It seems like we can’t go a week this year without some pitcher in Major League Baseball hurting his arm and needing rest or even being sidelined for the season to undergo the infamous Tommy John surgery. That’s when a tendon is taken from another part of the body and attached to the damaged elbow.
It used to be when a player did that to his arm he was done but the surgery has saved a lot of careers, said Cam Moon, head coach of the Midget AAA Braves.
As a coach for the past 10 years, Moon has seen plenty of young arms come through the Red Deer Minor Baseball Association system. So far he hasn’t had to deal with a player suffering a season-ending arm problem and he credits the rules in part.
Baseball Alberta doesn’t allow for players of pee wee age to throw a breaking ball, one pitch which can put stress on the tendons in the elbow.
“Of course what we have with pitch counts now you’re extremely limited in the amount of pitches one can throw, all the way up, even to the midget level so that helps protect arms,” he said.
There are many theories as to why we are seeing so many Major League Baseball pitchers damaging their throwing arms.
Some of the experts point to the minor baseball system where young players are encouraged to throw as hard as they can in order to post a high number on the radar gun.
The reasoning behind that process is that pro-scouts are always looking for hard throwers and maybe passing by a kid who can pitch but doesn’t have the blazing fastball.
Being able to throw hard is an obvious advantage but being able to pitch at a young age is also a valuable asset for a young player, said Moon.
“As long as you throw strikes, change speeds, you’re going to have success. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw.”
Moon added we see more players on the diamond year-round and that may contribute to some arm damage as well.
One of the side effects from the pitch count is the fact you need to develop more pitchers on your team to make it through the season, said Moon.
“You can’t just go with a handful of guys. When we play four game weekends, once a kid gets over a certain amount then he’s got to have rest for four days.”
Under the current rules the maximum pitch count is 100 and anything over 79 pitches means that player needs to have the four days off before throwing again.
Moon said it’s a graduated scale for pitchers for no days rest, one day, two, three and four.
He added a young pitcher can do plenty to strengthen muscles in the pitching arm but building up the strength of a tendon in your elbow is another matter.
“You have to be very careful with them and that’s why we have pitch count rules and you’ve got to know your own body.”
The Braves also have the benefit of athletic therapist Terrance Robertson on the bench for all games and he’s available to the players if the need arises.
“He’s been tremendous because he knows so much about. It’s great to have that resource.”
Moon added the pitch count really takes the coach out of the decision to pull a pitcher and if one of his players comes to him with a complaint about arm or elbow pain he comes right out of the game.
“When a kid is out of gas he’ll let you know. If his max (pitch count) is 80, then it’s 80.”