Martin is the team’s director of high performance. It’s a brand-new position that bespeaks an entirely new way of looking at injury prevention and rehabilitation within the organization.
Jerry Dipoto envisioned a major restructuring of the Mariners’ medical and training methods when he took over as general manager in September 2015, and the ballclub began seriously preparing the groundwork last spring.
But it was the results of the 2017 season, one undermined by a rash of injuries, that added undeniable urgency to the project.
This week, the Mariners unveiled the first, and most important, byproduct of his grand vision: the hiring of Lorena Martin as the team’s director of high performance.
It’s a brand-new position that bespeaks an entirely new way of looking at injury prevention and rehabilitation within the organization.
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“We started opening doors I don’t know if anyone in baseball had really opened in the high-performance world,’’ he said. “And we started realizing, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s so much out there that we were not aware of, because we were always working in our close-minded baseball world.’ That’s where I’ve been for three decades.”
Martin, who previously was the director of sports performance analytics for the NBA Los Angeles Lakers, is responsible for all aspects of the Mariners’ physical and mental training approach. She will oversee the medical, strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental skills departments, with a direct line to manager Scott Servais.
“We found someone who’s brave enough and experienced enough and who has been through it at the professional sports level to charge up the hill and really lead us in a direction that is intended to benefit our players,’’ Dipoto said. “Because, frankly, what we’ve done, particularly over the last two years, can’t possibly have made them feel good about coming to the office every day.”
This is at once highly innovative and almost revolutionary in the world of baseball, and somewhat of a catchup ploy in relationship to virtually all other sports.
“Just because we’ve done it one way for 150 years doesn’t mean it’s the right way,’’ said Dipoto, displaying visible enthusiasm for the restructuring during an interview in his office, while realizing there is bound to be some skepticism around the sport, perhaps even within his own organization.
“While some baseball lifers can view this as bunk, I have spent ample time visiting with the Seahawks’ people, the Sounders’ people, with groups from English premier soccer and sports leaders around the world — this is what’s happening in sports.
“And in every one of their sports, when it was introduced, it was met with, ‘Aw, no, we don’t need that.’ Until they realized, ‘Wow, that’s the result?’ That’s where we want to be. We are just following what other sports have done to step into the light.”
In the 37-year-old Martin, they have found what they feel is the perfect person to draw all this together and lead them toward Dipoto’s goal of cutting time on the disabled list by 25 percent. That’s a significant number for a team that lost 1,477 days to injuries last year, resulting in close to $43 million in dead money.
Martin says she was happy with the Lakers, but the opportunity to pioneer high performance in baseball was an irresistible lure. With the Lakers, she said, she was providing suggestions. In Seattle, “I have more of an opportunity to be an agent of change in implementing those suggestions.”
Martin has a résumé that feels as if it was designed precisely to lead her to this moment — and in a way, it was. Dipoto jokes that when he first perused her credentials, which includes a masters in psychology from Nova Southeastern University, a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, and three post-doctorates in GIS spatial analysis, biostatistics, and epidemiology from the University of California-San Diego, plus fluency in Spanish and status as a certified athletic trainer, certified strength coach and certified nutritionist, he jokingly dubbed her “the unicorn.”
Martin grew up in Miami as well as Spain, the product of a Spanish father and Cuban mother. She was both a collegiate and professional tennis player, which piqued her interest in what differentiated good athletes from great ones, and great ones from legends.
Her own career was solid, but far from legendary.
“I’m happy to say I did get a professional tennis ranking where it’s like eight pages below Serena Williams,’’ she said, laughing. “No one knows, but it’s back there — 189 or something like that.”
Every time Martin had an injury, she’d go back to school and add another element to her growing knowledge of performance. She studied physiology, she said, because she wanted to learn everything going on inside the body, and then math and statistics so she could figure out how to measure it.
Along the way, she discovered her passion — her “niche,’’ as she puts it, in drawing out the best from athletes while keeping as healthy as possible. Now she is tasked with integrating all that for the Mariners.
“My way of visualizing this is that everyone has an equation for how they best perform,’’ she said. “There are certain things psychologically and physically that get that person into their zone to perform at their best.
“So finding that optimum for each player — I can’t tell you all the tricks of the trade, but finding that for each player and putting that into practice is what I’m here to do.”
Dipoto recognizes the inadequacies of the previous systems that prevailed in baseball.
“We’ve taken all these people who are experts in their area, very well educated and skilled at what they do, and then embed them in baseball departments, reporting through coaching staffs,’ he said. “Frankly, we’re not experts in those areas, myself included. When Dr. (Edward) Khalfayan calls me up and wants to run me through a player’s status, I’m flipping a coin. ‘If you say so.’ ”
Now, the Mariners have Martin to be the liaison to coordinate all areas of training throughout the organization, with statistical analysis to help guide them. Dipoto truly believes they will not only be able to keep their players healthier, but that when they do get injured, they can get them back on the field sooner.
“It’s easy to look at our season and lament that all those days were lost to the DL,’’ he said. “What if we could have avoided just one pitcher going down? What if we could have turned 100 DL days for Felix Hernandez into 50? What if Mitch Haniger’s oblique didn’t take seven weeks to heal? Any of those things are manageable.”
As such, Servais will be in constant consultation with Martin about who needs a preventive day off that might stave off injury.
“Lorena will contribute to the way the lineup card comes together by defining who’s available that day,’’ Dipoto said. “We might be able to prevent two weeks on the DL by giving a player Tuesday off, because you can see it coming.”
Dipoto said Servais has totally bought in, and he and Martin have already had a long talk in which the manager began, “You tell me if a player shouldn’t be on the field. Just give me enough notice that we can make sure that player has time down.”
Will the players themselves buy in? Dipoto doesn’t even feel that’s a relevant question, since many of them, he said, are already doing high-performance programs on their own because they don’t feel the Mariners’ programs are as current or sophisticated as the player wants.
“We don’t have to get players to buy into this,’’ he said. “WE have to buy into this. The players are already there. In many ways, we’re trying to catch up to them.”