It is really difficult to grasp all of the discussion that Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to have major league pitchers wear head/face protection while pitching. They are the best of the best at what they do. Having coached baseball for twenty-six years, pitched professionally, and at the Division I level I understand the importance of being able to field the position and protect one’s self. Therefore, one of the skills major league pitchers should pride themselves on is fielding their position. One of the major emphasizes at spring training for pitchers is, pitchers fielding their position (PFP). Regardless of what the velocity of the baseball is coming off the bat, if they take pride in fielding their position, they would be able to protect themselves accordingly. That may be to actually catch the ball, get a glove on it, or move/duck out of the way. Pitchers have to be told to assume that after every pitch the ball may be hit in their direction and they have to be ready to protect themselves.
It is understood that they are 60’ 6” or closer once the baseball has been released, but major league pitchers have been doing this from the time the game was invented. From the discussion that is out there in MLB it is about wearing a helmet or something under the hat to protect them. This contradicts where some of the pitchers have actually been hit. Some have been hit in the face, which seems to cause the most concern. Does the wheel have to be reinvented because four pitchers have been hit in the head/face by a batted ball in 2015? No, more emphasis should be placed on pitchers delivering the baseball to the plate under control, land balanced, and ready to field their position. Pitchers should be taught that they are another infielder once they release the baseball as a pitch. Instead, more emphasis is placed on the velocity a pitcher can throw the baseball. Therefore, when they land they are unbalanced and not ready to field their position or protect themselves from a batted baseball hit right back up the middle of the infield.
A pitcher being hit by a batted baseball back to the box is one of the hazards of playing baseball. Position players, hitters, and umpires that are on the infield area are at risk of being hit by a batted baseball without protection just like pitchers. Why is there no discussion about them wearing protection as well? An assumption would be because they are a farther distance away and have more reaction time. This may be true, but if they become lax or overconfident and think the baseball will not be hit in their direction, they may be vulnerable as well. This is why coaches have to overemphasize the importance of pitching under control and being able to protect themselves while pitching. Pitchers cannot take this part of their position lightly. If a pitcher has the mentality that the ball is not coming in their direction on every pitch they are vulnerable to be hit by a batted baseball hit in their direction.
Bret Simmermacher, DSM
Dr. Bret Simmermacher is the Chair of Sports Coaching at the USSA