We have a problem in Baseball. Arm injuries continue to rise and Baseball players, specifically pitchers, are the worst prepared athletes to step on an athletic field. As coaches and trainers we are solely responsible for the development, health and future of our players. It is our job to Inspire them to reach their goals and inform them on the information necessary to do so. ASMI and all the leading researchers on the subject make it very clear, the injuries are happening when the players are young. The ligaments and tendons are stretched over time eventually resulting in a tear. Finally, those very same ligaments are only as strong as the muscles that surround and support them. As far as we are concerned, this entire issue boils down to one thing, asking the body to do something it isn’t prepared to handle. We are going to discuss these issues, highlight the opinions of some of the best coaches in the business and present some ways we can attack this problem collectively.
It’s important to first examine who is getting injured. It’s not often you see a 16 year old pitcher that throws 72MPH on the operating table. It’s the guys that throw hard, it’s the elites, it’s the future collegiate and professional Baseball stars of tomorrow. We started training an interesting young prospect about 2 months ago. He is an elite 14 year old that recently won the MVP pitcher award at the 14u WWBA this year. Arguably the best event in the country. He is 6’2” and weighs in at 183 lbs. He walked in here on his evaluation day throwing 81-83 off the mound which we would consider elite in his age bracket. He had poor, inefficient throwing patterns that placed considerable stress on his arm. He is a big kid but his body is put together poorly having scored one of the lowest FMS ratings we have ever seen. His explosiveness and raw strength levels were poor. His connective strength was extremely poor and his decelerators specifically were almost nonexistent. His nutrition was terrible and he basically had no idea how to take care of himself. He wasn’t throwing regularly even though he was getting on the mound every few weeks and pitching in a competitive environment. As a result of all these things he experienced a lot of soreness on a regular basis. He is an elite with a bright future in this game and he is ALSO a perfect example of someone who, without a change will be the guy most likely to end up on an operating table.
WHAT HASN’T WORKED
Pitch Counts and Throwing less: I do believe that Pitch counts at the amateur level are important simply because the players are not prepared to throw an extensive amount of pitches. That, and the fact the in many places across the country pitchers are throwing competitively year round which I also don’t agree with. The reason pitch counts aren’t going to solve the problem is the simple fact that many of these pitchers aren’t prepared to handle 50 pitches let alone 75 or 100. The young man I discussed earlier was on pitch counts at every event he threw, yet still experienced pain on a regular basis. Everyone is scared to throw right now. Pitching too much is a problem, but not throwing enough is a bigger one. Amateur players are throwing harder than they ever have, but because they are scared to throw and not throwing enough, they aren’t building the arm up to handle pitching in a competitive environment. Their arm has not been trained or been used enough to withstand the forces they are producing. Later we will go into deeper detail of what that really means and how to prevent it. Since the Tommy John epidemic began to take Baseball by storm, at the collegiate and professional level pitchers and coaches alike have begun to “baby” the arm. That method of injury prevention has been extremely ineffective. This is proven by the fact that injuries have not decreased, but actually increased since the pitch count system was introduced. Recently, Nolan Ryan one of the greatest pitcher’s in history was quoted as saying “It’s because pitchers simply don’t throw as much as we did. When I pitched, we pitched every fourth day and guys would pitch 300 innings and it wasn’t considered a big deal. If you don’t get on the mound and develop stamina, your risking injury”. That was Nolan Ryan’s way of saying the same thing we are, that pitchers aren’t ready to handle the workload they are being asked to perform.
Rest during the competitive season: We have also noticed through countless interviews and discussions with amateur pitchers that they are constantly resting their arm for periods of time during their competitive season. In doing so, they think they are going to stay healthy because they are resting. I worked with a player in Pitttsburgh, Pa at the end august that is a potential high round draft prospect this year. As a sophomore he was up to 93MPH and after his junior season his arm was hurting and the kid was tired. Now this is a big country strong young man with a lot of muscle on his body. At the recommendation of his pitching coach, he took a month off after his HS season ended, threw once a week in a bullpen session all summer after the break and pitched in competition roughly every other weekend during the summer. That is about the worst possible plan I can think of and again, yet another perfect example of a kid who without change, is going to end up on an operating table. Taking break periods during the middle of a competitive season is extremely detrimental and counterproductive to a pitcher’s health. If you trained to Deadlift 200 lbs. 100 times on a regular basis and then took a month off and asked your body to perform, not only would you be unable to perform the task with the same ability level, you would be running the risk of injury by pushing your body beyond its capability. Breaks are important, but understanding when to take them and the preparation necessary to get back on the mound is just as, if not more important.
Ice: I know there are a lot of different opinions on this subject so we are going to stick to the facts. A while back I spoke to an agent with The Ballangee Group named Scott Lonergan who also happens to be a friend. At 33 years old Scott has a pretty extensive Baseball resume. He played professionally with the Red Sox, went into scouting with the padres, left with Jed Hoyer to help rebuild the cubs, became an agent with MVP Sports group and finally left to start The Ballangee group alongside Jeff Randazzo. As an agent Scotts job is now to take care of his players and point them in the right direction. We were discussing a lot of things in relation to arm health and arm care protocols. One of the things he said was “regardless of what I may or may not think, I have to go with the science”. There has been enough research done to clearly state that at this time, icing your arm isn’t going to keep you healthy. Ice is used for acute injury and to reduce inflammation. Having a sore arm after throwing isn’t an acute injury and we shouldn’t be trying to reduce inflammation by constricting the blood vessels. That is an extremely counterproductive method of arm care. Well get into the science more later but here is a basic overview: After any repeated activity the fascia surrounding the arm is constricted ultimately preventing blood flow and oxygen. Blood flow and oxygen bring healing properties and are ultimately what the arm needs to heal. Ice makes no sense. All it does is make the arm numb tricking us into thinking it’s healed. It doesn’t actually help.
Running Poles: Everything we previously stated about ice, also applies to running poles. There is no literature or research on the current physiology of the sport in support of distance running. In fact, all of the research that has been done shows that sprints, explosive movements and arm care protocols are proven to be considerably more effective. Eric Cressey wrote a phenomenal article on the topic here:
Multiple coaches: Our industry as a whole, needs to get on the same page. No one is working together and the ego of trainers, High School and travel coaches clash on a daily basis. If the employee of a business had 3 different bosses and all 3 were asking the employee to perform different tasks, without any communication between them, what would that look like? Welcome to the life of the elite amateur Baseball player. The player gets one thing with his trainer, is forced to do something different in high school and then the travel coach tries to change everything. This produces 2 outcomes:
- The player is seen as un-coachable because he has a system that has worked for him and doesn’t want to change.
- The player does everything he is told and spends so much time changing he can’t figure out who he really is.
Neither one of these outcomes is a desirable one. We must find another way. We must change how this system operates. The players are the ones suffering, end of story. Egos need to get checked at the door and we all need to be more open to communication and suggestions. How hard is it to ask a player questions? In my opinion, everyone should take some cues from Scott Brown over at Vanderbilt. I had the opportunity to watch him work with some of his pitchers last year and it was inspiring to watch. I was there with one of my Freshman who showcased and later committed. The first question he asked every pitcher that walked in was “what is your plan today”. He empowers them with information and knowledge and gives them the ability to take their development into their own hands. THAT’S WHAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING EVERYWHERE. Rather than forcing information down everyone’s throat, why not introduce knowledge and what they choose to do with it is on them. By having conversations with them in that fashion, you might learn something as a coach as well. I think we should all be learning from our players. I know I have learned just as much from mine as they have from me. I can tell them something, but they might feel differently. No one knows how they feel better than the player. Moving the coaching in this direction will allow them to succeed and fail based on their own merit and the team will probably benefit as a result. As coaches, how many times have we told a player something 1,000 times and they still didn’t do it? If the player doesn’t buy in trying to force them doesn’t work anyway. Let’s save all that time and try to present it to them in a way they understand. If they refuse to listen, either you didn’t do a good job explaining it or they aren’t going to listen anyway. It all comes down to mutual respect with players and the better you approach them the more likely they are to accept information.
We are all hopefully looking out for the best interests of the player. We are all important to the player’s development in Baseball and even more importantly as a young man. Let’s acknowledge that our current system is very difficult for a young man to navigate and the only person it hurts is the player. We have to find a way to come together in the best interest of our players.