Overview in the Development of Baseball
Pitchers and Hitters
Baseball hitters and pitchers differ
biomechanically in adolescent development.
It is my opinion that a baseball hitter
can achieve success at any age. For a baseball hitter, the most important aspect is the
ability to visualize the ball quickly, assess its motion, and time the
swing properly. The most successful baseball hitters were found to have
very fast visual speeds that detect the spin of the ball upon release and
“see” the ball in what they called "slightly slower" motion.
Ted Williams is heralded as one of the
great baseball hitters of all time. Ted Williams had documented
visual receptivity. An experiment challenged Ted Williams to read the
artists name of the song of a record album that was played at 33
revolutions per minute 66 feet away on pitching mound while he stood at
the batter’s box. Ted Williams could consistently read the song and the
artist as it rotated.
Successful baseball hitters have been analyzed and those
who have crossed ocular or visual dominance were more successful in their
batting averages and hitting technique. Simply, this means that a
right-handed batter would have an advantage if he had left eye dominance. The left eye is closer to see the ball; whereas, the right hand initiates
movement and power. This crossed right-hand dominance and left visual
dominance is called the mixed dominance.
For baseball hitters, eye-hand
coordination and bat speeds are secondly most important. The wrists need
to be supple, have flexibility and strength to
provide pendulum acceleration of the baseball bat. Baseball bat equipment
needs to be properly weighted and balanced in order to optimize the swing,
which is coordinated through eye-hand coordination.
Finally, for the hitter, proper
strengthening and conditioning of the arms, shoulders, hips, gluteals, and
legs are important to increase the muscle mass required to strike
the ball with force.
Whereas the baseball hitter can develop at
any age, it is my opinion that for a baseball pitcher to be successful,
instruction need to start prior to the age of 12. Instructing the youth
prior to the age of 12 allows for muscle memory during skeletal
development and maturation to occur. Frequently, baseball pitchers
increase mobility in the shoulder capsule and girdle create greater laxity
of the ligaments that helps allow the increased range of motion.
Dr. Mike Marshall, who had an outstanding
baseball career as a relief pitcher and was the Cy Young Award winner,
holds a Doctorate in Kinesiology, specifically exercise Kinesiology.
doctorate paper in 1979 evaluated adolescent male bone growth development
among Little League Baseball players. In his doctorate studies, 1571 males
were analyzed for skeletal maturity.
His findings showed that during the
critical ages between 12 and 16, skeletal bone cartilage development could
be damaged or compromised through poor training or over-repetition in
Anatomical development shows that at age
10 there is no cartilage in the elbow joint and no lateral epicondyle for
which the forearm muscles attach. At age 11, the olecranon process appears
to which the triceps muscle attaches. At the age of 12, the lateral
epicondyle starts to form to which the extensors and flexors of the
forearm start to attach.
At age 13, usually there is a rapid bone growth;
however, during this bone growth, the growth plates are most vulnerable to
injury. At age 14, the lateral epicondyle fuses providing stability to the
elbow joint. At age 15, the olecranon fuses, stabilizing the triceps
At age 16 the final component, the medial epicondyle, fuses.
At the completion of maturation, it is safe for repetitive motion as well
as forceful throwing.
Dr. Marshall noted that large torques or
over-excessive throwing could cause small stress bone fractures that
can affect elbow mobility and development.
Dr. Marshall concluded that although all
Little League players are chronologically by age 12 or younger, those who
were physically better skilled players were shown by x-ray to have faster
skeletal maturity. Thus, the more elite players at age 12 had a
14-year-old skeletal maturity.
The more players on one team that
have older skeletal maturity improved the success of that Little League
team. that have higher
skeletal maturity improved the success of the Little League team. The
percentage of 12-year-olds that have a 14-year-old skeletal maturity is
approximately 8.3% within the general population.
In baseball pitching,
muscles create the force of the overhand pitching motion. Baseball
pitchers generate a force equal to 3hp which equates to 60 pounds of
muscle mass to provide that horsepower. The muscles used are the
fingers, wrists, arms and shoulders that contribute a smaller amount of
mass than the trunk, pelvis and lets which have a greater majority of the
A ball traveling 100
mph from a pitcher's release will decelerate 8 mph by the time it crosses
the plate. A 100 mph fastball takes 0.4 seconds to reach home plate.
The averages speed of the pitching motion at point of release is 40G or 40
times the acceleration of gravity.
Pitching delivery velocities or speeds
have not differed in the last 90 years. Walter Johnson in 1914 was clocked
at throwing 99.7 mph. Bob Feller in 1946 was able to throw at 98.6 mph.
And, the great Nolan Ryan threw 100.7 mph.
Science indicates that a ball traveling
100 mph from a pitcher’s release will decelerate 8 mph by the time it
crosses the plate. A 100-mph fastball takes 0.4 sec to reach home plate.
The average deceleration of the pitching motion at point of release is 40G
or 40 x the acceleration of gravity.
In Little League instruction, there are
controversies of when to allow an adolescent to throw a curveball.
Curveballs create unique stresses across the elbow and shoulder,
especially across the growth plates of the elbow. One of the most frequent
complaints and injuries in an adolescent is elbow followed by
shoulder injuries. There have not been any good studies that have shown stress
injuries in the elbow and how they relate to curveball throwing.
Curveballs can be thrown if there are no
complaints from shoulder, arm ot elbow. If any complaints of shoulder or arm
pain result from throwing a curveball, then this should signal the coach
or parent to stop curveball throwing. Restarting to throw curveballs
should only occur when the child is pain-free and remains so while
performing curveball throwing.
However, curveball throwing is not the
only cause of elbow and shoulder pain as there are other variety of
conditions. Mild inflammation of muscle tendon or stress fracture of the
bone due to imbalances in strength and conditioning can lead to
tendonitis. Poor mechanics in the overhand pitching can lead to overuse
In order to avoid repetitive tendinous
strains, a warm-up is always recommended, whether it is in training or in
a game situation. Limits to overhand pitching in practice should be
done to less than 100 throws per practice.
In the event of a
baseball game, an adolescent should be monitored in their performance with
a mandatory rest period when a complaint of shoulder, elbow or arm pain is
reported. In addition, in practicing the overhand throwing every
other day bases and should make sure both front and back muscles are
Finally, any complaints should be recognized as
early signs of potential injury and a reassessment of biomechanics and
musculoskeletal system should be done by a qualified specialist.
Frequently, shoulder mechanics have been
equated to rotator cuff muscles. Rotator cuff muscles are four major
muscles that create movement in the shoulder, however this does not give a
complete picture of all the muscles that are important to the pitching
In regards to rotator cuff muscles, most injuries occur from
weaknesses of the posterior muscles since most strengthening programs
focus on the anterior muscles from work on the bench press, pull-ups and
The greatest weakness noted in professional baseball pitchers
is the serratus anterior muscle. Weakness of these muscle cause
imbalances, as these are important in elevation of the arm over the
Diminished acromium elevation of the arm over the
acromium joint. Diminished acromium elevations from muscular
weakness and tightness, results in shoulder impingement, which may result
in capsular or labral tears.
Imbalances in strength of accelerating and
decelerating muscles can lead to fractures of the upper long bone of the
arm and humerus. These fractures have occurred at least 600 times at
the elite baseball level. There have only been six or seven
individuals who have returned from healing of the humeral fracture to
baseball but not at their previous level of success. The most recent
fracture of the humerus was experienced by Tony Saunders, a pitcher of the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Baseball injuries represent one of the
smallest incidences of injuries of all sports. In summary, baseball is one
of the safest sports for athletes. Of all injuries, the shoulder is the
most frequent site of injury representing 16.7% of all baseball injuries.
In 1986, a study was taken with the
Atlanta Braves baseball team that studied both baseball hitters and
pitchers. Seventeen pitchers were analyzed. The pitchers ranked last in
their upper extremity strength as well as flexibility in the shoulder and
elbow. Fifty percent of the pitchers lacked full elbow extension in their
dominant-throwing arm. The one aspect of flexibility that they exceeded
in comparison to hitters was in external shoulder rotation.
As in all injury situations, it is very
important to quickly identify the source of the injury as well as the
mechanism and conditions under which it occurred. If any weaknesses are
identified, a strengthening program needs to be incorporated. Should
flexibility be lacking, an active flexibility program should be initiated
prior to an aggressive strengthening program. Mechanics need to be
reevaluated to assess reduction of torque or force within the injured
Should you have any further questions
regarding this article, please direct your questions or comments to "Ask
the Doctor" section.
Copyright © 2004 - 2012Taras V.
Kochno, M.D. All Rights Reserved
Board Certified in
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation