My home state of New Jersey is apparently struggling to come up with a “magic number” in the face of the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee mandating pitch count limits.
As with every other state, NJ not only has to decide on a number, but also have to deal with the proponents and critics, both sides vehement in their beliefs.
While the state committee settles on a number, I suggest that high school pitchers, their parents, and coaches consider some of the real reasons pitchers injure their arms, and one major thing that can prevent pitching injuries.
First off, stop listening to those who have been deemed “experts.” Former pro pitchers such as John Smoltz are not experts on pitching arm health (would you consider race car driver Jeff Gordon to be an expert on fuel injection systems?). Similarly, former MLB pitching coaches such as Leo Mazzone are also not experts on this subject. And believe it or not, doctors and surgeons such as Dr. James Andrews are not necessarily experts, either — not when Dr. Andrews is basing his off-season guidelines on conversations he had with retired MLB pitchers like Smoltz and Jim Kaat, rather than on science.
News flash: THERE ARE NO EXPERTS. No one person has all the answers. There is, however, SCIENCE.
Science comes from scientists who perform research and come to conclusions that are accepted by the scientific community. Nothing is accepted by the community until it has been proven multiple times by multiple scientists — all of whom come to the same conclusion.
There is a ton of existing scientific evidence to guide us in keeping pitchers safe. I don’t know why so many people — so many so-called “experts,” especially — ignore this evidence. Maybe they think they’re smarter than the hundreds of scientists who have collaborated and tested. Maybe they want to keep the truth hidden because it may impact their earning potential and/or their stature as a public figure / expert. People do things for all kinds of reasons, but that’s for another day. Back on track …
If you want to know how to keep pitchers’ arms safe, look to science. Here is what science says:
1. Improper mechanics lead to fatigue.
2. Fatigue leads to injury.
3. Pain is an indicator of injury.
Pretty simple, right? Seemingly everyone involved in baseball, however, wants to complicate it. It begins by ignoring #1, and/or believing that a pitcher’s mechanics are “proper.” When it comes to a pitcher who has already suffered a major injury to his arm, one-thousand times out of a thousand, he had a mechanical flaw that led to the injury. Maybe the flaw was caused by fatigue. More likely, the flaw caused the fatigue. Either way, a limiting pitches in a game or a week is only one teeny-tiny part of the equation. Keeping to a set pitch count is not going to be much help to a pitcher who strides too long, or cups his hand behind his back, or displays the “inverted W,” or doesn’t release his elbow, or whose arm is late at foot strike, or is off-balance, or any of a few dozen other dangerous flaws. Equally, a pitch count is not going to help a pitcher who completely ignores warning signs. And this is where we get to the sad story of Anthony Apreda, a story that’s been re-told thousands of times by pitchers previously.
It seemed like an ordinary pitch in an ordinary game that April day in 2012.
The Bergen Catholic sophomore did not think much of it, even as he felt his arm “tighten up.” He then threw a fastball that just wasn’t right.
His velocity suddenly had vanished. Soon his control was gone.
Apreda battled through that third inning against Paramus Catholic and into the fourth, before being knocked out of the game and into the unknown.
“The next day, I couldn’t throw the ball five feet,” said Apreda, who threw in the 85-87 mph range and was expected to be the Crusaders’ ace that year. “I didn’t want to face it. I’d never been hurt. I thought I was indestructible. …
“But even days later, I couldn’t throw it more than 20 feet. That’s when I knew I had to go get it checked out.”
Another young pitcher had hurt his arm. Apreda underwent Tommy John surgery three weeks later.
Raise your non-throwing arm if you know how Apreda wound up on an operating table. Tell me how a pitch count would have prevented that terrible conclusion.
If you’re not sure, it’s right here:
The Bergen Catholic sophomore did not think much of it, even as he felt his arm “tighten up.”
There it is, the bright red flag that something is wrong. If, at this point, young Anthony Apreda had stopped, had called time-out and walked off the mound, maybe he wouldn’t have wound up with a 9-inch scar inside his elbow.
Improper mechanics lead to fatigue. Fatigue leads to injury. Pain is an indicator of injury.
The moment Anthony felt pain was the moment he needed to stop and find out what was going wrong. Most likely, that ordinary game in April 2012 was not the first time he felt discomfort. I’d bet the house that at some point before then — maybe in a bullpen session, or a game during the previous summer, or some other time — he felt tightness, or dull pain, or some other indication from his body telling him something needed to be fixed. It’s at that point that every pitcher must listen to his body and respond.
I don’t mean to pick on Anthony Apreda, because every pitcher at every level goes through a similar process. Every pitcher under the age of 18 believes he’s indestructible. Every athlete learns from an early age to ignore pain and keep going, repeating the maxim “no pain, no gain.”
Well guess what? That may work for Olympic powerlifters. It may work for NFL defensive lineman. It CAN work, when the athletic movement is less intricate and complicated than the pitching motion. For baseball pitchers engaged in the pitching motion, however, it is absolutely the most dangerous thought they can have.
Do not listen to white-haired windbags who yack about “throwing through pain” and “working through tightness.” Instead, find out why your arm is hurting before you throw another pitch. Pitchers need to be self-aware, to understand their body, and to take action immediately when something doesn’t feel “right.”
Implementing pitch counts AND rest periods are an excellent start toward preventing pitching injuries, but it’s far from a cure-all. Pitchers — and their coaches and parents — must hold themselves accountable, must understand that the pitching motion has precise movements and timing, and must be aware and responsive when the body issues a warning. Ignoring pain, even for one pitch, is taking a dangerous step toward the surgeon’s table.