Do the Pros Look to Little League for Advice on Pitching?

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Do the Pros Look to Little League for Advice on Pitching?

This may seem like a silly question, but if you take a look at what the pros do with their pitchers and compare it to what is said and done in Little League, you will see that there is very little difference. As more recommendations are made in Little League to limit the number of innings pitched and number of pitches thrown, we see similar recommendations being made in the pros.

Studies

In the studies conducted on youth and adult pitchers, it was established that most injuries occur from overuse. Other injuries appear to be related to throwing the curve ball. These are logical conclusions but do not answer what I believe to be the key elements in the making of an injury.

I carefully read and studied most of the major research studies that were done to support these recommendations and I can agree with most of them on a general, superficial level. I say superficial level because in all of the studies I saw, the release, or more specifically the hand and wrist actions during the release, are never described or analyzed. Nor is the physical preparedness of the pitchers, especially as it relates to the muscles involved in throwing, examined.

Pitching Technique

In analyzing baseball pitching technique in the biomechanical studies, they rely on general parameters of the pitcher’s body and limb positions at certain points in the delivery. If they fall within a specified range of motion, it is considered effective or more accurately, not statistically deviating from the norm. Most interest seems to be in the torque developed in the shoulder and elbow rather than the forces produced by hip and shoulder rotation to create some of the speed seen in the shoulder and elbow. In other words, they focus on the end result rather than also looking at the initial movements, which determine to a great extent, what happens in the latter movements.

Even more surprising, is the lack of attention given to the actions involved in the release. But it is these actions that in the long run, determine whether the pitcher will get injured. I was not able to see any reference made to pitchers who pitched with pain and their technique or physical condition. In their conclusions, all the studies bring out how the youngster should be physically prepared for pitching and should learn proper mechanics from a very early age. However, no recommendations are ever given as to what exercises should be done, how they should be done, at what age should they start and so on.

It appears that in relation to the curve ball, they rely on the person throwing the ball to tell them whether it was a curve ball or some other type of pitch. The studies do not look at how the ball is released, which is the most reliable way to know exactly what took place in the wrist and elbow actions and the resultant ball  pathway. This is especially important when examining the pitcher who came down with an injury or who was throwing with pain.

Flaws

I believe these to be major flaws in the studies that lead to erroneous conclusions. I found that how the ball is released is the main reason for the occurrence of most elbow problems that lead to surgery. Overuse is certainly a part of it, but a relatively small part in comparison to the actual actions that occur in the release. Why these actions are not closely examined is a puzzle. Is it due to the lack of a generally accepted definition as to what constitutes a curve ball or other type of pitch?

For example, I found that most pitchers who eventually get elbow problems and Tommy John surgery, supinate the hand on the release. In this case, their concept of a curve ball is a ball that breaks left or right and thus needs side spin. The general consensus, however, appears to be that a curve ball is the same as a sinker, i.e., the hand undergoes ulna flexion (deviation) so that the ball takes on topspin. But, using the definition of sinker as being the same as curve ball, just leads to greater confusion. As a result most young pitchers can only rely on what the coach tells them to do or what they hear from other pitchers. This is why we see different understandings and ways of throwing the curve ball – as well as other pitches.

I prefer to think of the sinker as a ball that drops downward at a sharp angle. The hand and wrist actions are completely different from those used in a curve ball. In this case, the curve ball is one that breaks to the left or right and is thrown with hand pronation. The curve ball does not drop down sharply. Using these definitions would make it very clear as to how the pitch is thrown and what path the ball will take.

In addition and most importantly, if we closely examine these actions, we will see that they are perfectly safe and will not cause injury. Trying to throw a curve ball with hand/wrist supination will, however, lead to serious injury.

Confusion

Thus we see three different ways of throwing a ball, with the pitcher throwing in a manner that he believes is a curve ball. As a result, it leads to great confusion. Because of this, it is no wonder that shoulder and elbow injuries continue without any letup. But yet, I believe a lack of agreement on the definition of different pitches and what the wrist, hand and elbow actions are in the release, constitute the crux of the present problem. To alleviate this problem, we must define once and for all, exactly what the curve ball is and exactly how it should be thrown so that it is a safe pitch not only for youngsters, but for professional pitchers.

In addition, we need definitions for every type of pitch that is thrown and coaches and pitchers should not create new pitches when they do not understand what takes place. For example, it is now possible to find increasing use of the term “sinking fastball.” This pitch is what some of the pitchers and coaches think happens. In reality, it is a physical impossibility. And, it is completely opposite of the common interpretation of the fastball. As a result, it too, only leads to greater confusion.

Having standardized definitions for all the different pitches will assist greatly in any future studies that are done on pitchers. Perhaps then we will get a clearer picture of what leads to the injuries and how they can be prevented.

For more information on this topic read Build a Better Athlete.

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