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Pitch Smart: The Future of Youth Pitching

pitch-smart-initiativeFrom GameChanger and Greg Bates, a freelance reporter for Red Line Editorial, Inc.

A new partnership could change the future of pitching.

Recently, GameChanger was named the first Pitch Smart certified app by Major League Baseball (MLB) and USA Baseball.

The Pitch Smart initiative, which was launched as a joint venture by MLB and USA Baseball last November, is designed to help young baseball players reduce arm injuries by providing a comprehensive resource for safe pitching. The Pitch Smart guidelines offer age-appropriate recommendations for rest time and maximum pitch totals in order to avoid overuse injuries and help foster long, healthy careers for young pitchers.

As the only certified Pitch Smart app, GameChanger can be used by teams and their coaches or scorekeepers to track their players’ pitch counts. To accomplish this, GameChanger’s in-app pitch counter will be branded with the Pitch Smart logo and will also embed the Pitch Smart guidelines into the app and website.

Naming GameChanger as the first certified app for the Pitch Smart initiative is a significant step towards solving the epidemic of overuse injuries in youth baseball.

“The Pitch Smart initiative is very recent, but the problem of pitcher arm injuries has been around for a long time,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s Vice President of League Economics & Strategy. “I think once our medical community got together and developed these recommendations around pitch counts and rest guidelines, that was great. The next challenge was figuring out a way to communicate it to people and combine it with a practical way to allow a youth coach to actually manage the pitch counts for his team, which is not necessarily an easy thing to do. From that extent, GameChanger was a perfect fit.”

Pitching guidelines for youth organizations are all over the map. Organizations such as Little League® and Babe Ruth have taken steps to protect youth arms, but differ in their respective approaches to achieving this goal. For instance, Little League® regulations dictate maximum pitch totals by age and mandate a specific amount of rest for players who throw a certain number of pitches, whereas Babe Ruth caps the maximum number of innings pitched based on age, and mandates rest requirements based on that number.

However, there are still baseball organizations that have not adopted any guidelines and instead rely on their coaches to use their best judgment when deciding which pitcher to use in a game.

“The Pitch Smart initiative is all about education and creating awareness for parents of kids that play for multiple teams during the year,” said Jeff Kamrath, the Director of Business Development & Partnerships for GameChanger. “Just because the coach wants your kid to pitch doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good idea if he hasn’t had enough rest or has been over-pitched.”

GameChanger has the resources to track and sort out the statistics to help pinpoint possible issues with a pitcher. According to Kamrath, in the last five years, GameChanger has scored over 4 million amateur baseball games and recorded over 800 million pitches thrown. According to Baseball Reference, in 139 years of MLB baseball, there have been 207,348 games played. It’s estimated that in those games, there have been approximately 59 million pitches thrown.

“The sheer amount of data we’ve been able to capture is exciting and can give us some really interesting perspective,” Kamrath said.

Pitch Smart is a long-term initiative, Sword noted, and even if it goes perfectly the results won’t be useful at the MLB level for a decade, simply because the history of current players getting injured at the big league level has never been captured. It will be years before today’s youth pitchers age into the professional ranks; years before the data being captured with GameChanger now will be able to help the baseball community better understand the causes of these overuse injuries.

“Our medical experts at the Major League level are becoming increasingly convinced that a lot of arm injuries later in players’ careers have to do with overuse at the youth levels,” Sword said. “I think pushing toward Pitch Smart compliance and awareness across all levels of youth baseball is tremendously important to us and our partners in the baseball community.”

Sword has heard plenty of feedback from youth coaches and parents who love the idea of Pitch Smart and want to implement the program.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reception this program has received in its early stages,” Sword said. “Every youth organization we talk to acknowledges that there’s a problem in this area, and the competitive nature of youth sports has fought against this kind of progress for a long time.”

“I think with USA Baseball and Major League Baseball behind it, and certainly some of our biggest names speaking out for this initiative, we’re hopeful that the behavior will start to change.”

Learn more about Pitch Smart and download GameChanger’s SXSW Sports presentation.