With baseball season in full swing, I have heard a lot of talk recently about pitch counts, both in my clinic and at my son’s games. Most youth leagues at this point have adopted some form of pitch count parameters for players, but there is generally little explanation as to why it is important to follow them. It is important for parents to understand this issue, and essential if kids play on multiple teams as it will fall to the parent to watch the overall number of pitches a player is throwing and communicate clearly with coaches.
Pitch Counts In Youth Baseball
Parents love to see their child out on the mound, having fun and being successful. And coaches love to see a pitcher throw strikes and get batters out. Unfortunately, this can lead to pitchers being overused. Research is showing us that overuse is a key factor in pitching injuries:
Pitching more than 100 innings per calendar year has shown to leave players three times more likely to be injured.
Averaging more than 80 pitches per game leaves players four times more likely to be injured.
Pitching more than eight months out of the year leave players five times more likely to be injured.
Pitching while fatigued has shown to increase risk for injury by 36 times!
To help prevent overuse injuries, USA Baseball, along with MLB and the American Sports Medicine Institute, have come together to develop pitch count guidelines for youth baseball that recommend pitch count limits and how many days rest a pitcher should have before he pitches again.
Many youth baseball leagues around the country have instituted these guidelines as rules on how many pitches can be thrown, but parents still need to pay attention. A recent survey asking about compliance with pitch count parameters in youth baseball showed that as many as 25% of coaches are not compliant with pitch count guidelines. Even when coaches are compliant with pitch counts for their league, they may not know if the pitcher has thrown in another league recently. Therefore, it’s important for parents to be aware of the pitch count guidelines, keep track of pitches for their player, and communicate clearly with coaches.
Other Factors that Relate to Youth Pitching Injury
Some other factors that should be considered along with the number of pitches thrown include
Player size and how hard they throw. Generally speaking, the bigger the pitcher is and the harder he throws, the more stress is placed on the arm. It’s a good idea to keep these pitchers on the lower end of the pitch range.
High stress innings. Not all pitches can be considered equal. Long innings where a lot of pitches are thrown are much more taxing on pitchers. If a pitcher starts the game off with a few very long innings, you may want to keep him on the low side of the suggested number of pitches.
Other positions they move to after pitching. The overall volume of throws should be considered not just from the mound, but also in the field. Moving from pitching to positions where there are a lot of throws made, such as shortstop or especially catcher, increases injury risk.
I hope these thoughts help parents understand why pitch counts have been established, the importance of following pitch counts for the youth pitcher, and some other factors that should be considered along with pitch counts. Managing youth pitching is certainly a challenge and, unfortunately, one that often falls into the hands of the parent. If we can work together as parents, coaches and medical professionals, however, we can help reduce injuries in young players and keep our kids healthy, having fun and on the field!
Complete Game Physical Therapy is here to help. For more information or to make an appointment call us at 978-710-7204.