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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 exceptional 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. 

His 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 overhand throwing.

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 musculature.

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 muscle mass.

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 tendonitis. 

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 equally conditioned. 

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 motion. 

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 curls. 

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 acromium joint. 

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 structures.

 

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

 

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