Hit By Pitches Around the League Are Out of Hand
One of the hottest topics around baseball this season is the frequency at which batters are getting hit by pitches. In 317 MLB games coming into Sunday, there have been 268 batters hit by pitches. This is understandably concerning.
The New York Mets are the most frequent victims, with 19 hit by pitches in 22 games. They’ve also been the most vocal. Benches cleared in their second game of the season when Francisco Lindor was hit in the head by a pitch. It was the fourth time a Mets batter was hit in the first 14 innings of the season.
Earlier this week in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Mets first baseman Pete Alonso was hit in the head for the second time this season. Five batters were hit on Tuesday night, causing both benches to trickle out of their respective dugouts. Two more batters were hit the following night, but a pitch up-and-in to Nolan Arenado was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Arenado was not pleased with a 94 mph pitch that whizzed by his head. Words were exchanged, benches cleared, and ejections were earned. Players also vocally complained to the media.
Many people have speculated on the factors contributing to the HBP increase, but I’m not here to pile on to that conversation. I’m here to talk about the way the Miami Marlins are handling head injuries.
Past Head Injuries Sustained By Marlins Players
The sports world has come a long way in their understanding of head trauma and its potential for long-lasting and devastating effects. We still, however, have a very long way to go.
The Miami Marlins organization is no stranger to head injuries. In recent years, two players have sustained season-ending head injuries: Francisco Cervelli in 2020 and Jon Berti in 2021.
I wrote about Cervelli’s long history with concussions over at Pitcher List a little over a year ago. I did a lot of research for that piece that included speaking with a traumatic brain injury treatment specialist, digging into Cervelli’s extensive concussion history (at least 7 documented concussions), and analyzing his stark progression from one of the best pitch framers in baseball to one of the worst. You can read that article here.
One part of the catcher’s journey that I touched on was the way Marlins manager Don Mattingly put Cervelli the human above Cervelli the player. “He’s already had a great career,” Mattingly said, “and you want him to have a great life after baseball.”
The following season, Berti was hit in the head by a pitch in late July. He sustained a concussion that would keep him on the injured list for the rest of the season.
The team set a precedent that they would take no chances with head injuries, a move that pleasantly surprised me.
Prior to the 2022 season, however, the Marlins overhauled their medical staff. The decisions that have been made since then are concerning me.
Head Injuries to Jacob Stallings and Miguel Rojas in the Past Week
On a Sunday afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves, Jacob Stallings is behind the plate and awaiting a 2-1 pitch against Marcell Ozuna. Marlins lefty Jesús Luzardo spikes a curveball in the dirt that Ozuna chases. Stallings wears a hockey-style catcher’s mask that leaves part of the back of his head exposed. Ozuna’s bat connects with that exposed area, causing him to clutch his head and fall forward on his knees.
The video of this swing is below:
Marlins assistant athletic trainer Ben Potenziano came out to check on Stallings, but ultimately allowed him to stay in the game after taking a direct hit to the head.
A few days later, Miguel Rojas is facing Washington Nationals’ pitcher Patrick Corbin in the seventh inning. The game is tied with no outs and a runner on second base. Corbin winds up, Rojas squares around to bunt, and a fastball sails up-and-in and knocks Rojas off his feet. Luckily, Rojas wears a helmet with the extended flap which kept the pitch from connecting with his face. Still, the pitch hit Rojas’ helmet and knocked him to the ground.
The video of this pitch is below:
Rojas was visited by head athletic trainer Lee Meyer but allowed to remain in the game. He jogged to first base, would go first to third on a single, then score on a wild pitch. It took until end of the inning for Rojas to be removed from the game.
The Dangerous Message the Marlins Are Sending
After Rojas was hit in the head, I tweeted my concern over the decision to leave both Stallings and Rojas in their respective games. I am not a doctor nor pretending to be. I have, however, been hit in the head multiple times and suffered the effects of multiple concussions. I know what it’s like to have a concussion misdiagnosed, return to the field too soon, then deal with pervasive post-concussion symptoms for six months.
At the very least, a player getting hit in the head should require an immediate removal from the game. Far too often, a player’s response to getting hit by a pitch or sustaining any injury is to fight through it to prove some elusive form of toughness.
You don’t need to go any further than the Marlins’ own broadcast to find this pseudo-macho mindset. I’ve heard broadcaster J.P. Arencibia make the comment “we’ve got ice” after a batter moves out of the way of a pitch, insinuating that he should have stayed in the way, taken the contact, and trotted down to first base.
The Chris Rose Rotation, a podcast that Rojas frequently co-hosts, tweeted the video of the hit by pitch with the comment, “Miguel Rojas gets hit in the head by a pitch and STAYS IN THE GAME” with an emoji I’ll assume is meant to praise his “toughness.”
Taking a passive approach to head injuries by allowing players to stay in the game rather than excusing them to be fully evaluated is downright dangerous. The Miami Marlins and Bally Sports Florida feature a “youth player of the game” on each broadcast. Is this the message they want to send to those young athletes and others watching at home?