Science & Technology



How the Royals are using sports science to gain an advantage

Rustin Dodd, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Science & Technology News

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- On most days this spring, Whit Merrifield sets his alarm clock for around 6 a.m. One hour later, he's already on site at Royals camp, preferring a workout in the morning and a protein-laden breakfast inside the clubhouse kitchen before the day officially starts. His routine is simple.

Merrifield, the Royals' second baseman, is what you might call a morning person. But even if he wasn't, he spends his offseason on the East Coast in North Carolina. Out here in Arizona, he wakes up early naturally, he says. He usually gets 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

It's a decent diet of rest. One we all could envy. Yet as the Royals continue their spring, Merrifield's bosses wouldn't mind if he slept a little more. The same goes for the rest of the roster, from left fielder Alex Gordon to the non-roster invitees destined for Class AAA Omaha.

In an effort to optimize training and increase productivity, the Royals pushed the start of workouts back an hour, from 10 to 11 a.m. They hope the change will allow their players to sleep later and more comfortably. They are just the latest club to bet on the power of sleep and the science that suggests its import.

"We're trying some different things," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

In some ways, the premise is simple, maybe even obvious. Sleep is good. Glorious, even. Most every adult on the planet would like to roll into work an hour later. We all want more rest.

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The Royals' change, however, has been spurred by an increasing understanding of how additional sleep can affect athletic performance. The decision offers a peek into the inner workings of a baseball front office, where every club searches for competitive advantages and market inefficiency.

One of those areas is sports science, the application of scientific literature to practice and training methods. The Royals sought to explore the discipline last season, hiring Austin Driggers, a minor-league strength coach with a background in sports science, to be the club's first ever sports science coordinator.

Driggers searches for the latest innovation or research to incorporate in Kansas City. It was he who pored over the studies of sleep and performance and presented the data to catching coach Pedro Grifol this offseason. Grifol relayed the value to Royals manager Ned Yost.

"Everything we've learned about sleep and athletic performance has really been learned in the last 10 to 12 years," Driggers said. "It's a very new area of research."


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