It’s no coincidence that in baseball, the pitcher stands at the center of the field. Thousands of eyes watch them as they wind up and heave the ball into that magic zone between a player’s shoulders and knees. A pitcher can make or break a game, striking out a power hitter or giving up a game-ending run.
Whether playing in the local little league or the major league, form and function are essential for players to stay healthy and remain at the top of their game. For pitchers, proper form is especially important, as shoulder and elbow injuries can bench a player for a game or season — or even end a career.
Stewart Sanders is a physical therapist with Sharp Rees-Stealy and certified athletic trainer who leads Sharp’s monthly baseball throwing clinic. He answers six questions that pitchers, parents and coaches need to ask.
- Why is good pitching form important?
Good pitching form can prevent injury and improve a pitcher’s ability to effectively execute a specific pitch. Like any machine, movement efficiency (good form) decreases strain on the system (the body) and allows for ideal outcomes (strikes, not balls or hits).
- How important is it for coaches to be educated about good pitch form?
Coaches are the decision-makers when it comes to a pitcher’s performance. Coaches decide whether a pitcher should alter their mechanics to better execute pitches. Being able to identify bad mechanics will also help prevent injuries and allow a pitcher to be available to the team and potentially have a longer, healthier career.
- Are there any body types or age ranges that are better suited to pitching?
Not really. Great pitchers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. As long as throwing mechanics are efficient, pitchers can be effective. As we age, we tend to lack the strength and flexibility that we once had in our youth. As a result, velocity can diminish. A pitcher will need to be more accurate and rely on other ways to keep the hitter “off balance.”
- Pitching has changed a lot in baseball history, with fewer pitches thrown in a professional game, but more injuries experienced. Why is that?
This is the million-dollar question. Researchers have looked at many things including pitch counts, pitch types and fitness levels. The incidence of pitching injuries could be due to higher reports of pain and injury compared to previous generations. Players also have put a lot more focus on strength training, and this increased strength on the pitching frame could put added stress on the system. Most elite pitchers these days have been playing competitive baseball from an early age. The volume of throwing throughout one’s lifetime, and poor mechanics on a developing frame, could cause tissue breakdown and injury later.
- Are those trends being seeing in youth baseball?
Many of the injury trends seen in professional pitchers are starting to trickle down to amateur players. Shoulder and elbow surgeries are becoming more prevalent in youth baseball. Combining some of the above stated elements (volume, strength, flexibility) with an athlete’s frame that is immature and still developing can lead to injury.
- When should pitchers be evaluated and trained?
Pitchers should be under constant evaluation throughout the off-season and during the season. It is important to make sure the appropriate throwing mechanics are in place before one starts to build strength and power onto the system. Fitness training should include elements for strength, flexibility, coordination and power. Off-season training focuses more on these elements in combination with light throwing and then vice versa during the season.
Sharp Rees-Stealy offers monthly baseball throwing clinics for pitchers, parents and coaches. A physical therapist will discuss the mechanics of the throwing motion, as well as how to stay strong, flexible and healthy. Discussion will also include current research regarding pitch counts, pitch types and throwing exercises. Learn more and sign up for an upcoming clinic.