By now, we’ve all seen the horrific footage of Toronto Blue Jays pitcher A.J. Happ getting hit in the head with a line drive during last Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Happ suffered a fractured skull, but he has since been released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
As with any line drive to the mound, Happ’s injury has reignited the debate over whether or not pitchers should be wearing protective headgear while on the mound. Quite frankly, I don’t see why either the MLBPA or owners are debating the issue. MLB has long had a rule requiring hitters to wear helmets in the batter’s box to protect against beanballs to the temple, and the risk of such injuries to the pitcher is actually even greater.
Pitchers are just as close to the hitter as hitters are to the pitchers.
Probably the most overlooked fact related to this discussion is that the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate is exactly 60 feet, 6 inches, regardless of whether you are starting from the batter’s box or the top of the mound.
So why does everybody seem to treat pitchers as if they are somehow further away from danger than hitters? If anything, pitchers actually wind up a little closer, as the momentum from throwing the ball toward the batter’s box naturally moves them forward.
This is important to keep in mind, as…
Line drives move at faster speeds.
There is no question that more pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman is thought to be the hardest thrower at 105 miles per hour, but virtually every team has at least one pitcher who can hit the triple digits.
However, this still pales in comparison the speed in which players hit line drives.
According to sport scientists, the typical speed for a line drive hit off an 85 mph MLB fastball is approximately 135 mph. This is for a fastball that is more than 6 mph below the average speed for today’s MLB pitchers.
This should make sense to everyone, as hitters who are stronger than ever will always have more leverage as long as they are swinging wooden bats that can be up to 42 inches in length. Additionally…
Line drives are far less predictable.
Say this about Major League pitchers: they have a tremendous amount of control over the ball.
Every play in baseball begins with the ball being released from the pitcher’s hand, and any pitcher who does not have the ability to put the ball in the strike zone will not be in the big leagues for long. This is why pitchers who are found to have intentionally hit batters are tagged with a five-game suspension.
Hitters, on the other hand, receive no such suspension when they hit a potentially dangerous line drive, for good reason.
When a hitter steps into the batter’s box, they are attempting to hit a moving target using another object that is not exactly attached to their bodies. While there are a few hitters who seem to be able to control their hitting, it is silly to argue that they have anywhere near the level of control that pitchers have over their pitches.
And now for the elephant in the room…
Line drives are potentially deadly.
While it did not happen right away, the single biggest reason that hitters wear helmets was Ray Chapman, whose fatal beanball to the head in August of 1920 also led to the prohibition of pitchers using foreign substances on the ball.
Will it take another fatality to convince MLB to do the same for pitchers? Considering they have to deal with faster-moving, less predictable line drives from the exact same distance as a hitter dodging a beanball, there is no reason why this tragedy could not once again become a baseball reality.
Hopefully, the A.J. Happ situation results in both the MLBPA and the owners instituting helmets for pitchers at the beginning of next season – if not sooner.