“Comebackers,” line drives hit right back at the pitcher, can be the scariest play in sports. Serious injuries to Alex Cobb (Tampa Bay Rays), Brandon McCarthy (Arizona Diamondbacks), and, most recently, Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds) have raised awareness and even prompted Major League Baseball to create a padded hat that pitchers can wear for protection. Chicago Cubs Starter, Jason Hammel is the latest pitcher to feel the rush of a 95+ MPH line drive being hit back at him and luckily he walked away without serious injury. But amidst all the talk about how to better protect pitchers, the most obvious solution is being largely overlooked.
The reason that comebackers have become increasingly dangerous in recent years is because of they way pitchers follow through after releasing the baseball. Obviously, the increased strength of hitters and pitchers alike, has increased the velocity at which balls come off the bat but we have seen 100+ MPH baseballs been caught before, just ask Aroldis Chapman’s catchers. No, the problem is that pitchers these days have wild follow-throughs and are often balancing on one foot, twisted halfway around, and with their arms flying in different directions when the batter makes contact with the pitch.
Pitchers have done a phenomenal job at straying away from a “cleaner” follow through (where they land with shoulders squared to the hitter and with their glove in a position where they can make a play on a ball hit their way) in an attempt to try and get every last mile-per-hour out of their bodies and boost their velocity. With a proper follow through, catching a comebacker is actually not terribly difficult, especially when it is hit closer to your head! It’s actually very similar to a catcher catching a fastball. When you are in the proper position and the ball is hit at eye level you see it right off the bat and can get a glove on it. If you ask a pitcher he will often tell you that he was able to count the seams on the ball as it came towards him. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s still a jolt to your system to see a ball coming right back at you, but when a pitcher delivers the ball properly it isn’t a life-threatening situation.
One of the scariest types of comebackers is actually the one that is hit below your waist (not to be confused with below the belt!) because it is extremely hard to judge. When the ball is hit low it is harder to quickly process if you are in its path and even harder to bend over and get your body in a position to make a play. Also, there’s not a whole lot of padding down there! Ball’s hit below the waist have a tendency to find a pitcher’s knee, anklebone and shin (just ask former Cub Mark Prior). Which is why on low line drives you will see most pitchers turn around and completely about-face because that way if the ball does hit them it will probably be in leg or in the rear. Those sting like heck but it’ll keep you off the disabled list.
So if we’re really trying to protect our pitchers we need to bring them back to the fundamentals of pitching and I guarantee that severe injuries from comebackers will go down.
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