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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.