Every Pitch Is Bad For You

The Orioles — and to some extent, the Royals — have sworn off the cutter. Now it looks like the Red Sox are eschewing the slider. The curveball is probably bad for you. If you throw the changeup one way, you might be at risk for injury. We’re years ahead of a stream of knuckleball copycats, and there’s only one screwball pitcher in the big leagues. Maybe one day we’ll find those pitches lead to injury, too.

Maybe using any pitch too much is a problem?

First, Dan Duquette made his organization’s argument against the cutter. His specific examples may have been specious, but the overall idea — that certain cutters may be detrimental to a young pitcher’s development — was defensible. When Rick Peterson added the idea that cutters kill fastball velocity, it didn’t seem like there was evidence of the fact, even after the different types of cutters were separated. Jon Roegele, at Beyond the Box Score, some evidence that it might be the fact that the Orioles are getting worse results from their cutters than any other organization. Maybe it’s just their cutters are terrible — or maybe just certain cutters are bad for you.

Conventional wisdom has often worried about the slider. There’s a snapping movement of sorts at the end of the delivery, and it seems to put stress on exactly the ligament that gets replaced in Tommy John surgery. When I looked at pitchers who threw a bunch of sliders, my early research seemed to suggest heavy slider usage was detrimental to your health. Jeff Zimmerman discovered something similar. And now Roegele has evidence that more analytical organizations (as determined by Bradley Woodrum here) are using the slider less frequently. Their staffs haven’t been healthier, but maybe this is a recent change that hasn’t taken effect.

And what about the curveball? Some feel the overhand curve can lead to shoulder problems. Mimic a curveball release and you might feel it. Zimmerman’s research found heavy curveball usage actually moved the needle the most — his curve-users ended up on the DL 51% of the time, compared to 39% of all starting pitchers . The Orioles teach the curve first, though.

Nobody’s talking negatively about the changeup, though. Right? Well, Orioles’ pitching guru Rick Petersons said: “You wouldn’t throw a curve or changeup 40%.” He must not like it that much, either. There are those who think the changeup cannibalizes fastball velocity. Some pitchers also think the changeup has the most unnatural release — while most pitches are released with pressure on the outside of the ball, the changeup’s grip finishes on the inside of the ball. Well, not every changeup features this pronation, but many do. Google “pronation” and you’ll find many opinions about the proper way to do it, and its possible benefits for preserving your UCL (and the likely downfalls of doing it wrong.)

So maybe its the fastball that has to be unassailable? It’s the most-thrown pitch in baseball. Well, Roegele has some evidence that more fastballs — at a higher velocity — is a shared marker in Tommy John surgeries. Sliders showed up too, but high-velocity fastballs were a problem.

If you get anecdotal about the problem, you risk finding outliers and emphasizing them too heavily. CC Sabathia throws whole bunch of sliders. If you lump all pitchers into buckets, you risk grouping pitchers with vastly different mechanics. Zimmerman found strike-throwers may stay healthier than the general population, and maybe that’s a proxy for pitchers with good mechanics, but that’s a bit of a guess. There are those who try to diagram mechanics and group pitchers that way, but the difference in camera angles from park to park has to put a wrench in that.

Maybe the easiest way to put it is this: Pitching is an unnatural movement that puts unnatural stress on the elbow and shoulder joints. Every starting pitcher is 1% more likely to hit the disabled list every year they pitch. So, really, every pitch is bad for you.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Ben
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Ben
3 years 9 months ago
Matt
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Matt
3 years 9 months ago

Get rid of pitchers, play major league teeball. I bet Adam Dunn and Chris Davis would still manage 20% strikeout rates.

Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd
3 years 9 months ago

Like 900 homers each though

Mark
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Mark
3 years 9 months ago

I’d like to know how easy or difficult it is to hit a home run off a tee. I feel like common sense says with no incoming velocity it’s harder to put power on the ball to knock one out.

Touche Mr. Toupe
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Touche Mr. Toupe
3 years 9 months ago

I know a guy who was in the then Devil Rays organization in the minor leagues when Josh Hamilton made his first comeback. He apparently showed up late to the pre-game and everyone had already taken BP and warmed up. He strode up to the plate and took a single hack off a tee. He sent the ball over the 40 ft tall batter’s eye in centerfield 400 ft away. Everyone on the field just stopped what they were doing and stared at him and he retorted, “I’m ready.”

ezb230
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ezb230
3 years 9 months ago

Mark – It’s not real easy. The real issue is that you can’t get under it much or you get mostly tee and the ball goes ten feet. This makes you hit down on the ball and swing level, which is why it’s used as a training tool. The problem is most hitters have slight-to-extreme uppercuts, particularly those with power.

ezb230
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ezb230
3 years 9 months ago

Unless, of course, you’re Josh Hamilton, in which case you can hit a ball off a tee as far as you damn well please.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 9 months ago

Slow-pitch baseball, but make the baseball the size of a ping-pong ball.

Transmission
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Transmission
3 years 9 months ago

I’d love to see the effect that has on fielding. Especially pop flies.

Kris
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Kris
3 years 9 months ago

It’d be a good way to kill a bunch of fielders…

P_Whit
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P_Whit
3 years 9 months ago

Agree with this completely… I don’t understand why we would need to be so granular analyzing which pitches are worse for you than others. Ever seen a photo of a pitcher midway through his throwing motion? Yes, you have. And yes, it’s gross. Arms aren’t supposed to move that way.

Every pitch is unnatural. Some bodies and limbs are different than others. I’m pretty sure that’s all that needs to be said.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 9 months ago

Agree, pitching is not a natural motion for your arm.

Transmission
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Transmission
3 years 9 months ago

I’ve never understood the claim that pitching is unnatural. On a very literal level, how can any bodily motion that doesn’t lead to immediate injury be considered unnatural? Anything short of swiveling your head around 360 degrees strikes me as within the realm of what a natural human body is intended to do. From an evolutionary perspective, (full disclosure, I’m a doctorate in the history of modern biology), what’s more natural and more advantageous to an aspiring young species of primate than to be able to hurl a projectile forward?

When I hear “pitching is not a natural motion” I have to think people really mean “tens of thousands of throws of maximum effort in stressful situations is not natural.” And sure, that’s true. But you can take out “throws” and replace it with damn near anything. SPORTS isn’t natural, by that standard…

MikeS
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MikeS
3 years 9 months ago

Professional sports is unnatural. It’s about constantly performing at your peak and trying to go beyond that by trying to raise the peak. Professional athletes are the best trained people in the world and they have traumatic injuries far more commonly than fat slobs like me that sit on the couch all day.

Balthazar
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Balthazar
3 years 9 months ago

So Transmission, there is nothing ‘natural’ about a primate throwing anything. Look at primate behavior: they don’t throw, but rather grab, pull, and if necessary pick up something and pound with it. There is no prey-acquiring or functional action in primate behavior requiring casting and object to hit something. Even when human beings became large game hunters—a huge behavioral transition NOT demonstrated by other primates btw—they did so as _pack_ hunters, i.e. by driving game into an enclosure, marshes, or off precipices. This is typical behavior for social species. Pack hunting was highly successful and practiced for hundreds of millennia by most homonid species. The only species _ever_ to become single animal hunters on any but an opportunistic basis has been homo sapiens sapiesn. Even so, hunting game by _casting_ anything at it is an extremely recent innovation even for us, less than 20k years ago. There is some reason to think that this innovation, like most was a forced one, beginning in W. Europe during the last Ice Age when megafauna were locally extinct and even deer sized critters were few and nimble. In short, there is nothing natural in human physical anthropology about _throwing_ ANYTHING. We are manifestly not bio-adapted as a species to throw objects any distance and hit a target.

. . . I assume your doctoral focus was at or below the cellular level?

Balthazar
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Balthazar
3 years 9 months ago

Transmission, there are intrinsically unnatural physical movements. Look at the range of motion in a joint. If you rotate the body parts of that joint further than the range of motion, portions of those joints snap. Joints are not bio-adapted to snap; hence movements which inherently make them do so are ‘unnatural.’ Furthermore, many ligaments antipate stress from certain directions. Torque them at right angles to those structurally anticipated directions and even at relatively low force those ligaments may snap, or the joints those ligaments secure my dislocate from their setting. Hence, rotations contrary in vector to the movement pattern of the joint are ‘unnatural.’

There are many unnatural motions. Pitching overhand often involves several of them.

ezb230
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ezb230
3 years 9 months ago

That most of those who use “unnatural” when talking about pitching is do imprecisely is obvious. It’s a euphemism for “more likely to cause injury or premature deterioration”, which is what most of those who use it when talking about pitching what to know.

ezb230
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ezb230
3 years 9 months ago

“want” to know.

KM
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KM
3 years 9 months ago

This makes sense. Just curious, though, if anyone has tried to do this sort of analysis on pitchers who rely heavily on any on pitch as a cohort versus pitchers who have, say 4 pitches that they mix up pretty well.

Normal Guy Normal Talk
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3 years 9 months ago

We need cricket-style “fast bowlers” and “spin bowlers.” No need to call pitches really, other than location for fastballs. Average MLB score in 10 years will be roughly 285-241, barring any sticky wickets.

Shrewd Cat
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Shrewd Cat
3 years 9 months ago

Ironically having cricket ‘fast bowlers’ wouldn’t cut out injuries- they get injured almost as bad as pitchers- and bowling certainly is an unnatural motion. As an Aussie cricket fan – this summer basically all our fast bowlers are injured.
Pace bowling in cricket causes stress fractures in ankles and the back- as well as leg and foot problems.
Obvious conclusion- modern sprtspeople are pussies – in my day people were tougher.

Ruki Motomiya
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Ruki Motomiya
3 years 9 months ago

Every pitch is bad for you, but are some worse for you than others? That is the question.

Cidron
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Cidron
3 years 9 months ago

I, personally, am not buying into the theory of “this pitch is harmful and this pitch is okay”. If you buy that pitching itself is harmful, then what you do to minimize the risks is what is the major factor. Those things are called mechanics, good warmup/cooldown, stretching, diet, etc etc.. You know, the same thing your personal trainer down at the fitness center says. If you keep the body in good shape, it will be able to work thru stuff.

Keep good, simple, repeatable, smooth mechanics as a pitcher is key. Whether it be Tim Lincecum, or Dontrelle Willis, are we surprised at their falls? no. Lincecum’s hiccup of 2012 has been anticipated for a couple years now. Dontrelle, out of work. Wouldn’t be surprised if Lincecum spent some time on the DL soon, and maybe within 2-3 yrs, hit the dl for an extended time (aka, season). He is merely an example of how bad mechanics can derail a promising career. There are tons of others.. The other stuff mentioned earlier, we already know (having ourselves been down to the workout center recently, right?)

a
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a
3 years 9 months ago

I had smooth, repeatable mechanics. My shoulder blew out when I was like 17. Partially torn labrum (and throw a rotator cuff injury in there as well). It’s mostly genes. Both my father and brother have had shoulder surgeries.

I have to wonder if you’ve ever pitched if you don’t believe that different pitches don’t have a different effect on your arm.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 9 months ago

I did not, but, my father pitched pro for Cleveland (in the Bob Feller days).. not that that has any bearing.. but, on we go.

I am more saying that there are things to do to minimize the risks. And, also, there are exceptions to every rule. Even the best risk minimizer can be bitten by an injury. And yes, different pitches stress different parts of the hands, arms, and the joints within. That is basic information.

Each pitch (fastball, slider, curve, splitfinger, screwball, knuckleball, etc etc) is represented by at least one successful pitcher that used it as his primary pitch. And, this success is over a significant period of time. In that, it demonstrates (to me anyways) that either the pitch isn’t a “killer” or, somehow, the pitcher is superman. I lean to the former (as the later is fiction). That said, not every pitch is for every pitcher. Whether it be comfort (either mentally, or physically), or not a good mix with his other pitches, or coaching/team philosophy.

I just don’t subscribe to the simplistic view that a given pitch is an arm killer. Way to many variables imo.

vivaelpujols
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vivaelpujols
3 years 9 months ago

and here is your confirmation bias comment for the day, everyone.

james wilson
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james wilson
3 years 9 months ago

I’ve played on and managed many adult league teams, the talent ranging from high school to 4A and Japanese baseball veterans.. The were some who still possessed very impressive arms but shied away from the bump. Pitching one inning caused damage that playing 20 games in the outfield never did, and outfielders throw a lot. Even though they were undoubtedly aggravating old injuries, there is no comparing pitching to throwing. I suspect that the the small differences in maximizing effort multiplies the damage done to the arm.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 9 months ago

Agree, I played in over 40 baseball leagues and there were only few of us who could still pitch. I had a “rubber” arm when I was young and I could still pitch without pain when I was 45-50, my legs on the other hand were shot.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 9 months ago

I agree with those who dispute that pitching is unnatural. I think that pitching is the art of concentrating as many natural movements as the body is capable of producing into a single point at a single instant. The fact that those studies show a relationship between usage of a pitch and injury suggests that it’s a failure of endurance that leads to injury, not an inherent flaw in the movement itself.

a
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a
3 years 9 months ago

That’s not what “unnatural” means. The shoulder is very clearly not “designed” for overhand throwing.

But if you could explain why softball pitchers can routinely throw more pitches without injury, I’d love to hear it. I highly doubt it’s because softball pitchers have more endurance than MLB pitchers.

KevinY
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KevinY
3 years 9 months ago

The weight of the baseball (5.25 oz) is what eventually hurts the arm. If tennis baseball was our national past time you’d see far less injuries.

On specific pitches, if you throw what I call a “stiff” cutter you are definitely putting your arm at more risk. I like to throw my cutter as an off-centered four-seamer, with no extra finger pressure and no twisting of the wrist at all, I’ve never had a significant arm injury. When I’ve occasionally experimented with sort of a variant slider/cutter (hold it like a slider but lock your wrist) that’s when I can definitely feel extra stress being put on the arm.

I wouldn’t swear off the cutter, like some have suggested. Just take a look at cutter velocity separation from the rest of a pithers fastballs. If their average fastball is 92 but their cutter is 87 that’s not good (more injury risk and less effective). Should only be about a 2-3 mph separation between fastball and cutter.

Sbmke
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Sbmke
3 years 9 months ago

I wrecked my arm throwing hard while playing tennis ball baseball. Took a year off between high school and college but lost any zip I had and lost feeling in my fingers when throwing “hard.” My experience is that that lighter balls mean violence without resistance – a bad mix.

henry
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henry
3 years 9 months ago

exactly, have you ever tried kicking a ping pong ball or something like that after playing soccer? it kills your knee, same thing with the elbow and tennis ball

ezb230
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ezb230
3 years 9 months ago

“We’re years ahead of a stream of knuckleball copycats, and there’s only one screwball pitcher in the big leagues. Maybe one day we’ll find those pitches lead to injury, too.”
——————-
I actually thought screwballs weren’t good for the elbow. It sure doesn’t look or feel like a natural motion for the joint. Is this not the case?

SDM
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SDM
3 years 9 months ago

The entire process of pitching is unnatural

That said, couldn’t it be possible that the very mechanics and release point in which a pitcher throws might affect the amount stress certain body parts are hit with.

Isn’t possible that pitchers with lower arm angles are better suited for the sliders break?

Also wouldn’t higher release point pitchers have an easier time staying on top of curveballs which is essential for commanding the pitch?

Beyond the mechanics, feel pitches that rely more on the grip such as the changeup, cutter (additional motions can happen, but for some such as Mariano Rivera does nothing more than slightly alter the pressure) or splitter are probably better suited to those with longer digits.

What I’m trying to say is that which pitches might affect health might be tied more to the individual mechanics than we realize. It would be interesting to study. Who knows, the issues might just be trying to force squares, and rectangles into triangular shaped holes

henry
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henry
3 years 9 months ago

it’s really all about mechanics, when i first tried to throw a change it always hurt me much more than my curve or fastball

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