“Absolutely huge. We have a lot of players in the system, and the younger guys that are here year-round, we’ve got a huge potential to help them. Player development is a massive part of it. We’ve got a lot that can help the coaches. We can obviously help the players, but we can help the coaches, too. They are working day in and day out with the players, so if we can provide technology and information that allows them to do their job better, the players can get better.”
Is there an overlap with pitch design?
“There certainly is. In the ‘smart cage,’ we have a lot of the technology. We try to pull it all together so we get a more holistic approach to the player and what they do. There’s a big overlap in terms of, the coaches might want the player to use a certain grip or throw a different pitch type, but if we have all the information about them, we know, actually, that player can’t supinate, or they might not be able to do something. Then we need to work around this. How do we work around it rather than trying to make them do something they can’t do? Pulling it all together really helps the player development make good plans and processes.”
What’s it like being such a key part of the progress within this organization?
“It’s super exciting. We’re seeing a lot of investment across the board, on the field and off the field. For me, I’ve been very lucky that (owner) Chris Ilitch and the Tigers have put a lot of investment into performance science in terms of technology. The department has grown with a full new staff this year. For me, that allows me to do a lot more work across the whole organization. I think we’re in a great spot. We’ve got some great young talent. We’ve got some great talent on the big-league field. We’ve got new staff across player development, across the whole organization. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Will there be a coach at each level tasked with communicating with you and your department and working with the players?
“At each level, we have a development coach. Part of their role is absorbing that technology and information and relaying that. Obviously, we have our communication channels. Coaches can reach out to be at any time. We’re going to have that Hawk-Eye information at every level, so we have someone to operate that and make sure we can relay that information to the coaches. But we’re always accessible for any questions they, whether they’re here in Lakeland, West Michigan or wherever they may be.”