Curve? Slider? What does ASMI Say?

In an online discussion Dr. Glen Fleisig of ASMI stated…

A study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine by our group compared the biomechanics of the fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. This study found relatively few differences in shoulder and elbow forces among the fastball, curveball and slider, while the change-up showed lower forces. Therefore, this study does not support the notion that the curveball is especially stressful and dangerous. HOWEVER, this study used college baseball pitchers and it is unknown whether there would be differences between the fastball and curveball in youth pitchers. This is something that needs to be looked into next. I can tell you that the anatomy of a youth baseball pitcher makes him susceptible to some additional risks that adults are not susceptible to. Specifically, youth pitchers have soft spots in the ends of their bones (as do all children), known as “growth plates.” These growth plates are the areas of your bones where most of the growth occurs. Youth pitchers who end up with elbow and shoulder injuries often have injuries at these growth plates. Again, not to confuse the issue, there are a number of studies looking at curveballs in young pitchers, and at this point, it is inconclusive in my opinion.

I’ll hold my comments on one aspect.
But I will say this, when we allow doctors to control an activity, particularly one that has inherent risks, that activity will always (Without exception) become more consevative in it’s approach to the activity. Is this bad or good? Positive or negative? I don’t know. What is sure is that there are places where doctors don’t control this activity, in my opinion those places are in ascendency as far as baseball and particularly pitching dominance.
We are also subject to the fickle winds of the science, theories change all of the time (Check out the recent post by Paul Nyman on this site, he notes the many changes Dick Mills has had in his theories. The science of pitching a baseball changes with regularity, by degrees.
In the evolution of my knowledge of pitching I have learned (Changed) many things and expect to continue to do that.
Boy do I look forward to comments on this.

I find it hard to believe the forces on the arm would be the same between fastball and curveball. When throwing a curve, force is imparted around the ball. When throwing a fastball, force is imparted through the ball. This explains why the fastball travels faster than the curve even when both pitches are thrown with the same arm speed. Due to the laws of physics (equal and opposite forces), when imparting more force on the ball, the ball imparts more force back on the arm.[/i]

I hold a high regard for Dr. Fleisig and Co. at ASMI. However, if you expect to get the kind of statement from him about the curveball that came out about pitch counts ,you might wait a long time.
ASMI is the most influential “science” based consultant to baseball.

Little League, USA Baseball and NPA all take counsel there. Until a definitive statement is made I have to go with my observations over the last ten years.

Four of the most effective youth pitchers I saw in our area used the curveball frequently before they reached high school age. Three have dropped out of high school baseball due to elbow and shoulder injuries. The fourth still plays because he can hit but the arm is shot. There were other pitchers who threw as often as they did but only fastballs and changes. They are still in the program. This is just one person’s experience but I suspect many others can relate similar stories.

My reason for limiting the curveball/slider has nothing to do with science. I refused to let my son throw a curveball in practice or in competition because I wanted him to set a firm foundation with the fastball. Once a kid starts throwing the curve it takes time away from practicing the fastball and change. It was tough because those other pitchers were making batters look silly with the curve but at the cost of command of the fastball.

So, it wouldn’t matter to me if ASMI came out and said the curveball was definitely just as safe to throw as the fastball. I’d still recommend no curveballs until the pitcher has complete command of the fastball and change-up.

[quote=“Dino”]My reason for limiting the curveball/slider has nothing to do with science. I refused to let my son throw a curveball in practice or in competition because I wanted him to set a firm foundation with the fastball. Once a kid starts throwing the curve it takes time away from practicing the fastball and change. It was tough because those other pitchers were making batters look silly with the curve but at the cost of command of the fastball. [/quote]Right on, Dino!!!

Great post, Dino!!!

Well right on to you Dino! I would call your reasoning intellectual and logically pure. Unlike Roger, I can’t, so won’t, argue the science. His (Fleisig) statement was in regards to over-use but I don’t think he quibbled about the curve, simply hedged at the age aspect. My point is this though, that science changes (Remember, until Anton Van Lewayenhook (sp?) figured it out, we thought maggots/flys came from rotten meat). When we allow doctors/lawyers/bureaucrats to control our sport we lose.
I would suspect that a closer look at the group you mentioned you’d probably have one or more of the following other parameters (Other than just trhowing a curve); Way too many innings in a given period and or poor mechanics. If not I would submit that your instance is an abhorration. No I think things like Travel Ball has way more to do with arm injury than throwing a certain type of pitch.
My over all point was that we are losing in baseball to others in the world who are less restrictive in the approach they take to the game. If simply keeping from injury is pertainent then we may as well follow Mike Marshall on down the tubes and allow no one to pitch until they are 21 or something. I wish people would crusade as hard against things like letting a kid throw in the hundreds of innings, with back to back appearances, no time for recovery etc. on kids that should be playing capture the flag or tag (6/7/8/9 year old travel teams with 100 game schedules). Our approach and tactics on how to produce a quality athlete/pitcher is very obviously wrong.
I suggest that the reason for this is two fold, one we refuse to see how wrong it is to subject pre-pubescent youngsters to a schedule that would kill a grown man and two we are abdicating how we play the game to a (With respect) group of people that drive us to a more and more conservative approach in how it’s played. It is ironic in a sense that we are SOOOOO worried about the curve but don’t flinch at what we do in travel ball. We need doctors in the sport, but to treat injured athletes, not to drive us on how to play the game.

Well you’ve given me alot to chew on here. I usually like to keep things brief. You can never regret something you didn’t say!

Let me just respond to the travel ball issue. I think this has more to do with the affluent middle class. My son has been asked three times to join a travel team in metro Pittsburgh. I can’t afford the extra time commitment let alone the money. Those same coaches didn’t ask how many teams he was currently playing on or how many pitches he’s logged.

My dad didn’t have to make that decision. He was a low middle class steel worker that couldn’t afford to replace my worn out Milt Pappas pitchers mitt let alone pay for a travel team and drive me all over God’s creation for competition.

Somehow, (without travelball) ,we had some college players come from my graduating class and a Golden Spikes Award winner.

“Well you’ve given me alot to chew on here. I usually like to keep things brief”.

The purpose of the thread was to get folks from this site to look at it from many ways. I hope many more bring what they have to this.
(EXCEPT for that guy, heelan13, who is just pimping his site and not adding anything…boo)

Lots of good wisdom coming out in this thread.

I’m a little surprised noone commented on my post because my “scientific” explanation would seem to support the notion that curves are safe because they don’t put as much force on the arm as does the fastball. Oh well, noone took the bait.

The purpose of my post was to make people think about other things enter into the picture and make certain pitches “dangerous” (to use the word from Fleisig’s comment). We don’t know what forces were measured. We don’t know what type of mechanics were used to throw the pitches. Were the pitches thrown properly? And, if so, does that eliminate some forces that would otherwise be present if the pitches are thrown incorrectly? For example, supinating while throwing that curve or slider introduces some rotational forces that might not otherwise be present if the pitch is thrown correctly. Or so it would seem.

To summarize, I think Fleisig’s comment doesn’t provide enough details for us to really pass any kind of judgement on the conclusions they’ve drawn from their study. We can only speculate.

I suspected the discussion would go that way. I just wanted to point out how we are giving the “conventional wisdom” of our game to people that are more concerned with being doctors and not pitchers and coaches, a by-product of this is our losing competitieness in a world setting. We are approaching the game in more and more conservative ways (Pitch count, limit curves), while we don’t flinch at all at letting children who should be playing for just fun (6/7/8/9 yr olds), through a schedule that would kill an adult. We grind them up (If Travel Ball was such a great thing, America “should” be undefeatable) and make our selves feel better by saying we won’t allow curves…how ironic.

Oh, you knew I just HAD to join in on this one …

First, I’m with Dino – it is of utmost importance for a young pitcher to learn to COMMAND the fastball (as well as establish good mechanics) before anything else. In my mind, the second thing is the changeup. And by the time a kid has truly developed command of both pitches, and can repeat excellent mechanics, he’s probably reached the age of 17 or 18 anyway.

Second, I’m still of the opinion that the slider puts more of a strain on the elbow and related ligaments, for the majority of pitchers, regardless of age. This opinion is based partly on the fact that, despite the latest wonders of science, developments in technology, knowledge of mechanics, concentration on weight training and other body strength techniques, as well as other advances in the sport of baseball, professional pitchers throw less pitches, less innings, and are less effective every year — and more are suffering injuries requiring surgery than ever before. How is it that for over 100 years pitching statistics remained relatively constant, then began a rapid decline from around the mid-1980s to now?

These are what I have recognized as the most significant changes to pitching since the 1970s:

  1. Pitch counts
  2. Five-man rotation
  3. Slider
  4. Radar gun

Numbers one and two keep a pitcher from building strength and stamina. In every other sport (and even at other positions in baseball), to get better and stronger you do something more. Except in pitching, where the (il)logic plan is to pitch LESS.

The slider was relatively nonexistent until the late 1960s, and ever since became used more and more. Injuries have gone up in direct proportion to the slider’s use. Maybe one is not related to the other, but it is worth investigating.

The prevalence of radar guns has caused scouts, coaches, and pitchers to be overly concerned with MPH before command, movement, changing speeds, and other finer points. I have witnessed MLB scouts give bad advice (in regard to mechanics) to young pitchers for the express purpose of “dialing it up” a few more MPH.

OK you may point out that expansion is a fifth reason, as it has diluted pitching, and that would be a good argument if there were more than a handful of pitchers who threw more than 220 innings a year — that used to be routine for a fourth starter. Even with dilution, there should still be a relative amount of talent; more cream rising to the top. When was the last time, in a non-strike year, neither league produced a 20-game winner? And the NL leader in wins had only 16???

Maybe if pitchers threw more often, and weren’t so concerned with their radar gun numbers, their arms would be stronger and better equipped to withstand the stress of a slider.

Um … I went a little off-topic, and apologize. But I guess the point is near to what JD is trying to say: that we’re giving away conventional wisdom to people that know nothing about baseball … and the worst thing is, that the people who should know better (i.e., MLB scouts, GMs, pitching coaches, etc.) are buying into all the bunk and thus advancing the madness. When will the insanity end? When starting pitchers go one time through the lineup, and leave after the third?

Don’t laugh … in 1990 you would have chuckled if I said a starting pitcher such as John Maine would be lauded for 4-inning performances in the postseason.

sorry for the rant …

[quote]These are what I have recognized as the most significant changes to pitching since the 1970s:

  1. Pitch counts
  2. Five-man rotation
  3. Slider
  4. Radar gun
    [/quote]

I’m not sure I agree with the slider becoming popular only after 1960. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers lists many pitchers who threw the slider pre-1960. Ted Williams also referred to many pitchers who threw him sliders and even referred to it as the greatest pitch in all of baseball.

Along the same lines as the radar gun, is just the overall pitching strategy implemented in the “old days” was a lot different. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, the league leaders in K/9 would generally have between 5 and 7 K/9. That’s about average in MLB today. Since there were no radar guns, pitcher’s were smart and simply lets guys hit the ball. Ground balls were the goal and not too many guys maxed out velocity wise.

"Oh, you knew I just HAD to join in on this one … "

Which is why I withheld 1st comments…
Joe you did just what we both just said (Handing “conventional wisdom” over to “others”) , in the hoseman post you sited AMSI as part of your logic about his kids slider…When I saw this discussion (On another site), it flat cracked me up…and it made me think.
Now I don’t think personally that AMSI was your main point, I think where you were coming from was more akin to the logic Dino threw out there on his post on this thread. Which from a baseball perspective is solid as it can be. If more people thought along those lines this discussion wouldn’t be happening. You have to crawl to walk, walk to run, so if you don’t establish a solid foundation in which to pitch, you risk the ramifications of that inaction. I think quoteing the med side of it all is an easy short hand. Sort of like the Marshallites that say without their mechanics, you are comitting child abuse. Don’t have to articulate an educated arguement, “Why… you are not for healthy arms?” Who is going to fight against that?
Well now that we are falling away from the upper levels of baseball skill in the world, we as a community MUST look at the way we approach our sport and change or simply just accept that we won’t compete on the world stage. I believe it is just that simple and crucial.

[quote=“jdfromfla”]"Oh, you knew I just HAD to join in on this one … "

Which is why I withheld 1st comments…
Joe you did just what we both just said (Handing “conventional wisdom” over to “others”) , in the hoseman post you sited AMSI as part of your logic about his kids slider…When I saw this discussion (On another site), it flat cracked me up…and it made me think.
Now I don’t think personally that AMSI was your main point, I think where you were coming from was more akin to the logic Dino threw out there on his post on this thread. Which from a baseball perspective is solid as it can be. If more people thought along those lines this discussion wouldn’t be happening. You have to crawl to walk, walk to run, so if you don’t establish a solid foundation in which to pitch, you risk the ramifications of that inaction. I think quoteing the med side of it all is an easy short hand. Sort of like the Marshallites that say without their mechanics, you are comitting child abuse. Don’t have to articulate an educated arguement, “Why… you are not for healthy arms?” Who is going to fight against that?
Well now that we are falling away from the upper levels of baseball skill in the world, we as a community MUST look at the way we approach our sport and change or simply just accept that we won’t compete on the world stage. I believe it is just that simple and crucial.[/quote]

First, it’s the ASMI (not AMSI) — not being critical, just want to point that out for people who might be looking for the organization online.

Secondly, I like to look to the ASMI for guidance in regard to kids – that is, players under the age of 17 – because I’m not medically inclined at all and know very little about growth plates and other issues concerning a growing body. It’s not a cop out, or shorthand – it’s protection against my lack of knowledge of adolescent biological issues. As I gain more experience with younger kids, I might change my view, but right now I’ll defer to the doctors — better to err on the side of safety, especially when it comes to a pitch (slider) that to me should be an afterthought in a pitcher’s development and game strategy. IMHO it’s more important to develop solid, repeatable mechanics in youths. Also, depending on how a growth spurt occurs, many kids have to learn their mechanics all over again, as they get used to their “new” bodies.

After a kid turns 17/18, and is fully grown, the pitch counts go out the window and all the pitches become available, as far as I’m concerned. Though, I still prefer that nearly all pitchers command the fastball, change, and curve before anything else. And in my experience — which includes professionals — there are very few who truly command those three.

While I agree that it is fair to question the recommendations put forth by bodies such as the ASMI, my question is, how do we go about pushing and experimenting with adolescents without hurting them? Many of us, from our own experience, have witnessed youngsters who need elbow surgery, or have torn a rotator cuff, and never came back. The doctors tell us it has something to do with growth plates. What is our course of action in questioning the efforts and studies of the ASMI – as far as youths go ?

(BTW this is a challenge, not a criticism)

I hadn’t thought anything but good discussion.

Well to defer to expertise is reasonable, but within our sport I would submit that we have our own experts, people such as Dino who didn’t need a doctor to tell him that it was best to become proficient with the fastball, prior to expanding as a pitcher, who also wasn’t fascinated by Travel Ball to the point in which he allowed his children to be missused to the point of them being crippled or burnt out or completely cynical.
What I keep saying is by moving (And I’m not putting those who do down or being critical) our approach to let the medical profession or attorneys or the government, dictate what we teach or do, we are becoming so cautious we are losing our superiority. I want to make people involved start thinking about it and considering whether or not our community needs to change or to accept the loss as inevitable. If we agree this has to change we then have to consider how it will be done. This will prove doubly hard because now the other entities are so established that we are talking huge money and as you well know money can keep lots of crazy things happening (Aluminum Bats, Travel Ball…etc).

Well here you have hit the nail on the head, showing where all these hypotheses and recommendations have emanated from.

25 years ago, I was a little leaguer, and no one knew what pitch counts were. No one knew anything about mechanics, either, expect for one old gray-haired guy who played “Organized Ball” about forty years before. As a result, we just kind of “felt” our way around the game, usually by trying to emulate our favorite players’ styles.

Baseball camps and clinics, for the most part, didn’t exist, and neither did “travel teams” — at least, not until you were in Babe Ruth League. Once the LL season was over in June, you played wiffle ball, stickball, and other variations of pickup baseball from dawn to dusk with the kids in the neighborhood. If you were lucky, you might be able to watch a baseball game on TV on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, on one of the local channels (remember, we only had about 6 or 7 TV channels, on a dial, back then).

I do vaguely remember some of the more “serious” kids not being allowed to throw curveballs — not until they were 15. And in high school I’m certain there were games in which I threw well over 180 pitches in a game — but didn’t ask to come out because I didn’t feel anything hurting me.

Back then — the 1970s and early 1980s — MLB pitchers were still expected to complete at least half of their games, and were ashamed of being taken out of the game. One of the biggest contracts given out was a 10-year, $2M deal to Wayne Garland. He was one of a handful of guys who blew out their arms and ended their careers (today, they probably could have come back after surgery). Catfish Hunter and Mark Fidrych also come to mind, as far as career-ending injuries go, but they seemed to be more the exception, as people like Jim Kaat, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, and even relative unknowns such as Roger Erickson and Geoff Zahn were routinely logging 250+ innings a year.

However, once the money started getting bigger and bigger on the MLB level, and cable TV contracts came into play (among other financial resources), the effect of the dollars trickled down to where we are today — and the 8-year-old travel clubs you allude to. The big money, Wayne Garland-type investments gone wrong resulted in a new way of thinking about pitching – because an injury resulted in dollars lost. That’s where the doctors, trainers, and other medical pros started to come in, with their studies and limits. And when parents started to see the multimillion-dollar contracts given out to pros, it made them think about protecting their kids, because, who knows, maybe they’d grow up to be ballplayers. (Not to mention all the money poured into equipment, lessons, travel, etc.)

If it makes sense to do so, is it too late to reverse the process? Is it too crazy to throw the caution of the last 20 years to the wind? Are there parents and kids who will be content to play stickball and whiffleball all summer, rather than compete on a formal travel team in a 180-game, year-round schedule?

35+ years ago our stud pitcher blew out his arm during LL all-stars. He tried coming back a couple years later and threw hard, I know because we had to catch for each other, but never could get over the arm problems.

Don’t kid yourselves and pretend there weren’t arm problems in the past. Pitch counts and innings limits have reduced arm injuries. Ignoring them by playing travel ball year around has increased arm injuries.

The biggest difference I see is that back then we threw 6 innings once a week, played a position in the field once a week and maybe practiced once a week as opposed to practicing or playing almost daily as many of the travel ball players do. Other than that we played catch if our arm felt OK and didn’t if it hurt.

I do wonder if 6 innings once a week is easier on the arm than 3 or 4 innings twice a week. Probably varies from pitcher to pitcher.

What people have failed to mention in this thread is that there are other ASMI studies that have shown that although the forces are not greater from throwing curves, they are different and that the likelihood of arm injury does increase when youth pitchers throw breaking balls.

ASMI is currently in the process of conducting a study of the effect of throwing curves on youth pitchers and hopefully that will shed more light on the subject when it is completed.

“ASMI is currently in the process of conducting a study of the effect of throwing curves on youth pitchers and hopefully that will shed more light on the subject when it is completed.”

I pointed out that we would see similar and contradictory reports.
I don’t think throwing caution to the wind (Opening up the status quo to any and every type of experimentation) is where we need to be. But I also think we have this MBA type philosophy that everything is a quantitive thing and the humanity gets left out. Again the premise that really hasn’t been challenged here is that we are losing ground competitively in the world. We are being spanked everytime we go out. Why? How do we overcome it? I suggest that limiting and controlling the things we do and the way we train is proving absolutely counter productive. My theory is two fold (Sorry to repeat it), 1st we’ve given control from people like Dino and for that matter folks like Trader Jack and Joe Torre, Leo Mazzoni, Pop-eye Zimmer…“The Old School” and placed it into the hands of the Andrew’s and Flesig’s, who though they are highly regarded as physicians (Brilliant perhaps), they should not control our approach to the sport (Again this doesn’t mean that I am recommending we go out and teach an 11 yr old a slider/curve or screwgie).
I can see that of the places where baseball skill has exceeded ours that Latin America holds the answer to how to fix it. Japan is a much different (And alien to American thought) philosophy than ours. What I see in Latin America is kids playing (Though gringo schools and scouts are starting to take control) in a kid like way (Cheap fun…how many of you has heard the stories about the Sosa’s of the world that started with a milk carton tied to their hand as a glove). They also have desire. That is about the sum of it. Not much else. Well we have desire and money and Travel Team All Stars and big business and we are losing. My contention is that we have/are micro-managing the sport right into the toilet. I don’t know what will fix it but I think a start would be the bringing down of Travel Baseball, I think if we do that the majority of arm issues will disappear. In 20 years (40 or so teams) the only kids that I have ever seen blow out a wing were involved with heavy Travel Ball schedules, did they throw breaking pitches? You bet, was it a factor? You bet. CADad I think is close also when he remembers the lack of arm abuse in the “Old Days”.
I often tell of the University of North Floridas summer camps, where (Head Coach) Dusty Rhoads has the very best of his under 14 yr old talent, play on a Softball field, with a rubber ball. He does it so that this group (Who, he knows the majority are Travel Ballers) can just have a wild fun time just playing the game instead of sweating it out every second. I wish everyone could see the looks and attitude of these guys as they just go nuts and you never see a kid injured or come up hurting.
Sorry so long.

[quote=“CADad”]Don’t kid yourselves and pretend there weren’t arm problems in the past. Pitch counts and innings limits have reduced arm injuries. Ignoring them by playing travel ball year around has increased arm injuries.
[/quote]

I’m not saying there weren’t arm injuries … what I am pointing out is that the injuries have not gone down. In fact, it appears they have gone UP since we started coddling young hurlers.

I don’t necessarily buy the idea that pitch counts and innings limits have decreased arm injuries. They have certainly helped avoid overuse in many cases, but the fixation on winning at levels where winning should be secondary is more detrimental than the number of pitches. Because in the end it’s more about mechanics and how those pitches are thrown. If a 12-year-old kid has poor mechanics and is throwing 60% breaking pitches, does it matter whether he’s throwing 30 or 50 or 100 pitches in a day? 30 breaking pitches thrown with bad mechanics are much worse than a kid with smooth mechanics throwing 100 good fastballs.

[quote=“palo20”]
I’m not sure I agree with the slider becoming popular only after 1960. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers lists many pitchers who threw the slider pre-1960. Ted Williams also referred to many pitchers who threw him sliders and even referred to it as the greatest pitch in all of baseball.[/quote]
We can agree to disagree on this. Teddy Ballgame also stated — in the late 1960s — that the recent prevalance of the slider would be one of the main factors (along with nighttime baseball) there would never be another .400 hitter. The Guide you mention might list many pitchers who threw the slider, but how many were using is as often as pitchers do today? Watching MLB, you routinely see guys throwing over 30% of the time, and for strikes — that’s not the point of the pitch.

[quote=“palo20”]
Along the same lines as the radar gun, is just the overall pitching strategy implemented in the “old days” was a lot different. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, the league leaders in K/9 would generally have between 5 and 7 K/9. That’s about average in MLB today. Since there were no radar guns, pitcher’s were smart and simply lets guys hit the ball. Ground balls were the goal and not too many guys maxed out velocity wise.[/quote]

EXACTLY. And since the radar gun, both scouts and cops became lazy and dependent on the technology — and used the gun more as a CYA tool than anything else.

“Smart pitching” is subjective, and can’t be easily measured. However, anyone can flip the switch on a gun and say, “hey, I signed him because he threw 94 MPH”.

Just like a police officer who gives you a ticket for speeding, while the reckless drivers and tailgaters drive by.

So instead of being concerned with good mechanics and the art of pitching — which does include making a batter hit the ball — we now have a generation of hurlers who think pitching is all about MPH and making batters swing and miss.

Andrews, Fleisig, et al, aren’t trying to force anything on anyone. They are simply trying to get and give out information so people can make informed decisions. They know that every kid is different and that what will hurt one kid’s arm will strengthen another’s. They put out general guidelines to help people and try to get people to realize that most arm injuries occur when the arm and body have become fatigued.

Coaches have to realize that there are situations where you need to take a pitcher out well before reaching a preset pitch count and there are other situations where a pitcher can safely go past a preset pitch count. However, the reality is that many coaches aren’t qualified to make that decision, including some who think they are, so the pitch counts are useful.

Following pitch counts probably won’t let a kid with a suspect arm last long enough to make the big leagues but it may let them get another year or two of competitive baseball in that they wouldn’t have otherwise. We all dreamed of making the big leagues but 99.99% of us were thrilled just to make it to the next step and play one more season, and that one more season is reason enough to take care of arms.