Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Upon clicking this article, you may have asked yourself, "who is Alex Torres?"
Exactly. Torres, a reliever for the San Diego Padres, is owned in 0.0 percent of ESPN leagues. On Yahoo, it's the same deal (zero percent ownership). If there's a Torres owner out there, we haven't found him yet.
That isn't to say Torres is a bad pitcher. Quite the opposite. His ERA (2.10 in 30 innings this season) is one of the lowest in baseball. Unfortunately, there's not much use for middle relievers in fantasy.
Admittedly, I didn't have a clue who Torres was until Saturday. That night Torres came on to pitch the eighth inning against the L.A. Dodgers, which for him is not unusual. The unusual part was what he was wearing.
Instead of wearing the standard issue hat given to all players, Torres was using a protective cap with over a half inch of padding on each side. And if we're being honest, it looked quite ridiculous. Twitter trolls had plenty of fun with Torres' getup with most people pointing out his resemblance to the character Mario from the famous Nintendo franchise.
I get why we're laughing, but should we be? Isn't it a little cruel to be making fun of someone for doing the right thing? The truth is, all major league pitchers should be wearing this hat.
Compared to other positions, pitchers are more vulnerable than anyone. They don't wear padding and are often in awkward, off-balance positions when the ball is hit. While line drives to the head aren't a common occurrence, they happen often enough for us to take notice. Just in the last two years we've seen four pretty well-known pitchers get hit.
The first of these injuries took place on September 5, 2012. Oakland Athletics starter Brandon McCarthy (now with the Diamondbacks) was pitching against Anaheim when an Eric Aybar liner struck the side of his head. McCarthy walked off under his own power but was later diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage and a fractured skull. He missed the remainder of the season and has pitched poorly since the injury (6-21, 4.89 ERA in 38 starts).
Aroldis Chapman, Alex Cobb and J.A. Happ have suffered similar head traumas with Chapman's surgery in spring training requiring the insertion of a permanent metal plate. Though each pitcher has made a full recovery, they'll never get their peace of mind back. Getting hit took that away.
I'll never forget the moment when Bryce Florie, a Red Sox relief pitcher, was drilled by a line drive off the bat of Yankees outfielder Ryan Thompson in 2000. Florie, who suffered multiple facial fractures and lost some of his vision on the play, was reduced to a bloody heap on the mound. The whole thing made me sick to my stomach.
And if you don't think the fear is real just look at the numbers. McCarthy has never been the same since getting hit and neither has Happ. Chapman has been a little better than those two but he's still not all the way back. Only Cobb has shown improvement in the wake of his head injury.
Pre head injury
Chapman: 15-13, 2.40 ERA, .154 BAA
Cobb: 20-13, 3.61 ERA, .246 BAA
Florie: 20-23, 4.35 ERA, .264 BAA
Happ: 37-37, 4.23 ERA, .253 BAA
McCarthy: 37-39, 4.02 ERA, .258 BAA
Post head injury
Chapman: 0-2, 2.70 ERA, .123 BAA
Cobb: 7-7, 3.25 ERA, .226 BAA
Florie: 0-1, 11.42 ERA, .316 BAA
Happ: 9-9, 4.62 ERA, .270 BAA
McCarthy: 6-21, 4.89 ERA, .297 BAA
The significance of these numbers isn't lost on Torres, who relieved Cobb in the game when he was drilled by a line drive from Eric Hosmer. "I was scared for a couple minutes and hoped God would give a good sign -- there was no stirring and I was hoping Alex was OK and would show signs of life."
The Padres announcers who called the game on Saturday were absolutely right when they said the hat "doesn't look sexy." McCarthy, who was given a prototype in January before ultimately deciding not to wear it, added "it's just not there yet."
And maybe that's something MLB can change. But if the hat isn't too heavy and it doesn't alter your mechanics, don't the benefits outweigh the cool factor? With all the concussion lawsuits we're seeing in the NFL right now, you'd think the players would at least give it a try.
Torres' first outing with the cap wasn't all that encouraging (he gave up only his ninth run of the season) but in the long run, I bet he's a better pitcher when he's wearing it. Instead of living in the fear that consumes most pitchers, he'll know he's as protected as possible, even if it makes him look like Pharrell.
That took guts, Alex. I still don't have a place for you on my fantasy team but you have my respect. That has to count for something, right?