Pete Fiutak / Tech company uses data from jumps to predict injuries

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) The epiphany hit Phil Wagner about a decade ago when he was stuck in Southern California traffic pouring over reams of data in his car and he realized how he could take information about how athletes jump and land and predict where they are most susceptible to their next injury.

Wagner has turned that idea into a leading company in the growing field of sports science analytics as teams seek whatever edge they can to keep their players on the field instead of in the operating room.

Sparta Science tracks athletes making six jumps in 90 seconds with its force plate technology and proprietary software to predict what injuries they’re in danger of suffering, what workouts they need to stay healthy and what sport or position best suits their athletic ability.

”People ask how can you tell this from a 90-second jump,” Wagner said. ”But it’s more like an iceberg. You see the top, which is the jump. But under the water is reams and reams of data points of the individual’s history, ethnicity and demographics and that tells a whole story.”

Take, for example, a pitcher. Basically, Wagner’s theory goes a pitcher pushing off a rubber with his lower body is a similar process to jumping. Any discrepancy on how you transfer weight and generate the force can show that the upper body might need to compensate and therefore be more susceptible to arm injury.

Wagner, a former strength and conditioning coach who then went to medical school, launched Sparta Science in 2010 as a training company and counted NBA player Jeremy Lin as one of its first notable clients. Sparta added the software component four years ago and signed contracts with pro teams such as the Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Falcons.

Sparta currently has teams as clients in Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and MLS, as well as several colleges and international rugby teams.

The force plate is the main tool Sparta uses to determine the load, explode and drive for each jump. Using the relationship between the three aspects of the jump and inputting other information such as gender, age, sport, position, injury history, use and even ethnicity, the software can help teams learn about potential injury risk and figure out how to best use certain athletes.

”For me after 12 years of looking at a lot of things to implement, I’m excited about this because it really can help us on both sides,” said Jeff Foster, who runs the NFL combine as the director of National Football Scouting. ”It’s not too often that we can find anything that crosses over the performance and the medical. That’s to me what’s exciting about the force plate technology.”

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, a big proponent of the technology, got Foster to test it this year on about 50 players brought in for a medical recheck before the draft.

Foster is presenting that information on NFL teams to see if they would add the force plate jump tests to the regular regiment of testing that includes events such as the 40-yard dash, the 225-pound bench press, a vertical jump and 20-yard shuttle run.

The results have been impressive with one major league organization that uses the technology reporting a significant drop in injuries for the minor leagues. The team that did not want to be identified for competitive reasons said elbow injuries for minor leaguers dropped from 11 in 2013 to one last season and overall injuries dropping by more than half since 2012.

The San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS began using Sparta in 2016 and by the second half of the season had seen a nearly 50 percent drop in days missed because of injuries, according to head athletic trainer Ron Shinnault. This season, soft tissue injuries have decreased by about 80 percent.

”He’s sitting on a gold mine,” said Andrea Hudy, the assistant athletic director for sports performance at the University of Kansas. ”It’s reliable. The test itself is one of the hardest tests to measure and be reliable with and Phil has done it. Now there’s predictability for possible injuries.”

Hudy primarily works with Kansas’ nationally ranked men’s basketball team and tests athletes monthly, unless there is need for more frequent use. She said injuries have been reduced and added that former top recruit Andrew Wiggins’ father credited the sports performance staff as one of the reasons Wiggins went to Kansas in 2013.

”It has set us apart from the industry standard,” Hudy said.

The University of San Francisco was an early adapter and has been impressed by the results. USF’s medical insurance claims for athletes have dropped significantly since hiring Sparta, from $424,580 in 2011-12 to $168,567 in 2015-16, according to Doug Padron, the school’s associate athletic director for sports administration and performance.

The reduction in injuries has lowered the school’s insurance premiums, allowing for more money to be spent on increasing staff and resources for the athletes. The school trusts the data so much that it advised one pitcher to skip the Cape Cod summer league because tests showed he was susceptible to an elbow injury. After training all summer, the pitcher stayed healthy and was drafted into the majors.

”Our student athletes are having a great experience because they’re healthy,” Padron said. ”I don’t know why others wouldn’t do it. Analytics are everywhere. I don’t think there’s a better thing to spend money on than the student-athlete experience.”


Pete Fiutak / BC-Sports Preview Digest

Some of the sports stories The Associated Press is covering Sunday. A full Sports Digest will be sent by about 3 p.m. All times EDT:

– SOUTHPORT, England – Jordan Spieth has a three-shot lead in the British Open as he goes for the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

– LOS ANGELES – Clayton Kershaw takes his 14-start unbeaten streak to the mound for the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers as they seek a series split against fellow lefty Sean Newcomb and the Atlanta Braves. Game starts 4:10 p.m.

– CHICAGO – Jose Quintana makes his first home start since he was acquired by the Chicago Cubs in a trade with the White Sox. Game starts 8:05 p.m.

– OXNARD, Calif. – Owner Jerry Jones offers his annual pre-training camp take on the Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliott embroiled in off-field issues.

– BUDAPEST, Hungary – Katie Ledecky looks to win her first two gold medals of a busy world championships, where the American star plans to swim a daunting 6,300 meters over the next week. Finals begin at 11:30 a.m.

– BUDAPEST, Hungary – Two years after dodging Hungarian police and sleeping on train station floors as she fled her native Syria on her way to Germany, refugee Yusra Mardini is getting a very different reception back in Budapest as a swimmer at the world championships.

– INDIANAPOLIS – After winning his second straight Brickyard 400 pole, Kyle Busch will try to make history by winning the race for the third consecutive time. Race begins 3 p.m.

– PHILADELPHIA – Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country. Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

– PASADENA, Calif. – Mexico faces Jamaica in the second CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal. The winner faces the U.S. on Wednesday. Match starts 9 p.m.

– PARIS – Chris Froome has a 54-second lead as he closes in on his fourth Tour de France title.

FOX Fantasy Baseball Join or Create a Free League

Play Now!

Sergio Gonzalez / Report: Penguins could be eyeing September trade to add center depth

The Pittsburgh Penguins are still looking to add center depth after losing Nick Bonino to the Nashville Predators this summer, and Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said in a mailbag this week that the repeat Stanley Cup champions could be eyeing a trade that comes as late as September to do so.

Pens general manager Jim Rutherford is working against the salary cap, but that hasn’t stopped Pittsburgh from being linked to longtime trade chip Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche. And Werner said other names, like the Toronto Maple LeafsTyler Bozak, could be on the Pens’ radar as the team looks to fill out its offense for 2017-18.

Something theoretically could happen any day, and Jim Rutherford will certainly keep his phone turned on, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the 3C trade wasn’t actually made until September. As Rutherford said at the draft, they don’t have to field a team until Oct. 4.

Werner also noted that Pittsburgh might have to be creative in shedding salary to afford Bozak, Duchene or any other available forward. Phil Kessel was floated by Werner’s fellow Post-Gazette writer Ron Cook as a potential candidate to land on the trading block, but all indications from both Kessel and the team — not to mention common sense — suggest that’s unlikely. The Pens, Werner said, could instead consider dangling Olli Maatta or prepare for 2018 free agency departures of Ian Cole and Patric Hornqvist.

Sergio Gonzalez / WATCH: LaVar Ball earns tech, forfeits AAU playoff game after pulling team off court

In an AAU basketball game on Saturday, LaVar Ball pulled his team off the floor after earning a technical foul for arguing a call on his own player and directing expletives at a referee.

The sequence took place during an AAU playoff game at the Double Pump Best of Summer Tournament in California. Because LaVar pulled the Big Ballers off the floor, the game was ruled a forfeit — despite his team holding a 9-point lead at the time of the incident, according to USA Today.

Ball, who coaches his youngest son LaMelo, a UCLA commit, was upset about the foul call and continuously repeated, “That’s not a foul, that’s not a foul.” He then directed a profanity at the referee to describe the call, which earned him the technical foul, and subsequently directed his team to pack their bags and walk away.

In a video from Overtime captured outside the gym, Ball can be heard saying, “I’m not gonna have my guys playing hard and they cheating. I don’t play that s—.”

This is hardly the first time Ball has been at the center of controversy this year. The father of Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo has made a habit of grabbing headlines with his antics, most recently engaging 76ers big man Joel Embiid in a war of words, resulting in Embiid getting fined by the NBA for cursing.

Pete Fiutak / The Latest: China’s Li Haotong shoots 63 to move up board

SOUTHPORT, England (AP) The Latest on the British Open (all times local):

3:30 p.m.

China’s Li Haotong is suddenly in the mix at the British Open.

Li birdied his last four holes to shoot a 7-under-63 and move to 6 under in the final round at Royal Birkdale. He was three behind leader Jordan Spieth.

Li, who shot an 84 in the final round of the U.S. Open last month, hit his approach shot to just a few feet on the final hole to cap off his round. The 63 would have tied a record for major championship scoring if Branden Grace had not set a new record of 62 a day earlier.

Spieth, meanwhile, was stumbling early. A day after making no bogeys in shooting a 65 he bogeyed three of his first four holes and saw his three-shot lead evaporate as Kuchar moved into a tie.

But Spieth rebounded on the fifth hole, putting it to 5 feet and making birdie to regain the lead.


3:05 p.m.

Matt Kuchar is suddenly only one stroke out of the lead in the British Open after Jordan Spieth bogeyed two of his first three holes.

A birdie from just a foot away on the second hole helped close what had been a three-shot gap between Kuchar and third round leader Spieth. Spieth had earlier bogeyed the first hole after hitting it into deep rough left of the fairway, and both players bogeyed the third.

The Open is shaping up to be a two man race. The nearest challengers to Spieth are another five shots back.

Spieth didn’t make a bogey all day in the third round as he shot a 65. But he stumbled out of the blocks after beginning the day with a three-shot lead.

2:35 p.m.

Jordan Spieth is off in search of his first British Open title.

The two-time major champion teed off Sunday under sunny skies and with a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, his playing partner. Spieth hit his tee shot into the left rough, while Kuchar split the fairway.

Spieth has three rounds in the 60s, including two 65s in this Open. He played Saturday without making a bogey at Royal Birkdale.

Kuchar is looking for his first major championship title.


2:15 p.m.

Some of those trying to chase Jordan Spieth in the final round of the British Open have stumbled early.

Dustin Johnson made a double bogey on the first hole. He shot 64 in the third round, but was eight shots behind Spieth entering Sunday’s final round.

Rory McIlroy was even through three holes, but faced a monumental challenge to get within shouting distance of Spieth. He was nine shots back.

Spieth begins the day with a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar. Brooks Koepka and Austin Connelly are another three shots back.

Though conditions were mostly favorable for the early starters, they were not shooting the kind of low rounds seen the day before, when Branden Grace set a major championship scoring record with a 62.


Jordan Spieth faced more blustery conditions at Royal Birkdale as he set out to try to win the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the British Open.

Spieth had a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, who is playing in the final group of a major for the first time.

Xander Schauffele put together a 65 on Sunday morning, the best round of the early starters. The wind was expected to increase, though nothing like the second round.

Kuchar was the only player within five shots of Spieth.

A record crowd has taken it all in. The R&A says this is the highest attendance for a British Open in England, topping the 230,000 mark set at Royal Liverpool when Tiger Woods won in 2006.

Pete Fiutak / Hundley’s single lifts Giants past Padres 5-4 in 12

Hundley singled in Kelby Tomlinson with two outs in the 12th, lifting San Francisco to a 5-4 victory over the Padres on Saturday.

Pete Fiutak / USA prep to face Costa Rica (360 Video) | 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup

Get the 360 experience with the USMNT as they prepare for Costa Rica at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal.

Pete Fiutak / Flores hits HR in 9th, Mets past A’s 6-5 for 4th straight (Jul 22, 2017)

NEW YORK (AP) Wilmer Flores hit a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the New York Mets rallied from an early five-run deficit to beat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 Saturday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Pete Fiutak / Dodgers trade reliever Sergio Romo to Rays

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Dodgers have traded reliever Sergio Romo to the Tampa Bay Rays in a deal between playoff contenders.

Pete Fiutak / El Salvador’s Romero, Ceren suspended after bites

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) El Salvador defender Henry Romero was suspended for his nation’s next six competitive matches and midfielder Darwin Ceren for the next three, penalties announced three days after they bit American players during a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal.

Designed for Free Scratch Card Games in Collaboration with Cheltenham Gold Cup