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Wearable Tech to Protect Pitchers

Posted August 06, 2014 10:37 AM by HUSH

Human capital has always considered a part of capitalism. For thousands of years, civilization was built on the sweat and blood of people considered expendable (slaves, immigrants, etc.) Fortunately, most of us live in countries where there is the utmost regard for worker safety, and modern technology has ensured security measures are top notch. Those who may be in harm's way are outfitted in personal protective equipment (PPE) and typically get an upgrade in pay.

But consider those in professional sports, particularly baseball. While many employees have their positions and livelihoods protected in the event of injury, baseball players do not. Baseball teams literally have dozens of people ready to take any position at a moment's notice, and it doesn't take much to lose a roster spot just because of bad timing or misfortune. Suddenly a $4 million contract is valueless and the player jobless.

This is particularly the case for pitchers. Medical research has long suggested the human body isn't meant to take the abuse of throwing 100 or more 90+ MPH baseballs in a short interval. Each year a long list of amateur, scholastic and professional baseball players require Tommy John surgery to replace ruined arm ligaments. This is on top of the fact that pitchers play the most dangerous position: less than 60 ft. from hitters who randomly strike line drives at speeds of up to 120 MPH. There simply isn't enough time for a pitcher to recover from his windup and field these blistering hits too.

Two inventions are trying to make baseball's human capital costs much less expensive.

The Sleeve

Compression clothing is nothing new to sports. Not only does it provide an athlete with additional stability, but it also helps wick away sweat. Yet Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon best-versed in Tommy John surgery, hopes to put himself out of business with the Motus Pitcher Sleeve. This sleeve includes a gyroscope and accelerometer near the elbow, and once the pitcher inputs his height and weight, the sleeve can calculate arm speed, arm angle and the stress placed on the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). The sleeve is able measure the forces placed on the UCL in practice and games, in environments motion capture cannot replicate. The sleeve can also determine efficiency and fatigue, which is especially important for youth pitchers with developing arms.

The Milwaukee Brewers are the only team in Major League Baseball to maintain a crop of young pitchers who have not had a single Tommy John surgery in the past five years. This is likely due to the biomechanical analyses they send each of their pitchers through, and many see the Motus Pitching Sleeve as an inevitability now that MLB is becoming more accepting of technology during games.

The Hat

Pitchers are also at risk while fielding their position too. Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman is nicknamed "Cuban Missile" dues to his 103-MPH fastball. In a spring training game last March, one of his signature heaters was hit hard and straight at him. The ball struck him in the side of his head, fractured his skull, and the results of the procedures which followed is displayed in the adjacent image.. Chapman was back on the mound about seven weeks later with plates in his head. Unfortunately Chapman is just one instance of several identical scenarios that have played out in the past few years. Chapman must think those plates are enough protection, because he's pitching without baseball's newest piece of gear: the isoBLOX pitcher's helmet (seen at right).

MLB approved the cap last January after it cited a need for improving pitcher safety. The cap features crumple zones which can absorb impacts of 90 MPH to the front and 85 MPH to the sides. The caps are about one inch wider than a traditional baseball cap, but weigh seven ounces more. Yankees pitcher Brandon McCarthy was another pitcher who was struck in the head by a batted ball and nearly lost his life as a result. He admits any improved protection is a step in the right direction, but that the isoBLOX is cumbersome and unattractive.

So far, Padres reliever Alex Torres is the only pitcher who dons the cap. He says his inspiration is seeing a teammate hit in the head last year. It's unknown if this technology will be developed further, but one has to assume there is a compromise between improved pitcher safety and providing a functional, acceptable model to stubborn pitchers.

Perhaps if we can help baseball's pitchers better manage their workloads and workplace hazards, we can get a few more years out of current greats like Matt Harvey or Clayton Kershaw.

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#1

Re: Wearable Tech to Protect Pitchers

08/07/2014 8:01 AM

Suddenly a $4 million contract is valueless and the player jobless.

That depends on the contract, and most players have a contract that includes an injury clause. Mike Hampton, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves from 2003-2008, only pitched briefly in 2005 then sat out 2 full seasons due to injuries and pitched only briefly in 2008, yet he collected his full multi-million dollar salary the whole time.

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#2

Re: Wearable Tech to Protect Pitchers

08/07/2014 11:24 AM

Unless you were Luis Tiant with that crazy wind up and relatively low-speed pitch. He had time to prepare to field or fend off a liner.

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#3

Re: Wearable Tech to Protect Pitchers

08/07/2014 12:45 PM

One of the most famous careers to be destroyed by a hit ball was Herb Score. He was on pace to be one of the best pitchers in the history of the game when he got one squarely in the eye in 1957. It broke numerous bones in his face and nearly killed him. He regained his sight and pitched again, but he was never the same. I don't think this hat would have helped in this case.

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