Few will question the fact that the game of baseball is now a pitchers’ game, as the Steroid Era of big-time sluggers has seen its day in MLB. Even fewer will argue the claim that pitchers are currently suffering from an arm injury epidemic, as the number of pitchers having Tommy John Surgery to repair throwing arms has alarmingly increased. Due to a change in the youth sports culture and how pitchers train today, the arm injury epidemic in baseball is damaging the game.
To put in layman’s terms, Tommy John Surgery more or less reconstructs the ligament structure of the arm and forces most pitchers to miss more than a season of action in order to fully recover. Notable young pitchers who have had the surgery in the past year and will not return until next season include Patrick Corbin, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Jarrod Parker, Matt Moore and very possibly Masahiro Tanaka.
So, why all of a sudden are so many pitchers facing these injury problems?
First off, the youth sports culture has changed greatly here in the United States. Rather than playing a different sport each season of the year, children are more frequently playing baseball all 12 months of the year now. Youth baseball is traditionally played throughout the spring, as well as parts of the summer and fall. However, as it has now become a year-round sport, children are pitching year-round without getting the proper rest for their arms. As a result, the few that eventually make it to “The Show” often begin suffering from arm injuries at a young age because of all the wear and tear on the elbow and its ligaments over the years.
Additionally, the way pitchers are being taught to throw the ball has changed drastically over the years. For anyone who has attended a baseball camp in the scorching summer heat, those who have can attest to those tedious throwing drills that focus on the proper form and technique of tossing a baseball. As painful and annoying those drills may be, they ultimately help teach young players how to correctly throw a baseball. However, the way young pitchers train today is much more different. Rather than focusing on the form and technique, pitchers are more concerned with strength and speed. The more strength and speed that one’s pitches have, the wider array of pitches one is able to throw.
However, as the old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Many of these pitches that guys can throw now put an extreme amount of torque on the elbow and its ligaments. Over the course of time, the constant throwing of these pitches will ultimately wear down and seriously injure the arms of many pitchers.
What may be most astonishing about this all is that players are pitching less in games than ever before, as the pitch count has become so glorified of a number that it is now a fixture on T.V. scoreboard graphics during a game. Not a game goes by where one does not see a team’s pitching coach holding a counter in his hand. As a result, the importance of a pitch count has prompted many pitchers to squeeze everything they have out of their arms before the pitcher is taken out of the game. There’s one thing for a pitcher to throw his best; there’s another thing to put himself in a position where he can get injured.
Worst of all might be the impact these injuries have on the teams who invest millions of dollars into these pitchers, only to see the money evaporate right in front of their eyes and bring back no return on the investment. As a result, teams are beginning to more carefully watch how they spend money on big-time pitchers.
Going forward, there are two possible solutions to this problem. First off, children must be encouraged to play other sports rather than just dedicate themselves year-round to baseball. Secondly, it is vital that pitchers are properly instructed on the form and technique of pitching rather than just being told to throw hard and with movement. For the good of baseball, I hope that this arm injury epidemic comes to a close soon, because it is destroying some of the best young talent that the game has.