While injuries are par for the course in any athletic season, Major League Baseball was seemingly under siege in 2014 to Tommy John injuries that claimed the seasons of several players.
Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu were both sidelined at various points throughout the season, but neither suffered the same fate as Bronson Arroyo, Jose Fernandez, Chris Withrow and more. Those pitchers were among the players who had the dreaded torn UCL in their throwing elbows that required season-ending surgery.
Los Angeles Dodgers head athletic trainer Stan Conte conducted research on the rise in Tommy John injuries and but said at the time he had yet to find any conclusive preventative measures.
On Wednesday, MLB announced they partnered with USA Baseball to launch “Pitch Smart” which is an initiative aimed to help prevent injuries and overuse of youth athletes. In simple terms, protecting an athlete during their youth can better allow for longevity and successful careers.
The program identifies the following guidelines that should be followed and offers more detail based on age range:
Each organization — whether it be a league, travel team, showcase or tournament — should establish rules to ensure that players must follow the guidelines while playing in that league. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the parent and the athlete to ensure that the player follows the guidelines for his age group over the course of a year — given that he will oftentimes play in multiple leagues with different affiliations covering different times of the year.
Also included on the official website is a chart that breaks down the necessary days of rest that coincide with total number of pitches thrown:
Chad Billingsley is familiar with the elbow surgery and though it isn’t necessarily career-ending, he’s had difficulty remaining healthy since being operated on. Billingsley was on track to return this season but tore the flexor tendon and underwent another season-ending surgery.
Without any map that guarantees a clean bill of health, Zack Greinke discussed the conscious decision he made a few years back to throw less sliders in an effort to preserve his elbow. Greinke dealt with some elbow soreness this season but otherwise has been fortunate.
The advisory committee of the Pitch Smart program consists of several team trainers and renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who often operates on athletes needing Tommy John surgery; Conte is also a member of the committee.