Over the last 20 years or so, pitch counts have become something of a hot-button issue in the baseball world. Not in the same way—for instance—concussions have taken the forefront in the world of football, but in the way that the discussion of the proper way to build-up arms seems to simmer just under the surface of any debate about pitching.
Until this year, it seems, when everything seems to be coming to a head.
Throughout the first two months of the Major League Baseball season, there has been a glut of injuries to pitchers. Pundits have been left scratching their heads as hurler after hurler lands on the disabled list, with many—such as Marlins’ phenom Jose Fernandez—forced to go under the knife.
Tommy John surgeries aren’t foreign to local sports fans either, as several New York pitchers, including the Mets’ Matt Harvey and the Yankees’ Ivan Nova, have all opted for the surgery to repair ligament damage over the last calendar year.
But why are all these injuries happening now?
Some opined it was the unusually cold spring we had that contributed to the ongoing arm problems of younger pitchers. Others scoffed at the notion, pointing to flawed mechanics or increased muscle-mass among Major League pitchers.
Others still feel the problems start earlier.
Two weeks ago, a high school coach in Washington received criticism from national news outlets after allowing a pitcher to throw 14 innings and 194 pitches in a must-win playoff game. The coach was contrite in the face of the public scorn, but his pitcher, senior Dylan Forschnat, defended his coach’s decision, taking to Twitter to point out that, as he didn’t plan to continue playing baseball after graduation, throwing 194 pitches wasn’t threatening to his future in any way.
Now, maybe throwing 194 pitches in a single outing isn’t putting a young arm at risk. There’s still no science that says one way or the other. Some, like Hall of Fame flamethrower Nolan Ryan, argue that babying the arms of youngsters will lead to problems down the road. Now, I’m no arm doctor, but I have been presented with evidence about the ill-effects that crossing the big right hander can have to one’s health (see Ventura, Robin), so I’ll just say; maybe Ryan has a point?
We’re in the midst of the Section I playoffs right now, a time when coaches might be tempted to ask for an inning more out of their number-one starter. Add in the condensed schedule due to the recent weather, and some teams will be playing three games in four days. With some insight as to the mindset of a pitcher, I don’t expect any of our local hurlers to hold anything back as they try to will their team to a section crown. And that’s where the coaches come in.
Overuse might lead to problems down the road, or it might not. I just hope they remember that, while the banner commemorating a championship might end up hanging in a school’s trophy case in perpetuity, arm problems can last these young pitchers a lifetime as well.
These kids would give everything they have to become a champion. Let’s just make sure they don’t have to.
Follow Mike on Twitter, @LiveMike_Sports