It’s the Pitch that Counts
Repeatedly throwing a baseball as hard as possible is exhausting, and, if you throw too many, can be harmful to the pitcher. As the athlete maneuvers through each step of the pitch, practically duplicating the same movements over and over again, they release the ball with a variety of patterns and speeds. The stages of each pitch are intricately executed, and one small mechanical error in the wind-up can put the athlete at risk for an injury. Following the rules and regulations regarding pitch counts, or the number of pitches thrown by a pitcher in a game, helps to prevent the athlete from such injuries.
According to Injury Prevention Specialist Corey Dawkins, keeping pitch counts low for Little-League pitchers is very important for the well-being of the athlete. “Most young pitchers don’t have good mechanics, and as a result they can fatigue quickly. Fatigue makes the players more likely to encounter injury. It is the number one risk factor for pitching injuries, including the torn UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament)”. A torn UCL is one of the most prevalent injuries for baseball pitchers, and it requires surgery (commonly referred to as Tommy John Surgery). Corey adds, “for Little-League pitchers 18 and under, the top three injuries involve the UCL, elbow, and shoulder. Some impingement too. It’s not just about the growth plates or Tommy John Surgery.” These injuries are often caused by overuse, poor throwing mechanics, or a combination of both.
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions regarding Tommy John Surgery among parents, athletes, and individuals working with pitchers, notes Corey. “All the medical studies show that, at best, the surgery is bringing the athlete back to their baseline. It is not going to make the pitcher stronger or faster than before. The common misconception is that surgery allows you to throw faster than before, and that’s not the case.” Additionally, the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) found that adolescent pitchers who undergo elbow or shoulder surgery are 36 times more likely to have routinely pitched with arm fatigue.
One of the fundamental preventative measures a pitcher should take to avoid injury is to incorporate a proper strength and conditioning training program into their workout regimen. Corey explains that numerous athletes may not take this type of training seriously before they are faced with an injury. As a result, they are then forced to improve their strength and conditioning after surgery. “These athletes may see performance gains once they have the surgery, so they think the improvement is from the procedure itself. However, it’s really just them putting in the work strength and conditioning wise. This has been found to be consistent with the medical studies.” The ASMI believes that any strength and conditioning program should focus on working the athlete’s shoulders and elbows, as “numerous studies have shown that deficits in upper extremity strength and mobility are strongly correlated to serious arm injuries.”
Rest is critical, particularly for pitchers. The American Sports Medicine Institute recommends that pitchers take a break from throwing altogether for at least two to three months per year and to avoid competitive pitching for at least four months out of the year. They also advise the pitchers not to pitch consecutive days, as this can increase the likelihood of injury. Taking time off from baseball by cross-training or participating in other activities can help the athlete recover from their strenuous seasons. Additionally, playing various sports can build up muscles of the body that aren’t typically used in baseball, and this can develop the athlete as a whole.
Rules and regulations for pitch counts shown below:AgeDaily Max (Pitches in Game)Required Rest (Pitches)0 Days1 Days2 Days3 Days4 Days7-8501-2021-3536-50N/AN/A9-10751-2021-3536-5051-6566+11-12851-2021-3536-5051-6566+13-14951-2021-3536-5051-6566+15-16951-3031-4546-6061-7576+17-181051-3031-4546-6061-7576+19-221201-3031-4546-6061-7576+
Athletes: be sure to speak with a coach or parent if you are experiencing pain or discomfort while pitching. Stay safe, and good luck on the mound this season!
(For more information on Tommy John surgery, commonly asked pitching questions, and additional details, check out the Pitch Smart MLB website: http://m.mlb.com/pitchsmart/)