MLB

How fast is too fast for high school pitchers to throw?

July 16, 2014

After trade rumors and Derek Jeter’s final All-Star Game, arguably the biggest topic of discussion this MLB All-Star break has been the increase in elbow injuries for Major League pitchers. This week on MLB Network Radio, Dr. James Andrews gave his opinion on why the incidences of these career-threatening injuries have increased such a substantial amount.

According to Andrews, injuries suffered in college and professional baseball are often more severe versions of injuries pitchers suffered when they were younger. And there were a number of contributing factors, Andrews and his team have found, that lead to elbow injuries in little league and high school pitchers.

“We’ve researched this in our lab, in our foundations down here in Birmingham as well as Pensacola,” Andrews said. “The big risk factor is year-round baseball. These kids are not just throwing year-round, they’re competing year-round, and they don’t have any time for recovery. More is better. So year round baseball is No. 1.

“No. 2,” Andrews continued, “is playing in more than one league at the same time, where rules don’t count. And of course, the showcases where they’re pitching. They try to over-pitch, and they get hurt. And poor mechanics continues to always be a problem. Throwing breaking balls at an early age is still a problem because it is a high neuromuscular-control throwing act. Young kids can’t quite throw properly, so the mechanics get ‘em.”

Another risk factor, that may surprise you? High velocity.

You know the radar gun is always a problem, too, because these kids are trying to throw 90-plus miles per hour, and we found out in the lab that the red line for Tommy John ligament in high school is – guess what – about 80-85 miles per hour. The ones that throw beyond that are going beyond the developmental properties of their normal ligament, and they’re getting hurt.

Andrews remained realistic in his goals, telling MLB Network Radio that the hope is to decrease the injuries, not eliminate them.

“We can probably cut down the early injury rate, but kids are playing and throwing so hard, and are so competitive now in professional baseball,” Andrews said. “And you realize, the dollar sign that’s on top of them pushing themselves so hard, so you’re not going to prevent all of them. It’s like trying to prevent ACL injuries of the knee. It’s impossible. But we’d like to control it better.”