Today’s edition of My 2 Sense comes from frequent guest blogger, Sal Marinello, President, Athletic Development Coaching.
With the start of baseball season upon us, it’s time to start the Tommy John Watch for pitchers.
Tommy John Surgery (TJS), where the damaged elbow ligament in the pitching arm is replaced with a tendon from another part of the body (usually the forearm) is at all-time high levels. Tommy John surgery is to baseball what ACL surgery is to football (and many other sports), although most likely more preventable.
The high level of TJS over the past several seasons – at all levels of baseball – has led to much consternation amongst baseball types. This consternation deals with how to handle pitchers and how to possibly protect them from having their Ulnar Collateral ligament snap like, snap like, snap like….well, snaps like something that’s cheap and snaps easily.
There has been a lot of debate, to go with the aforementioned consternation, dealing with the possible causes for the increase in this injury, and for the general fragility of pitchers.
There are two major reasons baseball pitchers have become so fragile; baseball has become a year round sport for at least a whole generation of ball players, and the weight room.
With the exception of football and hockey, baseball is the worst possible sport to play all year, specifically due to the need for pitching. And let’s not even delve into the issue that NO sport should be played year round by anybody: That’s a discussion for another time.
The stress that pitching places on an arm, young or old, necessitates that ample rest be taken not only between pitching outings, but between seasons. This between season rest needs to be measured not in days or weeks, but in months. So the advent of Fall baseball and winter pitching lessons has saddled a pitcher’s arm with 3-4 months of extra work.
The rest taken in between starts is enough rest to get a pitcher through a season, but the season can’t be 9 or 10 or 12 months long. There is research that shows pitchers who throw more than 7 months in a year are at an astronomically higher risk to suffer an major arm injury, WHILE IN HIGH SCHOOL.
So what we are seeing now, especially at the professional level, are pitchers who have played virtually year round since they started playing baseball. Those extra 3-4 months per year over a 8-12 year period, many of them during the years of physical development, have taken a toll on the arms of the current generation of professional pitchers. The countless number of pitches thrown, insufficient rest and poor mechanics result in an arm, or perhaps more accurately a ligament, that is worn out.
Weight training is the second culprit for turning baseball pitchers into fragile creatures. There has been no greater scourge on baseball players than the damage done – in the name of good – by what’s been done in the weight room.
The pitching motion is a delicate technique that is a great illustration of what the human body is capable of when all of the parts of the body work in concert to produce movement. The pitching arm is just the end of the chain, so to speak, and with the hand acts as the delivery system for the power that’s produced by the rest of the body.
This motion can easily be thrown out of kilter by a variety of factors. Weight training is one of the easiest ways to mess up a pitcher’s arm.
Baseball pitchers are not weight lifters or CrossFitters, and should not be trained as such. Leave the heavy lifting and other silliness to those ordinary folks who don’t have to throw a ball a 20, 30, 40 or 100 times per game. As a matter of fact, baseball players at all levels should spend very little time in the weight room.
Weight training programs that train the body as a collection of individual parts, or that have athletes perform in planes of movement not representative of baseball activities, are breaking, or throwing out of balance, the delicate connection between the body parts that is required for proper pitching technique. A stiff back reduces the ability of the pitcher to move efficiently – in a variety of ways – which ultimately puts added stress on the shoulder and elbow of a pitcher.
Then add in mechanical flaws, from minor to major, and this stress is increased.
This is just a single, simple example of how pitching arms have been ruined. Take these two factors over-pitching and weight lifting, add in mechanical flaws, and you have all the ingredients needed to ruin pitching arms on a massive scale.
The efforts by Major League Baseball to add extra rest, employ pitch counts is akin to closing the barn door after the horses have already escaped. These measures may put off the inevitable for professional pitchers, but unless changes are made with how young pitchers are trained and developed, the epidemic of TJS will continue.