- Young pitchers are at risk for arm injuries due to a number of factors, and pitching while fatigued is perhaps the biggest risk for injury
- MLB’s Pitch Smart guidelines are designed to reduce injury risk while still allowing for the competitive development of the young player.
- Parents, coaches, and league administrators would be wise to implement the Pitch Smart recommendations for their pitchers
As spring and summer baseball is ramping up, I’d like to remind our readers of a terrific resource for the young pitcher- MLB’s Pitch Smart guidelines. I’ve written about pitch counts, the “100 inning rule”, and pitching injuries in several other blog posts but it is worth pointing out some of the reasons why we should revisit this topic. Pitch Smart is an effort by Major League Baseball to critically evaluate factors responsible for injury risk to young pitchers and then create guidelines to minimize that risk. Pitch Smart is partnered with many of the brightest minds in sports health for throwers and has produced a set of recommendations based on evidence and experience.
The result of their effort is a set of age appropriate recommendations designed to keep young pitchers as healthy as possible.
We’ve definitely made progress in recognizing and putting in place recommendations to reduce injury risk, but as the website points out we still have some work to do. For example, a survey of youth pitchers published in 2014 showed that of the pitchers responding to the survey many were engaging in behaviors that risk the health of their arms:
- 45% pitched in a league without pitch counts or limits
- 5% pitched on consecutive days
- 4% pitched on multiple teams with overlapping seasons
- 2% pitched competitive baseball for more than 8 months per year
Those published statistics are a few years old and hopefully we’ve made some progress in this area thanks to the efforts of Pitch Smart and others.
Take a look at the age-specific guidelines. They are divided into 5 age groups. For example, in the 15-18 year group which would cover most of our high school aged athletes some of the key recommendations are:
Players can begin using breaking pitches after developing consistent fastball and changeup
- Do not exceed 100 combined innings pitched in any 12 month period
- Take at least 4 months off from competitive pitching every year, including at least 2-3 continuous months off from all overhead throwing
- Make sure to properly warm up before pitching
- Set and follow pitch-count limits and required rest periods
- Avoid playing for multiple teams at the same time
- Avoid playing catcher while not pitching
- Players should not pitch in multiple games on the same day
- Make sure to follow guidelines across leagues, tournaments and showcases
- Monitor for other signs of fatigue
- A pitcher remaining in the game, but moving to a different position, can return as a pitcher anytime in the remainder of the game, but only once per game
- No pitcher should appear in a game as a pitcher for three consecutive days, regardless of pitch counts
In my opinion, Pitch Smart’s recommendations are another example of much needed changes designed to keep young players playing longer and healthier. These are recommendations rather than rules, but if you are a league administrator I’d urge your league to have a close look at these recommendations and adopt them for your players.