“The number of pitches thrown has the strongest correlation to youth pitching injuries.” – Dr. James Andrews, Renowned Orthopedic Surgeon
(Source: Andrews, Dr. James R., Any Given Monday – Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them, For Athletes, Parents, and Coaches – Based On My Life In Sports Medicine), p. 55).
While I whole-heartedly agree with Dr. James Andrews, I think there is more to the story. In professional baseball, the number of pitches thrown is tracked in every game, for every pitcher. If a starting pitcher is hovering around 90 pitches after the 6th inning, he is probably having a great game and is positioned to go back out for the 7th. The math on that works out to be 15 pitches per inning – which is generally considered to be the average number of pitches thrown per inning. Depending on where at in the season, that pitcher may go beyond a 100-110 pitch count. But, as realistic as this total pitch count example may be in professional baseball, it should not be used in the context of youth baseball.
In youth baseball, the dynamics of multiple games per day each weekend makes managing pitch counts crucial for the coach. A coach should focus on long-term development for the pitcher, rather than short-term successes. Meaning, coaches must make the hard decision to replace a pitcher in order to protect that pitcher’s long-term development. I’m often told by youth baseball coaches that I don’t understand when I discuss this with them. Their argument is that they only have a few “arms” that can throw strikes so those “arms” are the ones that pitch. My response is typically, “Looks like you need to develop more “arms.” I do get it.
There is pressure to win the tournament and many coaches believe that they just need to manage total pitch count or total innings pitched over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That could not be more wrong.
Coaches need to pay attention to total pitches per inning more closely than total pitch count or total innings pitched. Total pitches per inning is a better indication of the stress or workload a pitcher is facing in a given game. Think of it this way, if I asked you to do 30, 30 yard sprints in 30 minutes, do you think you could do it? That’s sprinting around the bases 7.5 times. You could probably do it, but you’d be feeling it. Now, what if I asked you to do the same 30, 30 yard sprints, but instead of 30 minutes I gave you 60 minutes. How would you feel the next day? Better than when you ran it in 30 minutes!
My point is this – pitching is an explosive movement and the duration over which a total number of pitches is thrown is important when the question is regarding the stress/workload on a pitcher.
The tough decisions coaches have to make will never go away. But hopefully the below chart will help. This chart highlights the importance of total pitches per inning and when a pitcher should be replaced. Share this with your players, with parents, and most importantly with other coaches so everyone is one the same page about protecting the arms of youth pitchers.