Injuries are on the rise among youth baseball pitchers, but preventative measures can be taken to ensure a long and healthy pitching career. In this article on youth pitching in baseball, we will assess the risk factors, see what baseball coaches and pitching instructors should be teaching, look at pitch-count guidelines, review a survey about the youth habits of professional pitchers, and apply our knowledge to become a more complete pitcher.
1. Throwing the curveball at too early an age.
2. Too many pitches per game.
3. Poor pitching mechanics resulting from faulty coaching and pitching instruction.
4. Inadequate conditioning and practice habits.
Proper Coaching and Pitching Instruction
1. No youth pitcher should be throwing the curveball before 14 years old.
2. No sliders before 18 years old.
3. The change-up is not considered any more stressful than the fastball and should be utilized in place of the curveball and slider.
4. Monitor pitch counts.
Pitching Guidelines (Pitches Per Game, Games Per Week)
Age - pitches/game - games/week
8-10 - 52 - 2
11-12 68 2
13-14 76 2
15-16 91 2
17-18 106 2
College pitchers at top Division I programs do not pitch more than 100- to 120-pitches per game. Minor and Major League pitchers are kept on strict pitch counts of no more than 125 pitches per game. Therefore, at the youth level, pitch counts exceeding our recommended guidelines place the pitcher in danger of hurting his arm and possibly ruining his career.
Pitching Guidelines (Recovery)
Age 1 day 2 days 3 days 4 days
8-10 21 34 43 51
11-12 27 35 55 58
13-14 30 36 56 70
15-16 25 38 62 77
17-18 27 45 62 89
In the Chicago Cubs organization, recovery days are closely monitored. If a professional pitcher throws 25 pitches in a contest, he automatically has to wait 24 hours to pitch again, no exception! It's 48 hours when a pitcher hurls 35 pitches, 72 hours for 60 pitches, and four days for pitch counts above 75 pitches. Starting pitchers are on a five day rotation regardless of pitches thrown in an appearance, however, no pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization hurls more than 100- to 125-pitches at a time.
How To Stay Safe
A survey by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) found most professional pitchers:
- Didn’t throw the curveball until the age of 14, not at the Little League level (ages 10-12).
- Threw their first slider at 18 years old not at 13-14 years old as frequently seen today.
- High pitch counts and reports of arm injuries were rare.
- Year-round baseball was uncommon and most participated in other sports.
- Had proper instruction that told them not to throw the curveball until age 14 or slider until 18 years old.
Delaying the use of the curveball until a later age (14 years old) may help protect the young arm against future injury and may promote optimal development of pitching skill and strength, especially the fastball.
Information from various sources including PBATS website, Dr. Joseph B. Chandler, MD, senior orthopedic consultant for the Atlanta Braves, and Dr. James Andrews.
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