Baseball is a safe game for all ages, but young players and in particular young throwing athletes collectively seem to have a higher risk for injury. Whether proximal humeral epiphysiolysis, rotator cuff injuries, elbow pain, SLAP tears or a number of other issues, pitching too much, too young, can increase a player’s injury risk. A number of factors can contribute to this orthopedic phenomenon --including fatigue, overuse, improper biomechanics, immature bone structure, and more. But the prevalence and degree of these types of injuries continue to rise.
To combat the growing trend of throwing injuries in young players, USA Baseball and MLB teamed up to develop MLB Pitch Smart. This initiative offers an in-depth resource for players and their parents on best safe pitching practices that will ideally help them avoid overuse and getting hurt. MLB Pitch Smart guidelines include a pitch count per game of
- 75 for ages 9-10;
- 85 for ages 11-12;
- 95 for ages 13-16;
- 105 for ages 17-19;
- 120 for ages 19-22.
While MLB Pitch Smart offers suggested guidelines, other baseball organizations are establishing their own recommendations for young pitchers. Showcase Baseball (SBA), a Charlotte-area youth development program and baseball and softball preparatory academy, shared their own guidelines for safe pitching:
Showcase Baseball Academy Pitch Effective (and Safe) Guidelines:
1. Pitch counts are arbitrary and not a science. Each athlete’s body matures at different times and speeds, therefore SBA evaluates more than just age. Other factors include:
a. Physical Maturity of each player: What is the size of the player’s body in comparison to other athletes his or her age? Just because an athlete is 14 doesn't mean he or she should throw 95 pitches a game if the body hasn't hit puberty and is the size of a 12-year-old.
b. Physical Strength of each player: Where does the player’s strength lie? A player larger in stature shouldn’t necessarily throw the suggested pitch count if the body hasn't developed the strength associated with his or her age.
c. Mental maturity of each player: Does the athlete have the mental maturity associated with his or her age? Don't push a player to pitch within the Pitch Smart guidelines if he or she doesn't have the mental maturity to withstand that type of mental stamina. This guideline applies to confidence as well.
2. 25 pitches per inning. SBA believes the wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm that throws a competitive (game situation) inning of more than 25 pitches should be considered to be taken out the next inning. Too many continuous (without rest) pitches can put risk on an athlete’s arm.
3. 15 pitches an inning / Four pitches a batter: This is the SBA efficiency guideline that is safe and productive. Data has shown that a pitcher that averages 15 pitches or less an inning usually wins. Pitchers that throw an average of four pitches per batter usually win. The motto is to get ahead and stay ahead. (The University of Florida conducted a test with all pitchers in their fall scrimmages. #1 ranked Florida Gators hitters averaged .175 when their pitchers threw the first pitch for a strike. Their hitters averaged .365 when their pitchers threw more than four pitches per batter.)
4. Throw every day: During the season we believe the pitcher should throw every day. There is a difference between PITCHING IN A GAME, PITCHING IN A BULLPEN, and THROWING BETWEEN GAMES PITCHED.
a. Pitching in a Game: The above guidelines are appropriate.
b. Pitching in a bullpen: Typically 2 days before your start, you should throw approximately 40 pitches, taking your time and working on throwing strikes.
c. Pitching a Flat ground: Typically day before your start - should be 45 feet and 15 pitches (60% speed) working on release point.
d. Throwing between games pitched: Tossing each day between games approximately 50-70' and approximately 15-20 throws allows the lactic acid to move through the arm. This conditions a consistent release point which will eventually promote a lower overall pitch count during games.
Showcase Baseball is a partner of OrthoCarolina and a premier baseball training academy for young athletes.