I recently signed my youngest son up for Little Baseball and found out then that our local league was banning breaking balls for pitchers 12 and under. They told me that Little League Baseball and Cal Ripken Baseball were both banning them in 2007. I saw your endorsement of their pitch count initiative and I agree with this 100% but I saw nothing more than they do not think breaking balls are a good idea. Do you know if this is true that Little League Baseball and Cal Ripken Baseball are planning to ban breaking balls?
Post by Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D. on Feb 7, 2006 13:44:05 GMT -6
I shared the message above from pitcherdad with my contacts at Little League Baseball, and they wanted me to post the following reply:
As of today, there is no concrete evidence showing that breaking pitches are harmful. Most pitchers who throw breaking pitches also are throwing more pitches. And those who play in so-called "elite" or travel leagues are probably going to throw more pitches, and a wider variety of pitches. These pitchers, then, seem to be at the highest risk for developing arm problems, and some would assume it is because of breaking pitches.
However, there is evidence that throwing too many pitches causes arm problems. That is why Little League is taking steps to ascertain if a limit on the number of pitches thrown can be effectively implemented at the local Little League level.
We realize that limits on pitch counts in Little League probably will not reduce the number of arm injuries, because the regulations would apply only to Little Leaguers pitching in Little League games. Twenty years ago, this was not a problem. But today, many children are being asked to pitch in games outside of Little League's control, and go far beyond the six innings per week currently permitted in Little League play. Hopefully, parents will realize what the limits should be, and act accordingly for the best interests of their children.
Little League also is looking at ways to determine if breaking pitches are harmful. But because there is no concrete proof that breaking pitches are harmful to young arms (as there is with high pitch counts), Little League has no plan to ban breaking pitches at this time.
Patrick Wilson Vice President of Operations Little League Baseball and Softball
My youngest son is fifteen and has been pitching since he was nine. He is now 6'4"+ and about 175 but has only an average fastball. I never permitted him to throw a breakingball, knuckleball, splitfinger, etc. We worked on a circle change and location all that time. I know if he used the breaking ball he could have been more successful and as a result more popular among his peers but my point is he never missed a scheduled game because of a sore arm. He is just beginning to develop a curveball which I limited him to about three per game last year. Better safe than sorry.
Post by pitcherdad on Feb 21, 2006 22:02:14 GMT -6
Some believe that if a curve ball is taught correctly and thrown in the proper numbers that it is safe for youth pitchers to throw and learn this skill. The average parent may not have the correct information to teach the safe way to throw a curve ball. My oldest son is 13 has been taught the correct way to throw it and has been told he has almost perfect mechanics. He has been throwing a curve since he is nine and has had no problems either. We have closely followed the pitch count recommendations as well as throwing 60-65% fastballs, 20-25% breaking balls, and 15 -20% change-ups. He also regularly does pitcher specific strength conditioning. I believe that Dr. Fleisig is a member of the advisory board to some of these pitching organizations that teach this. I feel that based on the information and research that I have found about this that it is safe if taught correctly and managed as well as the player understanding to not throw these pitches too much. Many kids who may not have this information will throw curves more than recommended. I believe that overuse is the main culpret where kids play in more than one league or may throw 200 or 300 pitches during a weekend tourney.
When I was 12 years old, I was taught a "safe" curve ball by another manager and friend of the family. I was taught to throw the ball like a football player throws a pass. While a baseball player typically rotates the wrist either under the ball or cocks his wrist into a number "7" shape and rolls the ball over the index finger to make the ball break or curve, the way I was taught was to "shake hands with the batter", taking the wrist and turing or rolling it a quarter turn clockwise (rhp), like you would throw a football. Now today, I can still throw this pitch with no consequences and I used this pitch in Senior Leagues as well as High School baseball. I will be turning 40 this year and it seems to me that this pitch is a "safe" curve ball. I was hoping to get your opinion.
Post by Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D. on Apr 12, 2006 8:48:03 GMT -6
Glenn, I'm in the middle of traveling. Please post this for me...
A similar question was asked when Christopher Reeves' wife Dana, recently passed away with lung cancer. Why did she, a non-smoker, pass away at a fairly young age with this disease when thousands of heavy smokers live long lives and die of natural causes, yet NEVER have lung cancer? How is this possible?
The only real honest answer to any of this...the curveball/ arm injury debate included...is that we really don't know exactly why some get hurt and others do not. And we must prepare ourselves for never knowing the exact cause. The human being is far to complex to easily condense down to simple cause and effect equations and scenarios.
In my opinion, the best we can do is to address the possible CONTRIBUTORS to injury....eliminate them to the greatest degree possible and prepare each pitcher for the specific stress and workload they will experience in both the short and long run of their season and career.
While this does not sit well with our intellectual pysche....We love to stand on a soap box and loudly proclaim to the world..."I am brilliant...hear me roar...I've got this all figured out...and I'm WAY ahead of my addled peers. Here are THE answers." But alas...for most of the honest brokers in this profession...the more we learn, the more we realize how truly little we really know.
I truly beleive thats the very best we can do...identify the contributors to injury and prepare for them. To use the word 'cause' is, again in my opinion, flirting with arrogance or self delusion. Too many curveballs, thrown improperly, at too young of a developmental age certainly COULD contribute to injury. But too many pitchers made it through just fine without injury to now conclude that curveballs are THE CAUSE of injury.
In my personal view, the key to remaining healthy is to systematically prepare the body, arm, muscles, ligament/ tendons for the specific stress they will be subject to in competition. That also means improving the mechanical efficiencies of their movements so that extra or undue stress is not unecessarily added. In my opinion, the focus on the strict limitation of pitch counts and banning curveballs until some one shaves as THE solution to the epidemic of arm injuries to the youth of America is dangerously simplistic and naive.And I believe it will fail miserably in its results. Its the equivilent of saying "Sunlight causes skin cancer so everyone should rarely go outside and even then do so with sun block 15." If this was strictly enforced certain types of skin cancer will indeed go down...but a whole slew of other problems would creep up. Wisdom & common sense must rule the day here.
Post by Dick Mills on Apr 13, 2006 11:48:23 GMT -6
I believe the reason why kids at the Little League or pre-high school levels of baseball should not throw a curveball should be based on which skills are important to learn and master first? I believe any result of injury is based on not so much the mechanics of the curveball but rather on the ability of a youth pitcher to be able to consistently get his body into a consistently good throwing position so that the body is put in a strength position to deliver the pitch.
There is only one way that coaches can detect that. They must have the knowledge of proper mechanics and then have the ability to videotape pitchers, find and correct mechanical faults during every practice session.
When was the last time you saw a youth or high school pitcher being videotaped during a bullpen practice session so that the pitcher was getting feedback rich instruction? It is very, very rare and yet it is the only way to know whether a skill is being learned or not. The naked eye is not enough no matter what the experience is of the instructor. The pitching movement happens too fast.
The other question is - why do pitchers at the youth or even high school level even need the curveball? When a pitcher has proven he can throw his fastball 70% of the time to multiple locations at differning speeds while being videotaped...only then should another pitch be considered. That second pitch I believe should be a changeup because it is easier to learn and master than a curveball and should be less stressful.
A curveball must be considered a completely different skill to master than the fastball. It is not just a different grip that the pitcher must learn and even with a proper grip the pitcher must still have the ability to position his body correctly to deliver the curveball without undue stress. That takes a lot of practice time...usually years.
This is also true for throwing the fastball or other pitchers. However, most youth and high school pitchers are not able to accomplish command with their fastball and as my son's high school coach used to say - Why let a kid throw a curveball when he can't throw a fastball with proper mechanics or command?
Baseball pitching, like golf is a mechanical and nueral (mental) skill sport. It clearly takes years to master the mechanics of throwing a fastball with the focus being to hit the target 70% of the time with consistency. When a pitcher is able to accomplish that he needs little else in his pitching arsenal. That fact was clearly stated in an interview with Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt during the World Series.
How many pitchers are you currently seeing at the youth or high school or college levels with outstanding command of their fastball? I believe very few. Professional baseball has the same problem.
One of the main problems at all levels today is that few pitchers at any level are being trained mechanically and mentally using videotape for feedback to throw enough pitches in practice to provide enough of an overload effect so that the pitcher's body is fully trained to deliver the arm and throw whatever number of pitches that are required in the game.
The sports science Principle of Individuality states that you will get a different response in training from each athlete. So we as coaches must consider each pitcher individually. We cannot train everyone the same way. We must look at their strengths and weaknesses.
I believe there are very few pitchers, if any, at the Little League, youth and high school levels who could pass the mechanical consistency test so they are able to get into a good throwing position during an extended number of pitches...no matter what that pitch is.
I personally have never seen a Little League, youth or high school pitcher who really needed to throw a curveball when he can locate his fastball to multiple locations and can change speeds.
The question then goes back to - why do we need the curveball at the Little League or youth levels anyway! Let us first teach the mechanical skill of throwing a fastball with consistency and proper training. That is what will drastically reduce pitching arm injuries at the youth levels.
As for the reason for so many injuries with pitchers today we should look at the Principle Of Specificity for the answer.
Pitchers at the high school, college and professional levels are becoming injured because they are spending too much time on irrelevant activities such as long toss, drills, throwing weighted baseballs, throwing on flat ground, trying to get bigger and stronger in the weight room. Pitching is the skill of throwing from the mound, shifting the weight downhill with the assistance of gravity from the back leg to the front leg without a crow hop while focusing on hitting a specific target.
The more time a pitcher spends on irrelevant activities the less time he has to master the skill of throwing from the mound...which is how pitching success is measured.
Pitchers need to be throwing enough game intensity pitches in practice bullpens from the mound in order to train the body to deliver the arm for throwing that volume of pitches in the next game. That provides the needed training effect or the overload. Trying to always 'save the arm' for the game is the biggest mistake for creating pitching arm injuries today.
We must remember that it is elastic energy or putting as many muscles of the body on stretch as possible that provides the power in the pitch as was proven back in 1983 in a study by Dr. Frank Jobe. It is not muscle contractions that provides arm speed.
When a pitcher continues to throw fewer pitches in practice, his body is always at a specific training deficit which causes the body to fatigue and not position the arm in its optimum non-stressful position.
When bullpens are thrown in blocked sets of five pitches with recovery time between pitches and sets of pitches while being videotaped every five pitches, a typical 10-15 minute bullpen becomes an hour...which is the amount of time a major league pitcher stands on the mound during a complete game. This one hour bullpen allows the pitcher to be fully recovered at the end. He will not be fatigued. And he will maintain his training effect for the next game.
These are some ideas that sports scientist have instituted in other sports. I believe baseball needs to look at some evidence based training ideas that other sports have found to bring success with less risk of injury instead of what is believed today by baseball coaches.
If baseball continues to use the same training ideas and beliefs they will continue to get the same results.
I do not see injuries going down or performance going up in pitching.
Post by pitcherdad on Apr 21, 2006 15:07:24 GMT -6
I appreciate the discussion. Since the time that my son decided he wanted to learn to pitch I have personally used video taping as a means helping him become a better pitcher. When he got to be around 11 and seemed to show some promise as a pitcher I took him to a pitching instructor who also regularly videos his students. He has told us that my son has the best mechanics of any of his students which include youth, high school, College (all levels including D1) and Professional. My son has been locating his fastball for the last two years as well as his change up and has a strike out to walk ratio of over 4:1. From what I have been able to gather he has great control and mechanics. So should someone like this be limited to learning only the fastball and change up? Why not let someone who with proper instruction and understanding learn the third pitch? I agree with Ron Wolforth. Simply banning kids from learning these pitches is dangerously "simplistic and naive." Many of the best youth pitchers pitch too much. My son and I have been to tourneys where we see the top teams that have kids that throw hundreds of pitches in a weekend. I have seen many of these kids hanging around the concession stand holding their arms and their coaches making decisions about who to start in the Championship game based on who has a sore elbow and who doesn't. I am glad that ASMI continues to research this and I hope they find some answers. Parents need to do their best to educate themselves and make a family decision on what is best for their children. We have done that and will continue to follow the research being done here so that if there is actual scientific evidence and research that says that throwing curve balls at a young age is a major contributor to arm problems we will seriously consider this. When a youth pitcher comes into have Tommy John surgery is there data taken on how much they pitch and what kind of pitches they throw. Not that this information could actually be used since it would be hard to authenticate but it might be interested to see. Thanks, Pitcherdad
Post by Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D. on Apr 24, 2006 11:13:35 GMT -6
The data seems to be pointing that overuse and number of pitches thrown (per game, season, year) is the primary factor associated with injury risk in young pitchers. Curveballs may turn out to be a risk factor too, but most likely a secondary factor.
When a youth pitcher comes into have Tommy John surgery is there data taken on how much they pitch and what kind of pitches they throw. Not that this information could actually be used since it would be hard to authenticate but it might be interested to see.
As it turns out, we have an article coming out on this very topic. Click here. In this study we found that the adolescent pitchers who have to go under the knife pitched a lot more than their peers, but did not start the curveball at a different age than their peers did.