Ways to Master Arm Health
For my entire baseball career, as a pitcher, we solely went by pitch count guidelines to keep young arms healthy. These numbers were recommendations made from peer reviewed research, and are now the highlight of the “Pitch Smart” program set by MLB.
Young athletes who are playing 13u-14u-15u should definitely not be going 95 pitches in a game. However, once in a blue moon, there are some kids who might hit that number, but that is at one end of the bell curve.
The same goes for the high school athlete playing 17/18u baseball. I think the more important part with the older guys is the required rest between outings. Again, these are all just recommendations, assuming that the average athlete recovers the same.
Well, they don’t.
So, how can we fix this?
A brilliant researcher by the name of Dr. Tim Gabbett came up with a very simple concept in the rugby world: workload.
His research supports the idea that the amount of work the body has performed will either put the body in the “safe zone” or the “caution zone”.
Now, what is workload?
In the rugby world, it was the amount of time spent on the field multiplied by the session rate of perceived exertion (or RPE). In baseball, we use pitch counts and multiply them by RPE.
Here is a simple way to learn about workloads (and click here for a previous post on workload).
A recent study shed light about how much throwing is NOT accounted for in the average high school baseball player (Zaremski et al., 2018).
Overall, in this particular observational study, the average high school baseball pitcher threw 70 pitches in a game. However, here is what is usually unaccounted for:
- the average 27 pitch bullpen
- the average 24 warm up pitches off of the mound
Realistically, the average amount of throws on game-day now goes from 70 to 151!
Obviously, there is a ton of stress that is being placed on the arm.
NOW, let’s link this back to workload for a second.
Not all pitches are the same. What I mean by this is perceived exertion. Most of the time during competitive situations, the player will probably sit around an RPE of 8/10 with the occasional 10/10 when juices are running high.
I would probably guess that the average RPE during warm up throws and bullpens are around a 6/10.
Here is how we can now standardize the warm up throws and game-day routine for the starting pitcher:
- Document how many pitches they throw in the pre-game bullpen, and have them sit around a 6/10 on the RPE scale. If they don’t understand what a 6 is, they better start practicing what that feels like.
- 24 warm up pitches off the mound during a 7-inning, or even 6-inning outing, is around 6 pitches per inning. Standardize that for your pitchers and make them take their time to get a feel for their pitches, and make every pitch count during warm ups
- Still monitor pitch counts during the game, and ask them what their RPE is at the end of every inning. Document this number at the end of the game, then click here on how to implement this strategy for the long-term
Staying healthy and throwing,
Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS
Zaremski, J.L., Zeppieri Jr., G., Jones, D.L., Tripp, B.L., Bruner, M., Vincent, H.K., Horodyski, M.B. (2018). Game-Day Pitch Counts in High-School Baseball Pitchers – An Observational Study. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine 6(4).