With the rash of Tommy John surgeries that have plagued Major League Baseball pitchers this season, many have began to wonder about the “new” way of thinking regarding pitch counts and innings pitched. The conventional sabermetric wisdom now states that a pitcher, especially a young pitcher who is still in development, should not increase his seasonal innings by more than 30 innings over the previous year. This is a theory that was popularized by Tom Verducci and is now known as The Verducci Effect. It’s simplistic but creates a very quick barometer as to whether care has been given to a pitcher or not. Similarly, pitch counts have come into question with the simple baseline of 100 pitches becoming the ceiling to which abuse is judged.
But is it really that simple? Can a pitchers health really be regulated by such general numbers that their own training or physiology has such little impact on their longterm endurance? There are numerous ways that players can train themselves for the different rigors of the game. After the steroid boom of the 1990’s and the subsequent injuries that came along with it, the idea of bulking up Arnold Schwarzenegger style proved to not only be less effective but also raise flags. Players can now train to achieve specific goals to better their game and better their careers. Derek Jeter famously did so leading into the 2009 season after Brian Cashman told him his defense was not very good. Evan Longoria trains players to be cleanup hitters. There is no limit as to the type of training a player can do to help improve their game.
Any yet pitching still remains the last mystery. The act of throwing a baseball clearly is not a natural motion and one that puts an undue amount of stress on the shoulder and elbow. Will athletic science be able to solve the riddle of how to keep pitchers healthy before going under the knife?