A joint initiative between Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, designed to help prevent overuse arm injuries in young baseball players, could go a long way towards protecting players and prolonging careers.
The Pitch Smart program is a series of practical, age-appropriate guidelines to help parents, players and coaches avoid overuse injuries and foster long, healthy careers for youth pitchers.
“Baseball is a safe game to play at all ages, but research has shown that pitching too much, particularly at a young age, can increase a pitcher’s risk of injury,” said Chris Marinak, the senior vice president for league economics and strategy at MLB.
Marinak said MLB and USA Baseball want to increase awareness about those risks, while encouraging kids to play baseball in a way that will promote long and healthy careers.
“The goal is to keep kids healthy,” said Rick Riccobono, the senior director for development for USA Baseball.“We’ve seen a rash of injuries, but more than anything this is to avoid fatigue, burnout and keep kids in a situation where they can continue to compete at a high level and in a healthy environment.”
GameChanger, which provides free stat tracking and team management tools for several sports, including baseball, is also helping MLB and USA Baseball protect players.
"One of the biggest problems in keeping young arms healthy has been knowing how much amateur pitchers throw over their careers," said Ted Sullivan, co-founder and CEO of GameChanger. "At GameChanger, we believe improved technology and digital tools can provide better availability of pitch and innings counts for young arms.”
USA Baseball and MLB teamed up to help young players reduce arm injuries by providing a comprehensive resource for safe pitching practices.
“The two groups worked with the leading medical and research experts in the field to come up with a set of best practices that are accessible to parents, players and coaches,” Marinak said. “The core of Pitch Smart is the pitch count and required rest guidelines specific to each age group.”
That’s where GameChanger comes in.
“GameChanger is uniquely positioned to help deliver the Pitch Smart message and guidelines to over hundreds of thousands of teams and millions of fans, parents and players, as well as provide a better way to track pitching workloads across competitions and teams,” Sullivan said.
Riccobono said there has been a significant uptick in the number of injuries amongst kids, but those setbacks gain notoriety when they’re MLB All-Stars in the most advanced level of the sport.
“The reality is that for most of these guys, that’s the culmination of stress and fatigue and injury that they’ve picked up over the course of their careers,” Riccobono said. “It’s extremely rare when a guy blows a ligament out on a clean pitch.”
Pitch Smart is also intended to provide more accurate information about Tommy John surgery, a procedure that is often misunderstood, despite becoming more common at all levels of baseball.
“While much research has been done in this area, it hadn’t really made its way to the masses,” Marinak said. “We felt we could help bridge this gap and raise awareness among players, parents and coaches.”