Brandon Guyer it wasn’t a lock to make it to the big leagues. As a fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2007, he knew his only chance to make it in the sport would be to train harder, eat much healthier and play hard. smarter than those he was competing with. for game time.
So when Guyer was in Major League camp with the Rays during 2011 Spring Training 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 get out of the competition,'” Guyer said. “Since then, I approach sleep like it’s a sport.”
Guyer began cutting out electronics before bed, setting the thermostat to ideal sleep temperatures (61 to 68 degrees) and turning on a white noise machine. Along the way, he would travel with dark tape that he could use to cover any light source (be it the red standby light on the television or the soft glow of the thermometer), and stuff pillows in the bottom of the crack. the door to prevent light or sound from entering.
The man was — and, even as a retired player and father of young children, still is — obsessed with getting as much 10 hours of sleep as his schedule will allow.
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 Guyer, who now advocates the value of sleep for young players as part of the Major League Mindset coaching program he created. “Some players can play at a high level, but they don’t realize there’s another level they can reach. Sleep is the best natural performance enhancer there is.”
Most current ballplayers aren’t as diligent about their zzz’s as Guyer.
But they all have an opportunity next season to improve their sleep patterns and, perhaps, their health and performance.
Like MLB adopts voice timer in 2023, the obvious — and immediate — benefit is that the pace of the game will improve as dead time between pitches is drastically reduced. In the Minor Leagues last season, the pitch timer cut average playing time by about 25 minutes. A similar reduction in MLB, where the average game time has arguably been three hours or more for the past decade, would be considered a sharper viewing product and more appealing to fans.
However, think of the long-term impact that removing that dead time could have on the players themselves. A single game ending 20 or 25 minutes earlier than they’re used to doesn’t make much of a difference. But the cumulative effect of shorter games over 162 games could be substantial.
Consider that, in the first 12 seasons of Mike Trout’s illustrious career, the average time of an MLB game has been 3:05. So, on any given day, Trout can be expected to spend 92 1/2 minutes on his feet at center court.
Contrast that against Mickey Mantle, who Trout is often compared to on a statistical level. Mick played in an era in which, in his first 12 seasons, he averaged 2:28 per nine innings. 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, hand, hip, back and foot problems, “multiply throughout the year.”
A reduction in playing time would also be added.
When the MiLB adopted the pitch timer at all levels last year, some expressed concern that speeding up the poles would result in an increase in injuries. In contrast, pitcher injury events decreased by 11% from 2021 to 2022, and some players touted the benefits of the better pace.
“Just from a recovery standpoint, getting back to a reasonable hour and a good night’s sleep is a game changer,” Dodgers shortstop Nick Nastrini said last year. “It could be the difference between being able to play for five years and being able to play for 12. Because there’s the accumulation of going back to 11:30 [p.m.] and 12:30 p.m [a.m.] and go to bed from 1 o’clock [a.m.] and having 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 toll on your body.”
Sleep is baseball’s secret X-factor. Being the only professional sport in which teams play an endless game nearly every day of the season has its charms, but also its challenges.
“Baseball is still somewhat unique in the sports landscape for its steady and methodical march throughout the year,” said Dr. Scott Kutscher, a clinical associate professor at Stanford with a focus on sleep medicine. “It’s the constant stress of a game with no clock and how to put sleep into that 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.
Up front, in a five-day span, they had two night games and then a four-hour day game in Milwaukee, followed by the 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 flip side, there was a home streak against the Nationals that spanned four games in the span of 50 hours.
Try getting 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep somewhere in there.
“That’s one of the challenges the baseball program creates for the players,” Guardians president Chris Antonetti said. “A lot of sleep advice revolves around consistent bedtimes and wake-ups. None of this is really possible in professional sports. So we have to find other ways to accommodate 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 punched through all 162 games (Whit Merrifield and Marcus Semien in 2021, and Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson in ’22). 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 game streak it is as secure as Fort Knox.
The result for fans is fewer opportunities to see the best athletes on the field.
Obviously a sound timer 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 Guyer’s and other advocates’ bedtime advice.
“You’ll only sleep 30 minutes more,” Kutscher said, “if you actually sleep 30 minutes more.”
Kutscher cited a study of medical interns whose maximum 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 a change if you promote it,” Kutscher said. “If a team is bringing in sleep doctors and explaining why it’s important that you don’t spend 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 neurology at Vanderbilt, discovered that sleep affects the wood. He used a database of every pitch in every Major League game from last season to define that hit zone judgment worsened over the year, suggesting fatigue from travel and disruption of sleep patterns. Another study published that same year by dr. W. Christopher Winter of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va., tracked the self-reported sleepiness scores of 80 players over three seasons and found a strong correlation between a player’s sleepiness MLB 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 suffer an injury than those who were more rested.
“I can go on a sleep talk and if I’m at my 50th percentile performance or 90th percentile performance, nobody’s going to analyze the time of my birth or how good my jokes are,” Kutscher said. “But that’s not true on a baseball field. Everything matters 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 that pitch 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 to pull for recovery and energy levels.”
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