Young Arms and Curveballs
It’s one of the most popular pitches in major league baseball, and it’s quickly becoming an important part of little league. However, the effect that it can have on a young arm can be quite serious. So why risk injuring the arm of young pitchers with a dangerous pitch? It’s simple: Curveballs get hitters out.
The curveball is one of the most effective pitches. Its sweeping, off-speed trajectory often fools batters into swinging high and away. If they don’t miss entirely, they’re sure to put the ball softly in play for an infielder to make an easy throw to first. Its continued success over the decades in the majors has created a bigger demand in little league. This is a practice that Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz thinks is a serious risk to young arms.
In a recent viral video, Smoltz notes, “You’re wasting your time if you think your son should be pitching with a 0.5 ERA and dominating at nine and ten years old. They have so much time to develop, and their young arm is the most important commodity they have. Do not let them abuse it.” Smoltz goes on to mention how it’s not just the type of pitches that young players are throwing but how many pitches they throw in a stretch that’s also worrisome. “They are pitching too long, too often, too many stress-pitches and too many types of pitches. If it were my son, I’d teach him how to throw strikes, fastballs and maybe a changeup.
While some studies that claim throwing a curveball demonstrates no increased risk to the arm or elbow, this is only the case when a pitcher has nearly flawless mechanics. Because young pitchers are, well, young, and they don’t throw any pitch with nearly flawless mechanics. This is especially true when the arm begins to fatigue. The renowned Dr. James Andrews recommends that youth pitchers refrain from throwing curves until they’ve learned to master the mechanics of the fastball and changeup.
Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine specialists agree, the general recommendation for these athletes is to avoid off-speed pitches as adolescents; being careful to gradually increase exposure to curveballs and off-speed pitches as teenagers into high school.