By Ted Sillanpaa
After writing here about Giants closer Brian Wilson’s season-ending elbow injury and the Nationals’ plan to end Stephen Strasburg’s season at 160-180 innings based on the belief the move will protect his arm, some parents and others responded with questions.
Dr. Mike Marshall, former National League Cy Young Award winner, wrote a length email in response to what has been written here. He teaches a revolutionary motion that saves pitchers’ arms from injury.
Here’s his email and it’s worth reading if you’re at all interested in young pitchers, especially the parent of a young pitcher. (He writes that Dr. James Andrews “blackmailed” Little League officials into implementing pitch counts that don’t help young pitchers.)
It’s worth reading if you’re wondering why the rash of elbow injuries in Major League Baseball and other higher levels of play.
Here’s Dr. Marshall’s email, unedited.
Dear Mr. Sillanpaa,
In answer to your August 14, 2012 article, No formula for saving Strasburg or any other pitcher’s arm, I wrote the following.
Sportswriter Ted Sillanpaa wrote: “Some ulnar collateral ligaments tear because they’re compromised and tired from too many pitches.”
That is not true.
Baseball pitchers tear the connective tissue fibers of their Ulnar Collateral Ligament from mis-use.
That mis-use starts with taking the baseball out of their glove with the palm of their pitching hand on top of the baseball.
As a result of taking the baseball out of their glove with the palm of their pitching hand on top of the baseball, baseball pitchers cannot swing their pitching arm downward, backward and upward to driveline height in one, smooth, continuous movement.
Instead, with the palm of their pitching hand on top of the baseball, baseball pitchers can only swing their pitching arm downward and backward to forty-five degrees behind their body.
From this position, to move their pitching arm to driveline height, baseball pitchers have to raise their pitching forearm vertically upward.
When their pitching forearm approaches pointing vertically upward, the baseball pitchers’ glove foot lands and baseball pitchers immediately and powerfully start to rotate their hips and shoulders forward.
This means that baseball pitchers start pulling their pitching upper arm forward.
Unfortunately, with the pitching forearm pointing vertically upward and the pitching upper arm jerking horizontally forward causes the pitching forearm to dramatically move downward to the height of the pitching elbow.
When the pitching arm reaches horizontal, without the protection of the muscles that attach to the medial epicondyle of the pitching elbow, their Ulnar Collateral Ligament alone absorbs the force of the downward bounce of the pitching forearm.
With each ‘Reverse Pitching Forearm Bounce,’ baseball pitchers tear some of the connective tissue fibers of their Ulnar Collateral Ligament.
After thousands of ‘reverse bounces,’ the Ulnar Collateral Ligament ruptures.
Unfortunately, unlike tendons, ligaments do not have pain sensors.
Therefore, baseball pitchers have no idea that they are tearing their Ulnar Collateral Ligament.
Fortunately, to prevent Ulnar Collateral Ligament tears, when baseball pitchers take the baseball out of their glove, baseball pitchers only need to turn the palm of the pitching hand from on top of the baseball to under the baseball.
With the palm of the pitching hand under the baseball, baseball pitchers can vertically pendulum swing their pitching arm downward, backward and upward to driveline height in one, smooth, continuous movement.
This pitching arm action activates the muscles that attach to the medial epicondyle, such that the Ulnar Collateral Ligament does not receive any stress.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “My oldest son blew his elbow on one pitch when he was a junior in college. My youngest son wound up with a comprised elbow ligament over time and it finally tore after much time and rest and effort to rehabilitate the ligament.”
I am so sorry. The ‘traditional’ baseball pitching coach that taught your son the injurious flaw that ruptured his Ulnar Collateral Ligament and the orthopedic surgeon and Physical Therapist have no idea what they are doing.
However, the ‘traditional’ baseball coach knew that what he teaches ruptures Ulnar Collateral Ligament, but they still teach the injurious flaw and the orthopedic surgeon and Physical Therapist know that what they do does not prevent injuries to the Ulnar Collateral Ligament, but, to make any money, they need to say and do something.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “The Washington Nationals are fixing to shut down their young ace Stephen Strasburg, after he pitches around 180 innings, because he’s in his second season after returning from elbow reconstructive surgery.”
Mr. Strasburg did not have elbow reconstruction surgery. Instead, an orthopedic surgeon unnecessarily wrapped a tendon over Mr. Strasburg’s partially torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament.
By all accounts, R.A. Dickey pitches without an Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Therefore, what good does ‘strengthening’ the Ulnar Collateral Ligament, if that is what the Physical Therapist is doing, do?
Instead of worthless, non-specific training, baseball pitchers need to learn how to properly move their pitching arm to driveline height.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “It’s not unlike Little League baseball being praised for bizarre pitch counts and rest days legislated into the youth game for pitchers.”
Dr. James Andrews blackmailed Little League Baseball to adopt pitch count limits based on the uneducated opinions of several college and professional baseball coaches. They did not cite one valid research study of the effects of baseball pitching on the growth plates in the pitching elbow.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “(Those Little League pitch counts? Well, they don’t take into account throws the kid makes playing a position on the days he doesn’t pitch, do they?)
What Little League pitch counts do not take into account is the biological ages of the youth baseball pitchers. As the annual charade called the ‘Little League World Series’ shows, only 13 chorological year old baseball players that are biologically 15 and 16 years old get to pitch in these World Series.
When adolescent males are 16 biological years old, the growth plates in their pitching elbow are completely mature.
To read the first and maybe the only valid research study of the effects of baseball pitching on the growth plate in the pitching elbow, Google search for Dr. Joel Adams from San Bernadino, CA.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “Truthfully, there is no magic number of innings pitched or pitches thrown that will keep Strasburg, Zimmerman or kid pitchers from elbow problems.
Mr. Sillanpaa is absolutely correct. This means that pitching injuries are not related to over-use.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “Doctors who treat pitchers with the standard baseball delivery agree that the elbow just isn’t built to take the stress of throwing a baseball 90, 92, 95 mph for months and years.”
That is like saying that sprinters cannot run 100 meters are ever decreasing times.
Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “Throwing fewer pitches decreases to some extent the chance of injury, that’s all.”
Earlier, Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: “Truthfully, there is no magic number of innings pitched or pitches thrown that will keep Strasburg, Zimmerman or kid pitchers from elbow problems.”
When Mr. Sillanpaa wrote: ‘truthfully,’ I knew that Mr. Sillanpaa did not believe what he wrote. Mr. Sillanpaa truthfully believes that ‘throwing fewer pitches decreases the chance of injury.’
(Ted Note: As I explained in an email to him, Dr. Marshall’s not a mind-reader. I don’t think throwing fewer pitches decreases the the chance of injury … unless the number of pitches thrown is zero.)
Mr. Sillanpaa is not an Exercise Physiologist. Exercise Physiologists know that ‘detraining’ (also called rest or throwing fewer pitches), increases the chance of injury.
(Ted Note: I didn’t claim to be an Exercise Physiologist.)
Nevertheless, thank you Mr. Sillanpaa for the ‘shout out.’
Dr. Mike Marshall