The growth of analysis-based decision-making in baseball has affected the game more than anyone could have imagined. We are seeing this use of data now more than ever before, and its influence on training, games and recovery practices is shaping the future of the sport. However, these methods do not exist for baseball for women. The lack of computerized training in the women’s game is due, well, to the lack of data. The constant development of statistics such as batting average numbers and output speed rates is much more difficult to track since there is very little to compare them with. While men’s games have advanced in the computer world over the past decade, women’s baseball has begun a slower process and has not yet achieved the same success.
But there is reason to hope that this situation will change. Last month, I got to experience this for myself by attending a girls’ baseball meet clinic organized by Baseball For All, an organization that focused on giving girls opportunities to get involved in the sport, and hosts Driveline Baseball. Driveline is an elite training facility that attracts hundreds of professional athletes whose computer-driven techniques not only positively impact and influence players, they also create the future to beat.
Presented with the unique opportunity to receive coaching from Luisa Gauci, West LA College second baseman and current Driveline-appropriate intern, and Rachel Balkovec, a hit coach for New York Yankees, I was very happy to be surrounded by such wonderful and insightful women. This clinic was the first of its kind, and the excitement and drive was unsurpassed as we were led through various hits and exercises. What stood out most about me at this clinic was the work ethic of each and every one of these young women. It’s an atmosphere like no other. We met every week who were eager to listen, learn and work. The program stretched over six weeks, and while we all individually benefited enormously from this experience, we were also part of a larger effort to help provide more opportunities for women in baseball by measuring performance.
During the scouting process and before the establishment of this clinic, Luisa Gauci noticed a lack of baseball data specific to girls. Through our training, we had nothing we could use to compare the exit speed or launch angle with except men’s data that has already been entered into the various databases. One of the reasons Gauci came to Driveline was because she knew that the facility and its training techniques would give her the means to solve this problem.
“I saw a problem in baseball that I knew I could help solve, which was the lack of access girls in baseball had to elite (computer-driven) training,” Gauci says. “I started asking questions, creating my own solutions and documenting the whole process.” Just before she started working on Driveline, Luisa presented at the SABR / IWBC Women in Baseball Conference in September about a new scout scale she created that is more accurate and specific to women in baseball. She focused on fast ball speed, stroke average, isolated power and base run speeds when creating the new scale, as these were some of the key components the scouts were looking for. The Driveline clinic also gave her important data to continue her research, and further develop her passion for creating more opportunities for girls who want to work in baseball.
In addition to having access to Gauci’s vision for this program and baseball skills, we were also particularly fortunate to learn from Rachel Balkovec, the first full-time female coach to be hired by a Major League Baseball team. She began her career as a strength and conditioning trainer LSU before taking on the same role as an intern St. Louis Cardinals, and was later hired by Houston astros as the Latin American strength trainer. With several MLB seasons already under his belt, Balkovec then decided to return to school in Amsterdam to gain further insight into the processes by which the body functions. There she studied human movement science and was introduced to Driveline’s research facility. Her crossover from strength and conditioning to hitting began after working with the Netherlands’ baseball and softball teams, and after graduating she came to Driveline to examine eye tracking in hitters. After contacting a member of the Yankees’ staff while in Seattle, she was hired as a coach by the team. Balkovec is currently working as a coach for Sydney BlueSox during the MLB season, and will return to the Yankees for the 2021 season.
Speaking of her greatest achievement as a coach, Balkovec mentions that the most important parts for her are “… the ability to empower people, especially girls, and to develop people as players.” At first there were times when she faced rejection because no one had ever seen a woman do what she does, but sometimes it can be a bigger advantage to be an underdog than you might think. Balkovec mentions that fighting from behind and pushing you harder than your colleagues is one of the most useful ways to grow, and this is the mindset that helped her persevere through the first days of her career.
There was also a mentality that led Gauci through her first team, and one that gave her the determination to continue to improve the game. Originally from Australia, Gauci’s travels have also taken her to countless countries and teams, but her best baseball experiences are all in America. From the summer ball in Virginia to the 1:00 Wiffle ball games in Alaska to her current team at West LA College, she is excited to expand the game and inspire girls around the world. “If a girl from Brisbane, Australia can travel to America, play college baseball, work at Driveline, train and train full time, honestly everyone can, ”says Gauci.
This passion for creating more opportunities for women in sports is one that we all share, one that gives us hope for the future, excitement for how far we have come, but also a recognition that there is a lot of work to do. Marlin’s hiring of Kim Ng, as well as the recent achievements of Sarah Fuller and Callie Brownson, add to the list of overqualified women who reach new heights in the sports industry during this historic year, but continue to prove that many of these obstacles are being broken. industry itself.
Emotions and congratulatory remarks can only get us this far; the change brought about by these powerful women is what proves to be the most inspiring in this perpetual journey to equal opportunities. Luisa’s innovative pursuit of women’s baseball data is a big step in the right direction, and Rachel’s view of the underdog’s advantageous nature is one of the keys to a successful quest to overcome obstacles. Having women in these fields to look up to is exciting in itself, but having the opportunity to learn from them in this setting was truly a blessing.
The Driveline Clinic brought great gratitude to women like Luisa, Rachel and all the girls involved who facilitate more opportunities for women in baseball, and an assurance that there are so many others who are ready to prove themselves if they’re just given a chance. “Everyone can learn if they are given the opportunity to learn,” says Balkovec.
We are gradually seeing more rooms like this clinic that provide an environment where young girls are encouraged and get the tools to compete. Having the ability to follow in the footsteps of the pioneering women in front of us gives an even greater excitement and optimism for the future of women in sports. This opportunity also revealed how useful Driveline and these new data will be in this hunt, as it will help women begin to have the same benefits that data analysis has given men. I look forward to seeing progress in baseball for women from the data gained from efforts like this.