May 3, 2005


Fragile arms spark fierce debate (CRAIG CUSTANCE, 05/02/05, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

It's a sensitive subject, for sure. One Major League Baseball scout politely declined to discuss it for fear he might alienate his high school contacts. An agent postponed an interview, deciding after a night's sleep to pass on the discussion altogether.

The question: Are Georgia high school baseball coaches flogging their thoroughbred aces?

Nobody sweats South Gwinnett's basketball coach when NBA prospect Louis Williams plays nearly every second of a playoff game; they'd criticize him if he didn't. You don't hear a peep when a football coach plays his star both ways in a postseason run.

But baseball is different. Coaches who extend their pitchers into triple-digit pitch counts are ripe for criticism. You pitch a kid twice in a week and scouts cringe. Everybody has seen examples of overusing a standout pitcher. Nobody owns up to doing it.

The balance between winning high school baseball games and preserving a pitcher's future is a challenge for the high school coach.

M.L. King coach Paris Burd felt so strongly about the subject that he typed a 897-word document he called "Best for Team or Best for Pitcher." It wasn't exactly a Jerry Maguire manifesto, but his outline included multiple points about preventing overuse. He's never had a pitcher throw more than 42 innings in a season.

Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall has a lot invested in how high school prospects are treated and in what shape their arms are when they arrive in his program.

"The biggest thing is you have to put the player's health as a No. 1 priority and not worry about a couple wins and losses," Hall said. "When it's all said and done, the whole game is about the players. It's not really about the coaches or how many you won in the league or whether you got in the region playoffs. It's, 'Did the player get better? Did he come out of there healthy, and did he have a chance to have a good career?' "

There are scouts who answer an emphatic "no" to both questions. Steve Kring is the area scouting supervisor for the Cincinnati Reds, and he is passionate about the subject of coaches overusing pitchers. He said he couldn't believe agame where two aces combined to throw, by his count, more than 250 pitches.

"I've left games shaking my head; the kid is on my mind the next couple days," Kring said. "I see too much abuse. There's not enough coaches taking the approach to develop arms."

Bill James has done plenty of work showing the dangers of having younger pitchers throw over 100 pitches in any given outing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 3, 2005 12:01 PM

I can't comment about high school. But the 7th and 8th graders that I've coached started to wear out around 60 pitches.

Posted by: Brandon at May 3, 2005 12:07 PM

Throwing a curveball is not a natural arm motion.

Posted by: Rick T. at May 3, 2005 12:42 PM

actually, a properly thrown curve ball is easier on the arm then a fastball -- see Tom House.

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at May 3, 2005 1:51 PM

I braved the cold to attend a high school baseball playoff game last night (it's not supposed to be 45 degrees on May 2 in West Texas), and a scout for one of the schools in the bi-district round of play was amazed that the coach was leaving the starting pitcher out on the mound with an 11-4 lead after he had throw 110 pitches in five innings. He got through the final two innings fairly quickly, but many coaches by the end of the season come to trust only one or two pitchers to do well against good teams, and ride them as far as they can for fear that their No. 3, 4 or 5 arms are going to blow up the moment they get onto the mound.

Posted by: John at May 3, 2005 2:10 PM

Mr. Judd;

So you recommend keeping boys in soccer instead of baseball for their own safety? Thanks for the tip!

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at May 3, 2005 4:51 PM

Yes, overbearing parents who don't wean their boys until puberty should obviously opt for soccer--the kids'll throw like girls anyway.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2005 4:59 PM

I remember Nolan Ryan saying something about his own arm strength: he had superior arm strength because 1) he understood pitching mechanics 2) he worked out religiously and 3) he threw. A lot. And from a young age. That rather flies in the face of what's being said here, but perhaps it should be confined to Mr. Ryan.

For a high school kid, health and development have to come first. No one's going to remember the season's W-L total in the coming years.

Posted by: Steve White at May 3, 2005 9:53 PM

George Bamberger taught that they should throw all the time, but not pitch.

Posted by: at May 3, 2005 10:08 PM