A recent study in Japan analyzed the throwing arms of 62 youth baseball pitchers between the ages of 9 and 12. Forty-two percent of them had damage to their ulnar collateral ligament.
That is terrifying, and that is sad.
Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday to discuss this issue, as well as the Tommy John epidemic in baseball. Many people assume that the surgery is most prevalent in the majors, but it’s not. In fact, between 2007 and 2011, 56.8 percent of Tommy John surgeries were performed on 15-to-19-year-old kids.
Translation? We can monitor the pitch counts of major leaguers all we want, but the damage starts young and only gets worse from there.
Passan, author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports,” firmly believes that children should not play baseball year-round. They should either pick up another sport – ideally one that doesn’t involve repetitively hurling an object as hard as you can – or take some time off and let their arms rest and bodies recover.
“I think that’s certainly part of the solution,” Passan said on The DA Show. “Year-round throwing – if you play more than eight months a year competitively, you’re five times (more) likely to get hurt pitching than you are if you take some time off. I would advocate to anyone out there go play another sport or just keep the ball on the ground for five or six months out of the year. There’s no point in throwing when you don’t have to.”
Passan, fittingly, is the pitching coach for his 8-year-old son’s baseball team. His No. 1 goal for his squad isn’t to win at all costs; it’s to keep his players healthy and teach them the game.
It’s unfortunate that other youth baseball coaches don’t take the same approach.
“While pitch counts in adults and in major league players, I think, have frankly gone too far to the conservative side, I don’t think they’re conservative enough among kids,” Passan said. “I know the recommendation for my 8-year-old son this year is a maximum of 50 pitches a game. He’s playing with 9- and 10-year-olds this year. Their maximum recommendation is 75 per game. None of the kids on my team are going to throw more than 30 pitches a game. And I’ve told them the reason that all of you are pitching is you need to help keep your teammates healthy. That’s what the attitude is with them. They may not want to pitch, but everyone is going to pitch at least a little bit because it’s the sort of thing that will help their teammates out long-term.”
It’s also important for pitchers – of all ages, really – to not max out on so many pitches so often.
At least in theory.
“Velocity works,” Passan said. “You strike more guys out the harder you throw. You give up fewer home runs the harder you throw. When you factor both of those things in, how are you going to say to someone, ‘Don’t throw hard’? I do wonder if there will be a point at which a team sees everyone else’s predilection toward picking hard throwers and zags where they’re zigging and tries to go back to the command and control pitchers and find the creme de la creme there.”