Many “high-effort” baseball throws are uncounted

November 3, 2020
Marian Freedman
Marian Freedman

Marian Freedman is a freelance writer.

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Jon Matthew Farber, MD
Jon Matthew Farber, MD

Dr Farber is a pediatrician in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Throwing a baseball is a common occurrence when playing the game, but it can cause orthopedic strain on a child's arm and shoulder. A study looks at how throws that could put increased strain may be miscounted.

Something to think about while your patients practice for Little League this winter: Young baseball players engage in significantly more high-effort (pitch-equivalent) throws than what is allowed—and counted—under official Little League guidelines, according to a study in 19 players from a single league.

The players, who ranged in age from 10 to 12 years, were given an elbow sleeve with a sensor to wear on their throwing arm for an entire season to record each time they threw a baseball, including during practice and warm-ups as well as during games. The sensor tracked the number of throws and elbow valgus torque, arm speed, workload, arm slot at release, maximum shoulder rotation, and high-effort throws.

According to sensor data, mean total throws and high-effort throws per player were significantly higher than what the official scorekeepers recorded as pitches. The total throw count for each individual player, according to sensors, was at least twice and up to more than 10 times greater than what was counted under the guidelines, despite lack of total compliance with wearing the sensor. In addition, every individual player made more high-effort throws than indicated by the official pitch count. Investigators concluded that many high-effort throws are unaccounted for in official pitch counts and may contribute to the increase in overuse injuries (Wahl EP, et al. J Pediatr Orthop. 2020;40:e609-e615).

Thoughts from Dr. Farber

Overtraining is a concern with young athletes, and the study shows that pitch counts are not a good enough tool to monitor it. Encourage young athletes to change sports each season. Specialization early is not needed; Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon did not play basketball until their mid-adolescence. As an aside, I note that this sensor is an amazing piece of technology.