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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Are catchers trading safety for comfort by choosing titanium masks?

Ryan Doumit can’t remember exactly when he switched to a titanium catcher’s mask, but it was sometime around 2009.

The appeal, if not the outright benefit, seemed obvious.

“It’s extremely light, which is what catchers like,” said Doumit, in his second season with the Twins. “It’s kind of grown on me.”

The traditional steel mask is noticeably heavier, Doumit said.

“Throughout the course of the game, you start to feel it in the back of your neck,” he said.

Joe Mauer felt the same way about the switch to a titanium mask—which claims to be 10 times stronger than steel while weighing just 16 ounces—until he followed Doumit onto the concussion disabled list Aug. 20.

That continued a staggering trend for the month in which at least seven major league catchers suffered concussions while working behind the plate.

Also sidelined were Alex Avila (Detroit), Santiago Perez (Kansas City), Carlos Corporan (Houston), Yorvit Torrealba (Colorado) and John Jaso (Oakland).

Of those, at least three were believed to be using titanium masks at the time of their injuries. So were Doumit and Mauer.

Craig in MN Posted: September 03, 2013 at 12:02 AM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: catching, concussions, minnesota, twins

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   1. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: September 03, 2013 at 07:31 AM (#4533157)
David Ross had 2 this year. Or, he came back too soon from the first.
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 03, 2013 at 07:58 AM (#4533160)
This makes sense. The greater mass of the old-style mask will presumably absorb more force than the titanium one. The strength of the titanium is pretty much useless; catchers don't suffer puncture wounds.
   3. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:08 AM (#4533184)
The strength of the titanium is pretty much useless; catchers don't suffer puncture wounds.


That sounds like a challenge.
   4. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:17 AM (#4533190)
David Ross had 2 this year. Or, he came back too soon from the first.


Relevantly to this article he switched to a traditional mask after his return from the second.
   5. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:32 AM (#4533198)
This makes sense. The greater mass of the old-style mask will presumably absorb more force than the titanium one.


Could they just add more or better padding to the lighter, stronger frames to help decelerate the mask after an impact?
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:44 AM (#4533205)
Could they just add more or better padding to the lighter, stronger frames to help decelerate the mask after an impact?

I think you want the extra mass. The lighter is the problem. The strength is basically irrelevant. Old-fashioned steel masks don't ever break.

If anything, you'd want the mask to be a slightly softer metal, so it bends, absorbing impact. Like the crumple zones on modern cars.
   7. bjhanke Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:54 AM (#4533212)
I agree about the mass, based on my 25 years of stick fighting. The mass is what slows the blow (or ball) down. We use 16-gauge steel, which means that our helmets weigh somewhere between ten and 15 pounds, but the weight is evenly distributed, front, back and sides, so we don't feel the neck problems. YR has a point about the padding. In my fighting group, we use two different types of foam - closed cell (hard) foam next to the helmet and soft open cell foam next to the head. This seems to work much better than either type alone. Currently, catcher's masks have only one type of padding and it's closer to hard than soft foam. The neck issues could be solved by putting some of the extra weight in the back, so the mask doesn't become front-heavy, which they currently are. One big problem for catchers is that they need to be able to just swipe the masks off the head to go after foul popups. It would take some testing of various models to determine which the catchers preferred both to keep down concussions and also to allow the masks to be swiped off. But it's getting to the point where it's worth it. - Brock Hanke
   8. villageidiom Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:54 AM (#4533213)
David Ross had 2 this year.
And Ross was using a hockey-goalie-style mask prior to the first injury. He wore the same, with a kevlar skull cap underneath, prior to the second injury. He uses the old-fashioned steel mask now.

So, what's the issue?

1. Modern mask material is more rigid than steel, and thus absorbs less impact, and thus transfers more impact to the skull?

2. Padding used with more modern masks also absorbs less impact, thus exacerbating the problem?

3. It's not the mask material itself, but the design, that causes the impact to transfer more easily to the skull?

4. Concussions are happening at roughly the same rate as in the past, but are either being diagnosed more frequently or taken more seriously than in the past?

5. THANKS OBAMA?


I'm guessing it's a combo of 1, 3, and 4, but I don't have a sense of whether 2 matters.

(a) Hockey style masks don't get knocked off from impact. That means all the impact must eventually make its way to the catcher, unless it is truly absorbed by the material.

(b) Titanium won't absorb as much impact as steel; it will transfer it. Correct?

(c) Just a quick perusal of adult catchers masks on Amazon... The lightweight (titanium) models appear to have less padding than the steel models. Perhaps the thought was that because titanium is stronger less padding is needed... but if it transfers more impact and absorbs less, that should imply that more padding is needed, to absorb the extra impact. Right?

(d) I recognize that perusal of pictures on Amazon does not constitute a scientific analysis.

(e) I assume for most MLB catchers that equipment is custom-made for them. Perhaps padding is made to contour to their skulls, etc. I suppose it's possible that such contouring might sacrifice safety for comfort. No idea if this is actually happening; I'm not inside the mask.

(f) Certainly there's more sensitivity around concussion issues today, especially since it was determined Lou Gehrig might not have had Lou Gehrig's Disease but simply the cumulative effects of concussions.
   9. DL from MN Posted: September 03, 2013 at 09:56 AM (#4533215)
More mass means less energy (acceleration in the f=ma) transferred to the brain. I agree that having a flexible metal that deforms and rebounds the energy back to the ball is the best option. You want everything to move except the head.
   10. Bitter Mouse Posted: September 03, 2013 at 10:40 AM (#4533237)
Agree with much of above. It sounds like a case of people going with the "cool" material - Titanium! - (and wear comfort) versus what actually is best for the specific purpose (Safety).
   11. adenzeno Posted: September 03, 2013 at 11:11 AM (#4533256)
It seems that the old style masks do/did a better job of deflecting energy when they spin off to the side to some degree when hit by foul tips etc..the hockey mask just transfers the impact to the head.Of course the National High SChool Federation has (quite a while now) made the hockey mask the only one allowed in games....
   12. Topher Posted: September 03, 2013 at 01:00 PM (#4533356)
I don't think that the mask has anything to do with it. Today's players don't properly train to take a foul ball to the mask and as such are suffering injuries that could otherwise be prevented.

Back in the 60s and 70s -- when players respected the game and played for the love of it and not for the money -- it was common for catchers to take the time in Spring Training to properly prepare themselves for a season full of foul tips. Show up early to Spring Training and you'd likely see the starting catcher and his backup each wearing the catchers's mask and holding a bat. The two catchers would take turns swinging the bat as hard as they could at the mask of the other. If you were lucky, the bat might break and the catcher would come over to you and give you a souvenir. (Would even sign it for you if you had a pen handy!) This properly trained the catcher so that over 162 games, the catcher was prepared to endure the wear and tear of the position.

The kids today don't even bother to prepare themselves. It's no surprise that they keep going on the DL at the first sign of an owie; they haven't trained their bodies on how to handle the hit.
   13. smileyy Posted: September 03, 2013 at 01:46 PM (#4533387)
I wonder if you could create a lightweight, inexpensive, frangible insert that would destructively absorb the impact and could be changed regularly or replaced when destroyed.
   14. just plain joe Posted: September 03, 2013 at 01:51 PM (#4533391)
It seems that the old style masks do/did a better job of deflecting energy when they spin off to the side to some degree when hit by foul tips etc..the hockey mask just transfers the impact to the head.Of course the National High SChool Federation has (quite a while now) made the hockey mask the only one allowed in games....


Joe Girardi made this point several years ago when he was doing commentary on FOX; he does have a degree in some sort of engineering so I assumed he knew what he was talking about. I do know this is why modern racing cars seem to fly apart when they hit the wall; that energy has to be dissapated somehow and it is better to have random car parts come loose than to transfer that energy to the driver.
   15. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 03, 2013 at 01:55 PM (#4533392)
Joe Girardi made this point several years ago when he was doing commentary on FOX; he does have a degree in some sort of engineering so I assumed he knew what he was talking about. I do know this is why modern racing cars seem to fly apart when they hit the wall; that energy has to be dissapated somehow and it is better to have random car parts come loose than to transfer that energy to the driver.

Same reason that modern passenger cars get trashed in a 20 MPH collision, whereas the 60's behemoths would just need the chrome buffed out. A rigid, solid steel frame does a great job protecting the car, so they could hose it out and sell it to someone else.
   16. Srul Itza Posted: September 03, 2013 at 02:03 PM (#4533398)
based on my 25 years of stick fighting.


I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for anything I may have ever said to offend you. I offer a complete and utter retraction, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you, or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such actions at any time in the future.
   17. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: September 03, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4533402)
based on my 25 years of stick fighting.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for anything I may have ever said to offend you.


What are you scared of? Are you a stick?
   18. Rants Mulliniks Posted: September 03, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4533403)
Its too bad more people don't understand the function of mass in an impact. You hear people going on about how strong the cage is in a Smart car, as if that's going to help you one bit when you're brain completely reverses direction in the millisecond after you hit any other vehicle on the highway.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 03, 2013 at 02:22 PM (#4533410)
Its too bad more people don't understand the function of mass in an impact. You hear people going on about how strong the cage is in a Smart car, as if that's going to help you one bit when you're brain completely reverses direction in the millisecond after you hit any other vehicle on the highway.

You can see the phenomenon at work with armor and weapons. As medieval armor developed into more and more impenetrable plate, the response was to replace sword and spear weapons with axes and hammer-type weapons. Even if you couldn't penetrate the armor, you could still break bones and knock the guy silly with sheer bludgeoning power.

The strongest helmet in the world is of only limited use if you get hit by a sledgehammer.
   20. Bug Selig Posted: September 03, 2013 at 02:36 PM (#4533414)
The general consensus of this thread is correct (I'm an engineer, so my 2 cents in this case are actually worth a good 3, maybe 3 1/2 cents).

Mass is good. Stiffness is bad (though titanium isn't much stiffer). Strength is essentially irrelevant within the relevant possibilities.

I think the supposed benefit of the hockey mask is that a perpendicular contact is less likely because of the contours. That's really the drawback of the old-style mask - since the front is relatively flat, there is a greater chance of an impact where the ball just drops down, having spent all of its energy. Theoretically, the hockey mask should lend itself to more glancing, tangential impacts.

However, the old masks almost never led to an injury. The attempt to fix something that evidently wasn't broke appears to be causing the problems. Bottom line seems to be that mass is good.

   21. Bug Selig Posted: September 03, 2013 at 02:38 PM (#4533415)
And #12 is pretty funny...
   22. depletion Posted: September 04, 2013 at 08:49 AM (#4533922)
Girardi's Wiki:" He went on to play baseball at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering"
Smart dude. I'd love to hear a conversation between him and mathematician Davey Johnson on lineup optimization.
They may need a disposable, crushable liner to the mask, so that the catcher can discard and replace it in between innings after a particularly hard impact. Auto racing helmets get replaced after an "event".
   23. Jack Keefe Posted: September 04, 2013 at 09:23 AM (#4533942)
What you need is dumber catchers Al. When we was on the old Chi. Sox it was a grate shame if Chris Widget got creased in the bean. You could see the intelegance pouring out of his wounds. This was not so much of a problem for A.J. Pierogi. Hitting him just kind of made A.J. all loosey goosy and got his brane Chemicles flowing.
   24. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: September 04, 2013 at 09:40 AM (#4533953)
Bottom line seems to be that mass is good.
Sounds like the best move is to just strap Japhet Amador to your head.
   25. DL from MN Posted: September 04, 2013 at 10:12 AM (#4533968)
bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering


Explains the Yankee's new six sigma program
   26. Tom T Posted: September 04, 2013 at 11:42 AM (#4534063)
Mass is good. Stiffness is bad (though titanium isn't much stiffer). Strength is essentially irrelevant within the relevant possibilities.


Yep. Football helmets went to titanium facemasks a number of years ago because the steel ones were regularly being bent by impacts. The titanium facemasks transfer a LOT more energy to the head from face-on collisions AND they make the overall helmet more stiff, resulting in greater energy transfer from just about any blow. Not a good trade-off, just to limit the extra work that has to be done by the equipment guys to whom you're paying peanuts compared to the players (either professionally or via scholarship in the NCAA).

Riddell did do one thing well with its most recent football helmets in that it anchored the upper facemask on the side rather than the top, allowing greater flexibility for the shell.

Pretty much all of the helmet equipment in baseball prevents skull fractures and...that's about it. Lots of room for improvement.
   27. Tom T Posted: September 04, 2013 at 11:51 AM (#4534067)
bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering


Ah, explains his rambling on facemasks...he's a jE (Imaginary Engineer for the notationally not-so-inclined)!

Of course, Joe probably would have an interesting take on state transition tables.

Prompts me to wonder if Cinlar was still teaching (undergrad) at that time...k-stage Erlangian processes, learned from the master, would have been pretty cool, albeit not likely to be UG material. (That being the one topic I most vividly recall from my graduate course in stochastic processes.)
   28. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 04, 2013 at 11:59 AM (#4534072)
Yep. Football helmets went to titanium facemasks a number of years ago because the steel ones were regularly being bent by impacts. The titanium facemasks transfer a LOT more energy to the head from face-on collisions AND they make the overall helmet more stiff, resulting in greater energy transfer from just about any blow. Not a good trade-off, just to limit the extra work that has to be done by the equipment guys to whom you're paying peanuts compared to the players (either professionally or via scholarship in the NCAA).

Yes, making them softer is the way to go.
   29. Bourbon Samurai Posted: September 04, 2013 at 12:40 PM (#4534126)
I agree about the mass, based on my 25 years of stick fighting.


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