Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have joined forces to develop a new hat that is designed to provide more protection for pitchers.
According to William Weinbaum of ESPN.com, 20 pitchers will be testing the new protective headwear during spring training.
MLB vice president Patrick Houlihan described the new headwear as a "hybrid of a cap and a helmet" to Weinbaum, with a total weight between 10 to 12 ounces.
Boombang, the company brought in by MLB and the MLBPA to create the hats, designed the headwear to be specific to right-handed and left-handed pitchers after research showed pitchers who got hit by liners typically were hit on their arm side.
While a full list of pitchers who will be testing the new hats isn't available in Weinbaum's report, Houlihan did say the first group to test it in games will feature a mix of pitchers who have been hit by a liner in the past and some who have taken an active leadership role in helping develop protective headgear.
Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who suffered a mild concussion after a comebacker went off the side of his head in June 2013, told Weinbaum he would "be open" to wearing the new headgear if it feels close to what a regular hat does.
Comfort has been a key sticking point throughout the process as MLB looks to find ways to protect its pitchers.
Brandon McCarthy, who was in a life-threatening situation after suffering a skull fracture and a brain contusion when Erick Aybar hit a liner off the side of his head, told ESPN's Jayson Stark in January 2014 the design wasn't right.
“Hopefully, in a couple of years, they can come up with something that everyone wears and that you don’t notice it being on your head while you’re out there,” McCarthy said. “But right now, it’s just not there.”
Boombang CEO Tylor Garland told Weinbaum his company has created a "very lightweight solution" that was strong enough to withstand laboratory impact testing at 85 mph.
Chicago White Sox left-hander Dan Jennings was hit in the head while pitching for Miami two years ago, but he told Weinbaum he doesn't "think many guys will wear anything unless it is mandatory."
Baseball is a game of repetition. Hitters need to repeat their swing in order to have the best possible outcome, while pitchers need to repeat their mechanics in order to keep hitters honest and off balance.
One small change, even something as simple as the hat being a few ounces heavier, can alter a player's mechanics. Athletes are stubborn creatures and aren't going to change unless they are absolutely forced to.
The new headgear designed by Boombang seems like a good starting point for MLB, though the results won't be felt until we see how the pitchers respond after their spring training games.