Youth Baseball Pitch Counts Vastly Underestimate High-Effort Throws Throughout a Season.
Wahl EP1, Pidgeon TS, Richard MJ. J Pediatr Orthop. 2020 Feb 7. doi: 10.1097/BPO.0000000000001520. [Epub ahead of print]
The official pitch count fails to reflect the number of throws by 11- and 12-year-old youth baseball players.
Despite Little League Baseball (LLB) pitch count rules, which require no more than 85 pitches/day for 11- to 12-year olds, shoulder and elbow injuries are becoming more common in youth baseball. The increased risk of injury may be because the pitch count rules fail to account for other throwing activities (e.g., warm-up pitches) and athletes in other positions. Having a more accurate estimate of the number of throws by young baseball players may help improve pitch count rules. Therefore, the authors used wearable sensors to measure how many throws a young baseball player actually threw during a season compared with an official pitch count. The authors provided an elbow sleeve with a sensor to 19 youth baseball players (11- and 12-year olds; 9 pitchers) from one league to wear each time they threw (practice, warm-ups, games) throughout a season. They only wore the sleeve during activities for this one league. The athletes also completed a survey to collect demographics and to answer questions about whether they follow other Pitch smart recommendations. The athletes had good compliance with wearing the elbow sensor (~75%). The sleeve sensor tracked the number of throws, elbow valgus torque, arm speed, workload, arm slot at release, and high-effort throws (> 70% the average of the top 5 throws from the prior 2 weeks). The authors removed elbow sensor data from non-throwing efforts (running bases, batting). The authors also relied on the designated scorekeeper’s official pitch counts from each game. On average during the season, the sensor detected a lot more throws (~1666; range 577 to 3,115) and high-effort throws (~577; range: 90 to 1371) than the official pitch count (~168; range 0 to ~500). Every player had a greater number of high-effort throws than the official pitch count. The players also reported poor compliance with Pitch Smart recommendations: 37% reported playing at least 9 months/year, 84% reported playing for multiple teams, and 42% reported throwing curve-ball type pitches.
The authors add to the growing body of evidence behind the risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball players. The authors confirmed a prior study where authors also reported that the official pitch count underestimates the number of throws among pitchers. Based on this new study, young athletes are also throwing significantly more potentially hazardous high-effort throws. Furthermore, they showed that we may need to pay more attention to throws by players in other positions. For example, one player had ~83% of his throws (1651 total throws) defined as high effort; yet, he never pitched in a game. Hence, pitch count limits are necessary, but these rules fail to capture all the throws that could contribute to injury in youth baseball. It should also be noted that many athletes failed to adhere to some of the other Pitch Smart recommendations. Overall, the evidence suggests that pitch count rules need to be modified to account for the various situations when a player may experience high-effort throws. Furthermore, we need to increase the awareness of these guidelines and the risk of injury related to excessive throwing.
Questions for Discussion
Do you think the Little League Baseball should update rules to include warm-up pitches and measuring high effort throws? Have you ever tracked the number of warm-up pitches?
Written by: Jane McDevitt
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban
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Personally I have not recorded pitch count in a Little League Baseball game. But I do feel that the pitch count rules need to modified to include warm-up throws and full effort throws when the child has been removed from the pitching position. In most Little League games the athletes play more than one position therefor, they are putting more stress on the arm, elbow and shoulder even after being removed. This could save a young athlete from future injury.
I found this information to be very interesting and eye opening. I never had thought to take into account the amount other positions are throwing and the numbers are alarming. Pitch count rules are taken seriously however I feel we missed the bigger picture of all of the other positions. I do think we should adjust the pitch count to allow for all warmups (pregame and prior to innings). But I also think we should track the throw count for all other positions. The number of high effort pitches from other positions could be due to the lack of knowledge or understanding from the young athlete about how to use their arm. This sleeve is useful for preventative measures to give the coach an insight to the players mechanics and the ability to coach them on how to improve. Further research should be done and beginning with the Little League adjustments should be made and more parent/athlete education should be done on implementing the throw count. Following the Little League, other youth baseball organizations should follow. I also think further research on softball should be conducted also as the same trend may be happening.
I do believe that Little League Baseball should update the rules to include warm-up throws and high effort throws in the count. Pitching warm-ups are used to help get the athletes game-ready which means they are going to be throwing game-like. With the pitches being game-like it makes sense that they should be monitored as well. Without these throws being taken into account players could be throwing well over the limit and that is why there is still such a high risk of shoulder and elbow injuries. I also believe that the high effort throws should be considered as well because in Little League it is common to play other positions which could require the higher effort throws. These throws are just as important to count because the higher effort level itself could be a risk for injury. Just repeating that high effort level throw multiple times could lead to a serious arm injury without even considering pitching. While updating the rules may affect the limit and Little League Baseball as a whole, the health of the athletes at a young age and into their future careers is what is important.
I think the pitch count rule is taken seriously now but it should be updated to include warm-ups and maximal effort throws from other positions. Especially in little league, the athletes play many positions in addition to pitching. The number of throws from those positions are just as important because they are usually maximal effort and the catcher specifically, throws just as much as the pitcher does. Updating the pitch count rule could be beneficial in reducing injury especially because younger athletes may not have the proper mechanics. It is also important to avoid chronic injuries that may affect the athlete for the rest of their careers.