Biomechanics of a swing, historic season start for Purdue Baseball

Jake Jarvis poses for a picture in front of the outfield wall at Alexander Field

Health and kinesiology junior Jake Jarvis utilizes his studies on biomechanics to strengthen his running and swing.Tim Brouk

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

While Major League Baseball (MLB) owners and the players’ union disagreed over terms for a new collective bargaining agreement, which led to a 99-day lockout, the Purdue University baseball team — loaded with eight student-athletes from the College of Health and Human Sciences — earned a No. 19 ranking in the NCAA as it amassed a 15-0 start to the season. It was the longest winning streak to begin a season in the program’s 184 years.

The Boilermakers didn’t lose until getting edged by Illinois State in 11 innings March 17 in Normal, Illinois.

Today, MLB spring training is in full-swing, but since Feb. 18, the battin’ Boilers have been turning heads.

“During the lockout, there was a lot more focus on college baseball,” said Jake Jarvis, a junior right fielder and health and kinesiology major. “It was a mix of being at an awesome University and a Power Five school — along with the lockout of the MLB — and off to a hot start, we got a good amount of publicity, a strong showing from the crowds at our games and a good following. It’s been a really fun atmosphere.”

As of March 28, Purdue sits at a record of 18-1. The next game at Alexander Field is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 5 against Northern Illinois University.

The fast start has Jarvis and the team in high spirits. They’re putting in the work on the field and away from it.

Kinesiology and technology double play

Jarvis and teammate Ricky Castro, a senior pitcher and fellow health and kinesiology major, study how the body works in motion. Jarvis, who cranked a pinch-hit home run March 2 at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said a proper swing involves just about every part of the body, especially the lower half.

“You need to have a good base. You have to work from the ground up and stay attached to the ground,” Jarvis explained. “You use the ground as power with the amount of force you’re pushing off the ground to get rotation with that power.”

As the 90-miles-per-hour fastball comes blazing toward the batter, the weight shifts to the back leg, engaging every muscle, before quickly starting the twisting motion of the body to eventually strike the ball, preferably over the outfield wall. The upper body has its role too, of course. The lats, shoulders, chest and biceps must do their part as the ball comes to the plate. All of this action takes about a half-second.

As an outfielder, Jarvis has to motor most innings to catch up to pop flies and line drives to the gap. With the velocity of hits coming toward him in just a few seconds, he had to learn the most efficient and effective ways to cover dozens of feet to make the out. Jarvis and his teammates have utilized Intel technology for improving their speed — primarily for defense and baserunning, shaving fractions of seconds from their times. Even the slightest increase in speed can make the difference between a stolen base and a costly out.

“It’s helped a lot with sprinting and speed work,” said Jarvis, who is batting .333 so far this season as of March 28. “I’m really interested in sprinting and running mechanics — stuff that goes on that we work on in class mixed in with some extra research has helped with my speed and overall agility on the field.”

Jarvis said he can get to top speed faster than ever when tracking a fly ball.

“There’s nothing like it. It’s fun flying around out here with my teammates and taking away hits from the opposing team,” Jarvis added. “A lot of it is super miniscule stuff that has a big effect on sprinting and running that the human eye can’t notice.”

Future career on the field or in the clubhouse

While Jarvis still has a couple more seasons to finish as a Boilermaker, he hopes to play ball professionally or help athletes like himself perform better as a strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist in professional or collegiate sports.

But before then, Jarvis and the baseball Boilermakers hope to cash in on the hottest start in team history with a Big Ten championship.

“We have really good team camaraderie,” he said. “We have guys picking each other up, and it’s just a great team effort all around.”