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Texas Rangers Pitchers Could Benefit from New Protective Caps This Year

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Texas Rangers Pitchers Could Benefit from New Protective Caps This Year
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
SP Yu Darvish.

According to William Weinbaum of "Outside the Lines" on ESPN.com, Major League Baseball approved pitchers of all 30 teams to use new pad-protected caps on Tuesday morning.

This approval comes on the heels of five separate incidents of pitchers being hit in the head with a baseball between September of 2012 and June of 2013.

One of the most serious incidents came on September 5, 2012. Brandon McCarthy, a former Texas Rangers pitcher then with the Oakland A's, was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of shortstop Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels.

McCarthy sustained a life-threatening brain contusion, an epidural hemorrhage and a skull fracture. He missed the rest of the 2012 season after undergoing major brain surgery. 

According to Weinbaum, the new caps are being manufactured by 4Licensing Company subsidiary isoBlox. The caps will be available to the players by the start of spring training in February. Their use is optional.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
McCarthy right after being struck by Aybar's line drive on September 5, 2012.

Weinbaum says that currently there is no rule regulating what type of protection pitchers can wear. As long as whatever they are wearing doesn't directly interfere with play, it is acceptable. 

Weinbaum also reported that the new caps are more than a half of an inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the sides of the cap. They are manufactured to protect line drive speeds of up to 90 mph on front impact, and up to 85 mph impact on the side of the head. The thick padding in the cap's interior is designed to absorb and disperse the force of an impact.

Dan Halem, MLB executive vice president for labor relations, told "Outside the Lines" that he is satisfied with the league's new product.

We're excited to have a product that meets our safety criteria. MLB is committed to working with manufacturers to develop products that offer maximum protection to our players, and we're not stopping at all.

The MLB was looking for a product that guaranteed protection against the average off-the-bat line drive speed of 83 mph, Weinbaum reports. 

4Licensing Chief Executive Officer Bruce Foster is confident in the caps' revolutionary ability to protect pitchers' heads. Additionally, the caps aren't expected to tamper with a pitcher's natural throwing motion. How comfortable they may or may not be remains to be seen.

Looks are important to many major league players, but protection is the main priority here.

"What we've given [pitchers] is a product with protection they've never had before," Foster said. "It changes the game for them."

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
A guy like King Felix might be more concerned with his typical and stylish cap tilt on the mound.

Despite excitement around the league's offices, it will take time for major league pitchers to catch on to the new caps, according to Dave Schoenfield of SweetSpot Blog. Schoenfield says that while the recent head injuries have been serious, they aren't nearly the widespread concern they are in a sport like football. 

He calls the development of the new caps a "no-harm, no-foul" situation. Pitchers will likely try out the new caps in spring training, and if they are comfortable with them they might stick with them. But if they aren't, they'll continue using the normal caps knowing that head injuries are very rare in the game.

For players then, the new caps could be a question of comfort and style versus safety.

This will be an incredibly interesting development to keep an eye on during spring training. Even though injuries happen in baseball just like in every sport, I'm all about maximizing player safety.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Can you even imagine getting plunked in the head by a fastball from this guy?

Safety is always a two-way street in baseball. It's not just pitchers that are at risk here.

At the end of the day, the fact is that a batter never knows when a 102 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman is going to rise just a bit too far high and in. Pitchers in this league are by and large phenomenally under control. They are professionals and that is why accidents rarely happen. 

Or you could have a situation similar to what happened in 2006, when Vladimir Guerrero smoked a line drive clocked at between 107 and 108 mph that nailed reliever Rafael Soriano in the temple. The speed was calculated and analyzed by Greg Rybarczyk, the creator of ESPN's Home Run Tracker, reported Weinbaum.

Weinbaum also noted that pitchers have about one third of a second to dodge a screaming line drive 60' 6" away from home plate. Most guys have a natural fall off to either side of the mound in their delivery, which help them to avoid a blow.

But a pitcher's delivery will generally move him between five to seven feet closer to home plate, giving him even less time to react, as former San Diego Padres and Rangers pitcher Chris Young describes in this video.  

As rare as they might seem, five incidents over an eight-month period is somewhat alarming. Something needs to be done to better protect pitchers especially, who are closer to a line-drive impact than any player on the field. 

I'd like to see all the Rangers starters wearing these new protective caps at some point in 2014. After all, the debilitating shoulder, elbow and back surgeries among Rangers pitchers over the last season and a half, the last thing Rangers fans want to see is another freak accident involving one of Texas' key players. 

Again, it's rare, but as they say in baseball "anything can happen." That is one of the beauties of the game after all.

 

 

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