The Arm Pain Game

August 17, 2021
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In this day and age of arm injuries, it seems like everyone has an opinion on arm health.

Pitch counts, curve balls, mechanics are at the top of the topic list but what about the most important area?

What area? Recovery.

When most people think about sore arms, pain, and even arm injuries the most common responses or assumptions are something like what I wrote below.

Arm Pain?  It must of have been:

He throws too much
He pitches too much
He has poor mechanics
He threw too many pitches
He throws a curve ball
He plays too many games

 

One of the things that the doctors, pitching coaches, and physical therapist seem to agree upon seems to be a lack of rest and recovery is the number 1 contributor to arm pain and injuries.

The number one contributor to arm pain, is a pitcher throwing in a single game, and not getting the appropriate rest needed before pitching in the next game.

This gets hidden when teams play in tournaments. 

A coach throws a pitcher on a Friday for 3 innings and then attempts to bring the same pitcher back on Saturday or Sunday.

Parents are quick to say our coach keeps my son to a pitch count, so everything is good.

Here is the reality: 3 Innings? 3 Innings could be 60 pitches or could be 30 pitches.

Either way, our general rule is the pitcher needs at least 1 hour recovery for every pitch that is thrown in a baseball game.

48 Pitches, requires a minimum of 48 hours of rest.

This means a pitcher who pitched 3 innings and 48 pitches on Friday would actually need to sit out on Saturday and Sunday
and would not be eligible to pitch until Monday.

How many teams do you think follow this logic?

Also, consider in most of youth and much of high school baseball the better pitchers are the better players.  This means the pitcher who pitched 3 innings on Friday is likely going to go play short stop, or third base, or catch on Saturday.

Now we have a pitcher who just threw 48 pitches, who will now be heading to a higher stress throwing position like short stop, third or catcher.  I’m not saying the other positions don’t have stress, but these are longer throws and typically more throws.

Factor in, that a player is also playing another position.  Keep in mind the number of throws on ground balls in between innings.

The number of throws the player makes while playing catch in pre-game or between innings.

The number of throws the pitcher already made from the mound, plus in between innings, plus his pre game.

This adds up to a ton of throwing for a youth or teenage athlete.

1. Players are throwing a lot more than people think.

2. Players are NOT getting the needed and suggested recovery that
doctors are suggesting.

Why?

As we know tournament baseball does not help the situation. Playing 4-5 games in a 2 day span is insane.

This includes for position players who don’t pitch. This is NOT just a pitching thing.

Think of the number of throws, the number of warm ups, and the game action regardless
of position.

Think of a catcher.  For those parents who hate when coaches share catching time, think about how much throwing 4-5 games in 2 or 3 days actually is in reality.

Tournament baseball is built in for you not to get time to recover.

Lack of recovery time is number 1 on the doctors list of influencing arm pain and arm injuries.

 

Roster Sizes…. 

Travel baseball has continued to put 10-12 players on a team.

When you combine tournament baseball along with a 12 man roster, you start to see why so many arm injuries, arm pain situations are likely
to occur.

Who else is going to play third base? Pitch? Catch?  You only have so many choices.

Ideally much larger rosters who eliminate over stressed arms. 18-man rosters would afford players to rotate every game saving arms.   The problem is who is going to be ok with playing every other game or every other day?

Most parents number one question they want to know is how many players will be on the roster?

Yet, too few players is exactly what stresses the arm of player out because the coach has too few choices.

It’s a nasty web.

Winning. 

Let’s face the facts. Parents can say they want development but I see so many parents get easily influenced by wins and losses.

If the coach wins, he is a good coach.  If he loses he is a bad coach.

Winning.   Often it will take pitching players on shorter rest.  It will take pitching your pitcher one day, and putting him at short stop the very next game even if it’s the same day.

These are choices coaches are forced to make when playing tournament baseball.

Do I use a player to help me win the game, or do I give him a game off or put him at less stressful
throwing position which means we might not win the game.

These are the situations all coaches are up against when they enter the tournament baseball world.

General Rule in the Fastball USA world – 

Every pitch a pitcher throws requires 1 hour of rest

After pitching, we will put him at less stressful throwing position or even sit him, or DH him, in order to help with recovery.

Note –  Some parents say they want development but at the same time would be furious if their kid was sitting or playing a position that is not his main position despite our intended efforts to look out for the player in the long run.

 

Pitch Counts are B.S. 

Judging a pitcher’s stress strictly based on a pitch counts is not even close to telling the story.

He only pitched 3 innings? 3 innings could be 60 pitches or 20 pitches.

He only threw 60 pitches?  60 pitches could be in 2 innings or in 7 innings.

Which one is more stressful?

 

Pitches per inning is a better indicator of stress levels – 

Generally less than 20 pitches per inning we refer to as less stressful

Generally more 20-30 pitches in one inning we refer to as stressful

Generally 30 plus pitches in one inning means the pitcher is done no matter what on that day.

Less than 20 he is green (could go another)

2 stressful innings the pitcher is done

1 single 30+ pitch inning the pitcher is also done

Why?

If you did 60 push ups and broke it into sets of 15 and took a 10 minute break between set’s I think you would find it less stressful. If you did 30 consecutive push up’s twice, you might find that more stressful.

Lastly, pitch counts need to consider the individual. For some pitchers throwing 10 pitches is high stress.
For others they can throw 75 pitches over 5 innings and not be stressed at all.  That’s an average of 15 pitcher per inning all while getting a 10 minute break in between.

Some pitchers are better physically and mechanically prepared.
Some pitchers are less physically and mechanically prepared.

 

How often should my kid pitch?  

Ideally a pitcher should not be pitching more than once per week. Especially if the pitch counts get closer to 50.

Let the player get ample rest and recovery time before pitching again.  More rest is better than less rest.

This is why for years in our teams have often not been able to finish well in tournament play.

We make sure we get our main “pitchers” a chance to pitch.  We try very hard NOT to re-pitch anyone.

This leaves us with less options when you go deeper into a tournament.

This leaves parents griping about strategy.

Why didn’t he pitch this kid?
Why is so and so playing short?
Why is so and so catching?

Simple. We are looking at big picture, long term, and NOT putting out all the stops to win a trophy that nobody will care about on Monday.

As long as I have been around the game I notice some people talk about development and do the opposite.

Some parents say they want development, but when they get it, they still feel something is missing.  Feeding the ego, winning, starts to take priority.  They find other reasons to complain to make them feel better.

Consider this…. 

MLB relief pitcher throws 2 innings and 30 plus pitches. What are the chances he will pitch the next day?  Less than 5%.

Even if a closer throws 1 inning on Friday, 1 inning on Saturday, the chances of him pitching Sunday is very small.

These are grown men getting paid millions of dollars. 

 

Consider this….

Do you ever see MLB players playing 5 games in 2 or 3 days? Do you ever see college or high school playing 5 games in 2 days?

 

Why on earth are players who are NOT fully developed playing 4,5,6,7 games inside of 3 days???

Recovery is the number one issue that has led to arm pain, arm injury,
and young players seeing physical therapist at an alarming rate.
This is a fact.
Players who are under prepared physically and mechanically, are placed under stress of winning, and the stress of constant play.

 

Here is a tip – 

Train your body, and your arm to prepare for the stress.
Training time should be 5x as much as you play.
If not, you are more likely to be over stressed.

Play less, prepare more.

Avoid tournaments that will put you in high stress situations if you can.  Some tournaments do a great job of spreading games out over a 4-5 day span making sure you are not playing multiple games in a day.

Play in a league where you can control your schedule and plan out what you want to happen. Think long term.

I feel bad for the coaches out there because many of them will agree with me but many of them will agree that parents also put pressure on them to win.

For some other coaches, winning, and winning now is what makes them feel like great coaches.

If you’re going to choose an organization to play for consider these questions:

1. What is the environment like?
Does my kid get criticized for every mistake, or he is encouraged to be aggressive and make aggressive mistakes. Is winning the most important thing, or preparing him for high school or college baseball the most important thing?

 

2.   When it comes to his arm do they have his interests in mind?
This means do they say one thing, but at the end of the day they do another.  He is constantly put in high stress situations with his arm. They might do a bunch of eye wash arm care exercises, but really he is being stressed out constantly.

 

3.   Is there a long term developmental training program that over shadows the actual games.   Is training and practicing taking priority? Or is this an organization that simply re-loads each year replacing players with better players and don’t stick to a developmental philosophy.

These are just ideas and a posting to create better awareness for parents and coaches.

All of this is included in my personal mentorship programs.

The world of travel baseball has gone insane. Be ready for it.

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