A performance timer can benefit a player’s health

Brandon Guyer was not a lock to reach and stay in the big leagues. As a fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Virginia in 2007, he knew his only chance to move up in the sport would be to train that much harder, eat that much healthier and play that much harder. smart than those he was competing with for playing time.

So when Guyer was in Major League camp with the Rays during spring training in 2011 and a sleep expert spoke to the club about the importance of a good night’s rest, the message resonated.

“I remember leaving the meeting thinking, ‘It’s time to outshine the competition,'” Geyer said. “Since then, I’ve been treating sleep like a sport.”

Guyer began turning off electronics before bed, setting the thermostat to ideal sleeping temperatures (61 to 68 degrees) and turning on a white noise machine. On the road, he traveled with a dark strip that he could use to cover any light sources (be it the red standby light of the TV or the soft glow of the thermometer), and he stuffed pillows in the lower cleft of his neck to prevent the penetration of light or sound.

The man was — and even as a retired player and father of young children, still is — obsessed with getting as close to 10 hours of sleep as his schedule allows.

He believes that obsession is what allowed him to maximize his potential as a reliable outfielder who spent seven years in the majors.

“I like to call [sleep] a magic pill,” said Geyer, who now champions the value of sleep for young players as part of the Major League Mindset training program he created. “Some players may play at a high level but not realize there is another level they can get to. Sleep is the best natural performance enhancer.”

Most current footballers aren’t as zealous about their zzz’s as Guyer.

But they all have an opportunity this coming season to improve their sleep patterns and perhaps their health and performance.

With MLB adopting the pitch timer in 2023, the obvious – and immediate – benefit is that the pace of play will improve as dead time between pitches is drastically reduced. In the Minor Leagues last season, the pitch timer reduced the average playing time by about 25 minutes. A similar reduction in MLB, where average game times have reliably been three hours or more for the past decade, would be considered a clearer and more attractive viewing product for fans.

However, consider the long-term impact that removing this dead time could have on the players themselves. A game ending 20 or 25 minutes earlier than they are used to doesn’t make much of a difference. But the cumulative effect of shorter games over the course of 162 games can be significant.

Consider that in the first 12 seasons of Mike Trout’s great career, the average time per MLB game was 3:05. So on any given day, Trout can be expected to spend 92 1/2 minutes on his feet in center field.

Contrast that with Mickey Mantle, who Trout is often compared to on a statistical level. Mick pitched in an era where, in his first 12 seasons, the average nine-inning game lasted 2:28. That’s about 16 minutes less in the field each day.

“Those things,” said Trout, whose playing time the past two years has been compromised by elbow, calf, arm, groin, back and foot issues, “build up over the course of the year.”

Playing time reduction will also be added.

When MiLB adopted the pitch timer at all levels last year, some expressed concern that speeding up pitchers would lead to an increase in injuries. On the contrary, pitching injuries are down 11% from 2021 to 2022, and some players tout the benefits of a better pace.

“Just from a recovery standpoint, getting back at a reasonable hour and getting a good night’s sleep is a game changer,” Dodgers prospect Nick Nastrini said last year. “That could be the difference between being able to play five years and being able to play 12. Because there’s a backlog at 11:30 [p.m.] and 12:30 p.m [a.m.] and bed by 1 [a.m.] and you have to do it all over again the next day for 132 games in our season or 162 games in a big league season, it takes a big toll on your body.

Sleep is baseball’s secret X-factor. Being the only professional sport where teams play an overtime game nearly every day of the season has its charms, but also its challenges.

“Baseball is still somewhat unique in the sports landscape because of its steady, methodical progression throughout the year,” said Dr. Scott Kutcher, a clinical associate professor at Stanford with a focus on sleep medicine. “It’s the constant stress of playing without a clock and how to fit sleep into this puzzle of not knowing how the game is going to end.”

The 2022 Phillies, to take a random example, had a stretch of 14 games in 13 days in June.

On the front end, within five days, they had two night games and then a four-hour day game in Milwaukee, followed by an overnight trip to Philadelphia (losing an hour in the sky with the time change) for a three-hour, 24-minute night game followed by a day game.

On the back end was a home streak against the Nationals that spanned four games in 50 hours.

Try to get 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep somewhere in there.

“That’s one of the challenges that baseball’s schedule creates for players,” Guardians president Chris Antonetti said. “A lot of sleep advice revolves around having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. None of that is really possible in professional sports. So we have to find other ways to adapt to that given some of the schedule constraints.”

The result is the evolutionary death of the literal “everyday” player.

In each of the last two seasons, only two players have played in all 162 games (Whit Merrifield and Marcus Semien in 2021 and Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson in 2022). Last season, just 88 players appeared in 140 or more games — the fewest in a full season since 1972, when there were six fewer teams. Cal Ripken Jr.’s hitting streak is as certain as Fort Knox.

The result for fans is less opportunity to see the best athletes on the field.

The presentation timer obviously can’t fix all that. But it can improve our chances of seeing the best players perform at their best.

That is, if they heed the bedtime advice of Guyer and other advocates.

“You’ll only get 30 minutes more sleep,” Kutcher said, “if you actually sleep 30 minutes more.”

Kutscher cites a study of interns whose maximum consecutive work hours were reduced from 24 hours to 16 hours. The study found no difference in their sleep patterns. They had an extra eight hours at their disposal, but they didn’t change their bedtime habits.

“You only get change if you promote it,” Kucher said. “If a team brings in sleep doctors and explains why it’s important not to use that extra time playing video games … why it’s important for your health and longevity.”

In 2013, Kutscher, then an assistant professor of sleep and neuroscience at Vanderbilt, found that sleep affects wood. He used a database of every pitch in every Major League game from the previous season to determine that strike zone judgment had deteriorated over the course of the year, suggesting travel fatigue and disturbed sleep. Another study published that year by Dr. W. Christopher Winter of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va., tracked self-reported sleepiness scores of 80 players over a three-season period and found a strong correlation between the sleepiness of MLB player and his longevity in the league. Additionally, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics found that high school athletes who slept less than eight hours a night were 1.7 times more likely to sustain an injury than those who were were more rested.

“I can go on a sleep talk and whether I’m in the 50th or 90th percentile, no one is going to analyze the timing of my show or how good my jokes are,” Kutcher said. “But that’s not true on a baseball field. Everything counts there. At the elite level, small differences in performance have a big impact on results.”

Perhaps then small – or not so small – differences in game times can have a big impact on performance.

So don’t sleep on this submission timer benefit.

“In baseball, your sleep schedule is not going to be the same every night,” Guyer said. “But if you can make it as consistent as possible, that’s a huge lever for recovery and energy levels.”

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