Paging Doctor Elliott

First, a word from a local paper: 

Elliott, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, said his love of sports prompted him to focus on athletic performance instead of traditional medicine. He has been dismayed by the rampant use of performance-enhancing substances.

"The only way to curb it is to diminish the gap between the cheaters and non-cheaters," Elliott said. "Our faith is that smart training beats drugs."

Lisa Mariner and Jay Yencich already pointed this out and I commented briefly on it, but I thought I'd go into a little more detail (or just get a little more effusive with my praise) about this move.

Players and coaches — among them Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair — spent Monday morning getting an overview of the program from Grifol and Dr. Marcus Elliott, a highly regarded performance enhancement expert who is introducing a new strength-and-conditioning program.

Bit of background: I got into the Massage Therapy field in 1999, and worked for several years at an injury rehab clinic in Seattle.  I happen to have met the girl who worked as the team massage therapist at the time under Rick Griffin (whom I've also met).  She was a very nice, very cute blonde girl who might not have been old enough to drink and who got her job because her uncle (IIRC) was associated with the front office.  Griffin let her stretch people sometimes.  She wasn't allowed to do any real work that I could determine.  Maybe she did and I missed it, but either way whatever skills and benefits her position could have provided were severely under-utilized by the team. Was this because she wasn't capable of providing them or because she wasn't allowed to?

And in the end, does the why matter so much as the lack of usefulness of members of the staff? The Mariners medical staff has been a tough horse to back for a long time, staffed as it was with sycophants and 1970s-era knowledge.  I'm sure you can still hear my curses reverberating throughout the internet as our docs misdiagnosed yet another pitcher, botched yet another surgery, screwed up a tuberculosis diagnosis, etc.  We were employing people based on their ability to PAY US (Mitch Storey) or because they were friends and family (Larry Pedegana, team's leading medical mind for 30 years, the very nice and well-connected massage girl, etc).  Their ability to do their job better than their peers was not the first priority, and it drove me crazy.

We were not taking full advantage of the medical and scientific community, whether in prehab or rehab, diagnosis or cure.

That seems to be changing.  Pedegana is no longer with the medical staff, and the news that we are taking advantage of Doctor Elliott's methodology to wring the most out of our promising minor league talent I find simply outstanding. 

I'm sure that I'm biased, but I'm so very tired of seeing the medical community fall back on what has always been done and regurgitate it for a new generation.  There are some ways in which "rub dirt on it" is still being touted as medical science.  Injury rehab for "normal folks" is one such bastion of retrograde knowledge - trust me, I know.  There's nothing more frustrating than hearing doctors order patients to "wait til it heals before you start rehabbing" when the Europeans are doing incredible acute injury work because they're actually allowed to.  Training regimens are another area of inhibited progress.


"Run through tires."

"Okay, why?"

"Because we have always run through tires, and it's hard."

"I understand it's hard, and it will help me improve some things, but are they the things I need for THIS sport, or for MY body, and is running tires (or doing wind-sprints, or puking my guts out doing some other gawd-awful workout routine) the BEST routine we can come up with for maximizing my individual progress?"

"...probably not..."

And it's at that point, that disconnect between what you should do to be the best and what you are doing, that Dr. Elliott created his methodology of movement analysis and sport-specific and player-specific training.  

I've been a BIG fan of Elliott's work for a long time.  His injury prevention papers all blow me away, and the fact that the NFL, the USOC (and other Olympic organizations from other countries), NBA and MLB players, volleyballers etc ALL come to him as the expert in the field should speak for itself.  He's the Dr. James Andrews of trained performance enhancement. Olympic athletes here in Colorado Springs who have worked with him have glowing things to say about him.  In fact, I don't think I've ever heard an athlete EVER come away from a regimen designed by him without effusive praise and increased performance.

Have you seen the speed factories that potential NFL draftees attend to bump their times for the combine and increase their draft stock?  This is like that, except that instead of training for the test (ie, the 40 yard dash, the 20 yard shuttle, etc) you train your body for the job you'll ACTUALLY be doing on the field.  He doesn't coach specifics.  From his bio at

Before entering [Harvard Medical School], he had designed a conditioning program for the country's best track cycling team in preparation for the Barcelona Olympics, even though he'd never actually seen a track cycling race. In a way, he says, this lack of specialization is an advantage, as coaches don't feel threatened that he may overstep his bounds and begin giving advice on tactics and strategy. "Coaches know I'm not planning to coach the athletes," Elliott says. "I'm there to help the athletes realize their physical potential, and the coaches know they're in the driver's seat."

Per that bio he also helped a champion triathlete with a broken collarbone stay in shape to retain his championship even though he couldn't run, bike OR swim, and has done several (dozen) other remarkable things.

He preps your body to be the BEST it can be at performing your job tasks.  He will give you the hand-eye coordination to make better contact with a ball, the ability to wait on a pitch because your reactions are better, quicker steps in the field and on the basepaths, the ability to stay strong throughout the season, etc.  What you manage to do with those improved abilities is up to you, but he'll clean up all the base material you have to work with.  His routines make decent athletes good and good athletes great, even those who thought they were training at peak efficiency. 

He's a giant in his field - no one currently does trained athletic enhancement better than Dr. Elliot.  It's a surprisingly small field and he dominates it.  With nutrition, injury prehab and rehab, training techniques and all the rest...whatever we're tapping from him for our minor leaguers (and with FOUR profiles for each guy to follow throughout the year, we're definitely putting him to work) is for the better. 

But what can all these personalized training regimens do for a player? He works with a lot of top athletes, so it's not necessarily accurate to allow his techniques credit for their success (though I'd be curious to see how many of them achieve immediate success in the bigs (as Ryan Braun did) versus their peers who have a longer adjustment to the higher level of competition).  But as an example of a lesser light making a surprising impact, let's take Ryan Spilborghs (a guy I get a chance to watch here in Colorado, and who I saw come up through AAA).  

He was no one.  He started working out at P3 in 2005, I believe.  Year before Elliott: .742 OPS in the Cal League at 24.  Year he started training with Elliott: .960 OPS in the Texas League at 25.  And ever since he's been an interesting part-time player posting 110 and 120 OPS+ partial seasons (tho last year was pretty bad). As Ryan himself said: "I can't put into words how important Marcus Elliott has been in my career.  I became a superior athlete in 2005 because of him."

This is by a "non-prospect" - what can you do if you take that training to your top 40 players-in-training (20 of whom are considered "non-prospects") and they get the opportunity to go from next-to-no chance at the bigs to potential contributors? What does that do to the depth of your farm system and your ability to harvest it for trades and internal replacements?   What happens if you can also then manage to maximize the ability of your top talent to make a n immediate major-league impact? And how about if we can use cutting edge techniques to keep all that talent healthier for longer?

I'm absolutely astounded that we contracted with Dr. Elliott for our minor leaguers.  Remember when we were jealous of the A's and their high-tech pitching analysis a few years back?  Prepare for other team's fans to be jealous of our minor league preparatory academy very shortly. I'm more stoked than ever to see what happens in our minors - and in the future of an organization that seems to have finally graduated from "rub some dirt on it" to actual cutting edge scientific analysis and investment in its players at all levels.

It's definitely a good time to be a Mariners fan.




*laughs* And of course it makes me Anonymous and I spelled Dr. Elliott's name wrong in the title.  Sometimes your site drives me crazy, Doc. ;)
Addendum: an interesting thing to me will be how to project players who are fully maximizing their abilities with this training.  This is the sort of program that turns AAAA players into bench major-leaguers or moderate starters, but how do you judge which minor leaguers are leaping plateaus with more to get to and which are just squeezing every drop of performance from a lesser plateau? 
 It should be fun regardless - especially if these performance regimens can help minor leaguers adjust to the bigs faster.  Nothing like maximizing their contributions early instead of waiting 5 years for a Beltre breakout, for instance. 

okdan's picture

Thanks for posting, this was a great read. I had seen a couple articles about the things they were doing with Dr. Elliott, but this gives me much appreciation for how big of a step forward this is. Great stuff.

Andrei Kirilenko was too skinny, too fragile to hold up to the rigors of the NBA despite his well-rounded prowess and wasn't able to utilize his skills effectively - and was being lapped by players like Carlos Boozer (who also trained at P3, btw).  Management went to him after the 2008-2009 season and told him to put on weight.  He was afraid to lose his quickness.  They took him to P3 and Dr. Elliott in the summer.  He went from 215 pounds to 240+, stayed just as quick without being as fragile, and this year is getting articles like this written about him in February:
...One of the big reasons behind Utah's recent change in the standings, and in particular the Jazz's improved defensive play, is that Kirilenko has suddenly reverted to his mid-2000s form. Over the past eight games, he's averaging 18.6 points per game and shooting a scalding 72.1 percent from the floor.

That's impressive enough, but what's really notable is how he's filling out the rest of the stat sheet with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks per game. It's a throwback to his "5x5" days, except now he's hitting midrange jumpers consistently. Kirilenko's impact has been notable on D, too -- Utah gives up 6.8 points fewer per 100 possessions with him on the court.
As a result, he's been more than able to offset Utah's other issues on the wings -- the nondevelopment of Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Miles, for instance, or the injury to Kyle Korver -- and provide a reliable wingman for the Deron Williams-Carlos Boozer star tandem.
Of all the things that Jack has implemented for the Mariners, this seemingly-small development, mentioned briefly in an offseason article and involving guys that only a small percentage of fans have even heard of, could carry the most long-term impact for the franchise.
Excuse me while I geek out some more.


And some detail about the antagonistic muscle relaxation and paired power movement/athletic movement training and video of the basketball workouts.
Can I please see what these workouts can do for a kid like Dustin Ackley, who just needs some more body training to be a monster?  Or Nick Franklin, who never worked out in his life before his senior year of HS and was still a first-round pick?
Fun times ahead...

Taro's picture

Great article.
Its really exciting to see the Ms become the front-runners in athletic prep. It makes following the minors that much more fun.. and makes me feel like some of these guys will  actually start panning out.
I wonder what type of gains Ackley can make? If a guy like Carp or Saunders started hitting for more power they'd be reeeally interesting. Triunfel. Man..
Z is the man.

Taro's picture

Does he create programs to fit that particular sport? What kinds of things does he do for hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition?

misterjonez's picture

pitch recognition or hand-eye too much, unfortunately.  What you *CAN* do is maximize the economy of motion during the bat-swing process, which can provide extra milliseconds that the hitter can 'wait' to make a decision on whether or not to swing at a pitch.
I remember seeing an article somewhere on Bonds' ability to wait nearly TWICE AS LONG as the average hitter before committing to his swing, which is essentially what he credited for his inhuman surge in production at the plate.
Dr. Elliot can't likely work those kinds of miracles, but often the difference between contact and miss, or solid contact and pop-up, is less than 5% reaction time.  For certain guys, a serious muscle programming program can have massive implications on their performance.  For others, it won't make much of a difference in anything other than rehab times and staying healthy for longer.
Yeah, exciting stuff indeed, G.  Good find.


I tried to edit the title, and lost the paragraph breaks, and this is the best I c'n do right now...
SABRMatt might be able to tell us how to get the byline right?  My own account is a little different...
Simply amazing, how far the M's have come into the 21st century in such a short time.  Thanks for the blow-by-blow on what this move means.


Great article!
Would like to add that Dr. Elliott was hired by the M's full time as the Director of Sports Science and Performance (you can read his bio on page 10 of the M's media guide). So it's not like he is just a freelance consultant for the team, but has a long-term role in developing training regimens for the system's players.
I would also assume that his official role with the M's prevents him from creating similar programs for other MLB teams.


Yep.  I love that he's a full-time member of the staff, and yes it should limit his role with other MLB teams but not with specific baseball players.
Guys like Dr. Lewis Yocum - who performed Bedard's surgery - are also contracted to teams (in Yocum's case, the Angels).  That didn't stop him from doing the surgery on Bedard.  I believe it's a team non-compete clause, but not an individual one.  He wouldn't be another team's physician, but he could be the physician for any individual player.  I would expect it to work that way for Dr. Elliott - any individual that wants to go train at his gym is free to do so, but only OUR team can use him on an organizational basis.
Which is phenomenal, by the way.  Dr. Elliott said in an article a couple of years ago that he wanted 24 minor leaguers to work with, to see if he can get 16 to 18 of em to the pros.  The minor leaguers he worked with before the Ms pay him a pro-rated sum on anything they make OVER $390k - in other words, if they don't make it to the pros they don't pay him a dime for his work.
I dunno what we're paying him, but he has absolute faith in his work, and I don't see ANY reason to doubt him.  And things should only get better as he gets a chance to work his way through our minor leagues on a year-by-year basis.

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