Major league baseball recently changed its rules to protect catchers from collisions at the plate, but foul tips and errant bats pose a bigger danger, a new study suggests.
The research, led by doctors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and involving Baltimore Orioles trainers Brian Ebel and Richie Bancells, involved analysis of all catcher injuries during major league games over a 10-year period.
“Our results indicate that, while well-intended, the [major leagues’] current efforts to reduce contact injuries among catchers may be overlooking other types of trauma among this subgroup that tend to inflict more physical harm and lead to more loss of game time,” says senior investigator Edward McFarland, professor of orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins.
Collision injuries aren’t that common
In 2014, baseball changed the rules, requiring major league catchers to allow base runners a clear path to home plate. The new rules also prohibit runners headed for the plate from veering to deliberately collide with a catcher.
The new findings, however, do not support the notion that collision injuries before the rule change were either common or catastrophic. The study is published online by the American Journal of Sports Medicine. The results came from analysis of reports from Major League Baseball’s database of all catcher injuries between 2001 and 2010. Of 134 injuries reported, 114–just over 85 percent–occurred without collision with a base runner.
The “contact” injuries that did occur, the investigators report, were neither season-ending nor career-ending serious traumas, and generally required shorter recovery than other kinds of injuries.
The investigators say the perception that home-plate collisions occurred often and with disastrous results was fueled by news coverage of a handful of high-profile incidents rather than hard data. In addition, the authors say, because catchers have a “risk profile” very different from players in other positions, prevention strategies must reflect such differences.
“While recent rule changes were implemented to prevent catcher injuries, the focus of these changes is not supported by the findings of our study,” says first author Kelly Kilcoyne, an orthopedic surgeon at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. “Further investigation and in-depth analysis can inform optimal strategies to mitigate and prevent injuries among this particular category of players.”
The researchers report that the average time spent on MLB’s disabled list was 50 days overall, but noncollision injuries led to longer recovery time. The average “out” time for noncollision injuries was 53 days, compared with 39 days for collision injuries. Nineteen injuries, none stemming from collision with another player, required recovery times longer than 100 days.
The most common cause of noncollision catcher injury was a foul-tip or a bat to the head on the batter’s follow-through.
The most frequent catcher injuries overall were to the leg (28 percent), followed by the knee and shoulder (23 percent each). The most common collision injuries were to the knee (40 percent) and the ankle (30 percent). And although leg injuries occurred more often than shoulder injuries, the former resulted in fewer missed game days—21 on average, compared with 52 days for shoulder traumas. Injuries and protection for the players should be better regulated, so when fans get NLDS tickets to watch the game live, it will be safer and more enjoyable.
Of the 11 catcher concussions that occurred between 2001 and 2010, two were the result of collision. Concussions stemming from noncollision injuries required longer recovery—54 days on average—compared with 16 days for noncollision concussions.