Under Use

We hear all of the stories of youth pitchers being over used. My question is the other end of the spectrum. Is there a point where “under use” will limit the development of a young player?

Tom Glavine played baseball only 3 months a year as a youth - his main sport was hockey, even drafted out of high school by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL! Mariano Rivera played mostly soccer in his youth, and what baseball he did play was as a shortstop, not a pitcher - he didn’t start pitching until he was 20!

Today, what Glavine and Rivera did would be considered “under use” by the travel ball indu$try. But then, Glavine and Rivera pitched long and hard in MLB, and are/will be in the Hall of Fame. Conversely, the young American MLB pitchers today, coming out of the travel ball indu$try, have the highest incidence of Tommy John surgery in MLB history.

So, “under use”, especially at the youth level, is probably a good thing, not a bad thing.

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There are at least two ways to look at under use. @south_paw makes a great case for how some coaches exploit under use (under exposure) fears in parents to flip it into actual over use for the sake of advancing the small chance of a baseball playing career.

I look at under use within a season (Spring, Summer, Fall) as being detrimental. Things like limiting bullpens to 25-40 pitches, pitching once per week, never throwing more than 70 pitches absolutely does not condition a pitcher against potential injury. It makes injury more likely in my opinion. More than one of my basketball coaches would have us run wind sprints before our free throw practice so we could focus through the exhaustion and still hit the shots. Being late in a game, you are feeling it on the mound, you need to maintain your focus, your mechanics, keep your wits, and execute the pitches. If you have never experienced those challenges in your bullpens, are you really ready to handle it in a game? I think this is crippling to high level development if you are coddling your pitchers in practice and in bullpen sessions.

Side notes:
I was also a multi-sport athlete in HS, and I know that participation in each sport helped me perform better in all the other sports. I played on the golf team in the fall. The football coach came after me every summer to try to pull me into football because he knew I threw the ball well and quarterbacked in flag football leagues. I just didn’t want to get body slammed from behind on a Class B HS team (our football program was dropped to Class B two years before I got to HS). The town was bummed out to say the least. I decided I’d rather swing my golf clubs instead. I played basketball, ran track, and was on the rifle team in the winter. I played baseball in the spring.
In recreation leagues I played more basketball and volleyball at the YMCA, baseball for the town league as well as American Legion, and I was in a golf league during the summer. I also had two part time jobs. I played at a respectable level in everything I did and never was really overused. None of that mentions that I had to keep up with the homework load of college bound advanced placement courses. That may all sound like overuse, but it wasn’t. I was conditioned to perform, and I loved all of it.

Other than a partial Achilles problem from rounding a base like an idiot, some shin splints from our weekly 10 mile run, a groin pull (that happened at work slipping on a greasy tile floor), and an oblique strain suffered during a swing from my shoes that I whiffed on, I went through my teens relatively injury free. No arm injuries, and I pitched…a lot.

I wouldn’t say under use so much in terms of playing in games.
Under training is a chronic problem in baseball.
Speaking in general terms most travel ball teams, high schools and certainly youth programs do nothing to develop ability in young players.


Teams sacrifice the practice and development just to play a few more games. You don’t improve skills in games. Games showcase the results of all the practice time.

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[quote=“CoachPaul, post:5, topic:17946”]
You don’t improve skills in games. Games showcase the results of all the practice time.[/quote]
Well said.

Yes there is such a thing as under use. By the time a player is 13 he needs to get experience pitching against good hitters. By the time he is 14-15 he needs to start getting an idea of how to pitch against the hitters that will make it to his ultimate target level of competition. That is to say if he is going to be an elite D1 pitcher, it will help his cause tremendously if he has experience pitching against the hitters who will make it to that level. There will be players who make it to high levels with late exposure but is it more difficult. If a kid throws 95 he will probably get many chances, but the guy who throws 86 and is right handed better have a record of getting the best hitters out if he wants a D1 shot. Below 12 years old it doesn’t matter much but the player does need enough training to learn how to pitch and the composure to handle himself well on the mound by the time he is 15.

Pitching against the best hitters is the training for pitching against the best hitters. There is no substitute. Play at the best level you can that fits within your lifestyle.

Good luck,