A day after the fourth pitcher this year was hit in the head by a line drive, ESPN's Outside the Lines has learned Major League Baseball anticipates making new, more broadly protective headwear available to pitchers next year.
Contacted after a liner struck the New York Yankees' Bryan Mitchell in the face Monday night, sources from MLB and the MLB Players Association with knowledge of research being conducted under a joint MLB/MLBPA initiative with the California-based company Boombang said the new headwear, likely to include ear and temple protection on the pitcher's dominant (throwing) side, is in the works and expected to be offered to pitchers next spring.
The new product would resemble current single-flap helmets for batters. The rationale is that pitchers' follow-throughs leave their throwing side most vulnerable to shots to the head, and the ear/temple area is especially susceptible to skull fractures and life-threatening injuries.
Five pitchers are known to have worn cap padding in MLB games this season. Alex Torres, recently sent to the minors by the New York Mets, wore isoBLOX exterior foam padding approved by MLB and the union. Hector Noesi of the Chicago White Sox and Esmil Rogers, who was waived by the Yankees on July 31, have worn the Unequal Technologies Dome Kevlar insert. The Houston Astros' Collin McHugh and the White Sox's Dan Jennings have worn Safer Sports Technologies' SST Pro Performance Head Guard hard carbon fiber and Kevlar partial insert.
Only Jennings had been hit in the head by a liner before deciding to wear padding.
Pitchers are and would remain free to wear any protective equipment, regardless of whether baseball has tested or approved it, as long as it doesn't conflict with on-field competition or licensing agreements. But so far, nearly all have eschewed changes to what they wear atop their heads, citing effects on comfort, delivery and appearance, from padding's added size and weight.
Mitchell, who suffered a nasal fracture and was put on the seven-day concussion disabled list for precautionary reasons, joined the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (in a spring training game), the Cleveland Indians' Carlos Carrasco and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley as pitchers who have been hit in the head by a line drive in 2015. All four were struck in the face, so none of the three types of cap padding in use or the 2016 product with an ear flap would have cushioned the impact.
Chris Young of the Kansas City Royals and former MLB pitcher Bryce Florie, both of whom suffered severe injuries when they were struck in the face by liners, have told Outside the Lines that they hope to see baseball develop a visor as seen in hockey or a face mask similar to what some NBA players have worn after injuries.
The two certainties for pitchers are that liners back at them can exceed 100 mph and that they might have only one-third of a second to react.