Specialization concerns, Sport Safety

Why are so many young pitchers suffering serious arm injuries?

There was a disturbing piece that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer last week about two young pitchers from Ohio who had both pitched in the LL World Series a few years ago. They were thrilled to have played in front of thousands in Williamsport, PA.

Problem is, due to overuse of their arms and by throwing too many curve balls, they both had to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair their elbows. Can you imagine? Tommy John surgery is usually performed on major leaguers who, in their 20s or 30s, are simply trying to extend their professional careers.

These two kids were 14!

Kyle Cotcamp and Tyler Richards both love baseball, but they both admit that they were overused in LL Baseball and on their travel teams, plus they threw too many curveballs.

As you know, my colleague Steve Kallas and I have been forceful critics for years about why LL Baseball allows kids to throw curveballs. LL points to a recent study from the athletic institute that Dr. James Andrews that says that throwing curve balls probably is not the reason why kids hurt their arms. But Dr. Andrews, who has often said that he’s not in favor of having kids throw breaking balls before they can shave, was so concerned by that study’s conclusions that he recently told the NY Times that he’s worried that parents and coaches will think that it will be seen as a green light to let kids throws deuces and sliders.

In fact, Dr. Andrews says that the study was conducted in a lab, and not in the field, and as such, parents and coaches might not want to rush to embrace it. In other words, he’s saying, in effect, that he’s not so sure that parents can let kids throw curves.

Dr. Timothy Kremchek of the Cincinnati Reds is even more emphatic. He absolutely insists that kids should not be allowed to throw curves before the age of 13.

And finally, Dr. Andrews says that in his research, kids who throw for more than 8 months during the year are 5 times more likely to need surgery!

Bottom line? Parents and youth coaches, here are some simple guidelines:

Don’t let any kid under 13 throw more than 75-80 pitches in a game. And if they do, give them 4 days of rest between starts.

Don’t let any kid under 13 throw a curveball or slider. Let them work on a change-up instead. It’s a much better pitch, and much more effective.

If you’re a parent, even if your kid is the next Sandy Koufax, insist that you keep the pitch count of every performance. That is, don’t necessarily trust the coach.

Finally, let the kid pitch from April through the spring and summer, and maybe into Sept, but then give him the winter off. Let his arm recuperate and get stronger. Too much pitching at a young age can have disastrous results.

What’s your sense of this? Why do you think LL Baseball allows its players to throw curve balls?