Pitch Count Limits and Pitch Smart: Why We Must Look Beyond the Numbers

I just finished reading an article on the USA Baseball website titled: MLB, USA Baseball announce Pitch Smart compliance program. Youth baseball organizations partner with Pitch Smart to adopt pitching safety guidelinesYou can read the article here. (http://web.usabaseball.com/article.jsp?ymd=20150410&content_id=117388756&vkey=news_usab) While I am in full agreement that the Pitch Smart program is greatly needed amongst the various youth baseball programs across the country, and I applaud the awareness that the program will bring to parents of youth players. Three questions still need to be answered regarding the impact this program will have on arm health moving forward. 1. Is every player listed by category of the same ability, size, strength, mobility, flexibility and overall athleticism?  2. Does a pitcher’s mechanics play a factor in both performance and injury prevention? 3. When it comes down to cal do the numbers add up?

Movement Patterns:

Each athlete has an individualized and unique central nervous system that controls movement patterns and the amount of mobility seen in these patterns. Efficiency in both will lend itself to one athlete’s ability to perform certain skills easier than another.  Here’s one scenario:  Player A does a particular throwing drill 1000 times and perfects it. Player B does the same drill, the same number of times, and can’t seem to get it down. Why? Here comes the age-old question of Nature vs. Nurture. Is it because player A was just born a better athlete or is it what he did from the time he was born till now? The truth is both. When examining factors of nurture, parents DO have some control of what happen with their child’s fundamental motor patterns.

Here are some factors that weigh in: How long did he crawl? How much time did he spend on his stomach? Did he spend a lot of time in a Jump-A-Roo (vertical loading of the spine too early)? Was he encouraged to walk before he was ready? What sports and activities did he play? How much time does he spend sitting? We could go on, but you get the point. All of these factors can affect mobility, which is the foundation of human movement. If an athlete is unable to go through a full range of motion, it will certainly affect performance. After mobility has been established, stability becomes the next building block. Can he go through full range of motion without losing control? Once a balance of mobility and stability have been achieved within the pattern, we can create strength within the movement. Power then becomes the last component which needs to be developed. A well-balanced baseball player has no limits on how much power he can add, but mobility and stability are not permanent, and need to be continuously revisited throughout the season. The bottom line: Each player is unique. If you take a step back from all of the lesson and instruction, the answer to a player’s success is within his own central nervous system.



After we look at movement patterning we must then assess mechanics. We assess throwing mechanics by looking for weaknesses in the Kinetic Chain. The kinetic chain works from the ground up and if a flaw exists within the chain you will have a breakdown in efficiency of the movement.  We see this supported by a study from March 2010 in Sports Health; The Kinetic Chain in Overhand Pitching: Its Potential Role for Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention talks about the kinetic chain. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445080/).
“To generate high velocity, the overhand pitcher must optimize the coordinated use of muscle segments throughout the body to generate and sequentially transfer potential energy to the upper extremity for conversion to kinetic energy to propel the baseball toward home plate. Inefficiency or failure of the kinetic chain can increase the kinetic requirements of the shoulder to maintain top velocity and performance. Knowledge of the kinetic chain and key temporal parameters of the throwing motion can improve technique that can assist in performance enhancement, rehabilitation, and injury prevention.�?


Of the two pitchers shown above, which player potentially has a better kinetic chain?  Can both of these pitchers handle the same work load throughout the season?

Pitch Count Limits and Required Rest Recommendations:

Age Daily Max (Pitches in Game) Required Rest (Pitches)
0 Days 1 Days 2 Days 3 Days 4 Days
7-8 50 1-20 21-35 36-50 N/A N/A
9-10 75 1-20 21-35 36-50 51-65 66+
11-12 85 1-20 21-35 36-50 51-65 66+
13-14 95 1-20 21-35 36-50 51-65 66+
15-16 95 1-30 31-45 46-60 61-75 76+
17-18 105 1-30 31-45 46-60 61-75 76+
19-22 120 1-30 31-45 46-60 61-75 76+

Finally, after looking at both of these factors, our final question is……… do the numbers add up?  Let’s use Pitcher A as the first example. Player A is a 9 year old pitcher who plays on a travel team in the Midwest, and his team plays 40 games per season.  Pitcher A plays on a solid team where 7 of his teammates also pitch. The season begins April 1 and ends July 15.  Each outing Pitcher A throws 50 pitches and does so twice a week until the end of the season, which consists of 16 total weeks.  I would think most travel coaches would view this as a relatively conservative number of pitches and the rest requirement between games fits the Pitch Smart Guidelines.

Pitcher B is also a 9 year old pitcher. Player B’s team plays in 8 tournaments throughout the year and also plays on a travel team in the Midwest which plays 40 games per year. Unlike player A, player B’s team is struggling to find enough pitchers to throw strikes throughout the course of the season.  In tournament play pitching restrictions are limited to two innings per game and a maximum of 10 innings per tournament.  The tournaments begin on Thursday and end on Sunday.  Pitcher B throws two innings during the week and averages 40 pitchers per game and then pitchers in three tournament games and averages 45 pitchers each of his three games.

The average person is going to say, “Pitcher B is throwing too much.�?  The problem, pitcher A has thrown a total of 1,600 pitches during the course of the season and pitcher B has thrown a total of 1,680 pitches during the same time frame.  In my opinion both pitchers have thrown too many pitches as the Pitch Smart Guideline use to recommend no more than 1,000 competitive pitches during the course of a season.


To recap, the baseball community must understand that an arbitrary number of pitches and days of rest won’t keep every pitcher healthy and performing well.  The key to staying healthy and performing well each and every outing begins and ends with proper functional movement that must continually be assessed.  Next week I will talk about the importance of a functional movement screen and how all baseball athletes will reach their optimal performance through a functional movement screen.




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