Yahoo Sports MLB writer Jeff Passan was fascinated by the lack of knowledge surrounding pitchers’ arms and injury prevention combined with the gargantuan contracts being dolled out to pitchers. So he investigated and wrote a book about it, titled “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”.
Passan joined Tiki And Tierney to talk about baseball and his book. He’s a believer in pitch counts for younger kids, but he says once a player gets to the professional level and displays the ability to stay healthy, they shouldn’t be held to the arbitrary 100 pitch count.
“I think baseball has turned into such a culture of fear that it’s gone too far,” said Passan. “Listen, for kids, and I’m talking up to… almost 25, I don’t mind pitch limits. … Once you’re talking Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner and these guys who have managed to stay healthy their whole careers, throw him 120 pitches every game, at least, because they can handle it.”
That’s how big league teams should handle the epidemic of arm injuries.
“To me, if you’re the Los Angeles Dodgers and you’re taking Clayton Kershaw out after 100 pitches, chances are the guy you’re replacing him with, unless it’s Kenley Jansen, is not as good as he is,” said Passan.
Obviously, that’d be an ignorant and dangerous way to go about protecting kids from arm injuries. He says it starts with the parents and the coaches, as the kids are trying to throw too hard too early.
“It’s a matter of priorities. Competition is great when you’re 15 or 16 or 17 or 18, but so many of these injuries happen because kids are trying to throw really hard when their bodies are not ready for it,” said Passan.
The counter argument to lessening the importance of competition is that some would say that kids cultivate their competitiveness when they’re at that age, but Passan disagrees.
“I think the competition is always inherently and naturally there,” said Passan. “I just think that it’s our job as parents and coaches to tamp it down a little bit and to educate them and say ‘right now competition is important, but it’s not the most important thing.’ I want you to be healthy by the time you need to be competitive.”
As for the notion that a player returns from Tommy John surgery better than before their Ulnar Collateral Ligament snaps, pitchers don’t come back better because they have a new ligament in their arm. It comes from constant rehabilitation and strengthening their shoulder for a year.
“They spend a year rehabilitating their shoulder and strengthening it,” said Passan. “And because, in their case, the ligament, let’s just think of it like a tire: the tire is a bald tire because year after year, pitch after pitch, throw after throw they ware it down and you’re putting something fresh in there. The fact is, the best ligament you’re ever going to have is the one you’re born with.”
But when it comes to shoulders, it’s easier for injury prevention but not recovery.
“The shoulder is like a landmine: if you step on it, chances are that you’re done,” said Passan.
In the process of throwing a baseball, the single fastest movement the human body can make occurs.
“When you go forward throwing the ball from external rotation into internal rotation, that is the single fastest movement the human body can make. It’s fast than an eye blink, it’s faster than anything, it’s 8,000 degrees per second,” said Passan. “All of that energy that is loaded in your shoulder, that in the past would wreck your shoulder, if you have a strong shoulder, it goes right to the UCL. And that’s why so many Tommy John surgeries are happening these days.”