Strategies for Decreasing Injuries in Baseball

by Misaki Hagiwara

pitcher“You cannot engage in any sport without getting injured sometimes.” If people play sports, people may understand this phrase. However, injuries are a significant issue in sports and many players suffer from pain and require a significant long span of rehabilitation. In baseball, specifically, arm injuries are a major issue and cause serious pain and athletes may spend so long span of time in rehabilitation. An infographic based on data from MLB, Baseball prospectus and Rotoworld indicates the percentage of arm injuries is 44.84% in 198 people and they occupied the huge part. Moreover, pitcher suffers more injuries than some other position. Arm injuries remain a serious issue for MLB. However, serious arm injuries happen not only to the pitcher in MLB. Serious arm injuries are also increasing significantly in high school baseball, recently. The causes which are thought to lead to are overuse, falls, improper equipment, fatigue, poor warmup, impact, unilateral movements, and technique. By these causes, it is fact that the number of pitchers who undergo surgery increases. However, if a pitcher undergoes a procedure, the pitcher needs a long span to return to game, so some pitchers don’t undergo it. On the other hand, pitchers want to cure arm injuries as soon as possible. Therefore, pitchers need to prevent these arm injuries. In America, pitcher, parents and coach should consider the ways of preventing injuries; the registration of pitching and the extra-inning tie-breaker system.

Arm injuries are a serious problem for high school students, not only in the U.S. but also in Japan. Fatigue and overuse are prominent causes in Japan. Fatigue makes people cause injuries for a short time. In hardball, Japanese the high school baseball association holds three major competitions in a year. First is the “Japanese High School Baseball Championship.” This is held in August, but players need to fight to get chance to play in this competition from July. Moreover, if a player participates in this competition and goes on to the finals, player needs to play five or six games for 15 days in this competition. Second is the “Invitational High School Baseball Tournament” which is held in late March. In this competition, if a player goes on to the finals, the  player needs to play four or five games for 12 days. Third is the “Meiji-Jingu Baseball Competition.” This is held in November, and if a player goes on to the finals, they need to play three or four games for six days. Moreover, the time span in which competitions are not held is from December to March. These competitions are also tightly scheduled, so it is easy to for player to get tired and fatigue leads to serious injuries. One example of lengthy competition time is a game that  happened in the 2014: the National High School Rubber Baseball Tournament. The game finished in the 50th inning and continued for four days. One pitcher who won the game threw 709 pitches and the other threw 689 pitches. These pitch counts may cause fatigue. and overuse. Overuse also causes injuries easily. The pitching count has increased recently. There are many cases in which a team depends on one pitcher. In past three years, there are many cases of pitchers who went into finals throwing more than 600 pitches in the Japanese High School Baseball Championship (Figure.1). These may be typical examples of overuse. Overuse is considerable in Japan and also leads to serious injuries. It is clear that there are situations that make it more likely for players to get tired and overuse their arm in Japan.

Fig.1: Pitching count in Japanese High School Baseball Championship finals

Fig.1: Pitching count in Japanese High School baseball championship finals

One way of preventing baseball injuries is restriction. There are three kinds of restrictions: pitch-count, rest days, and innings. In American, pitch-count limits were introduced in 2007, according to Moms Team (Figure.2). This helps children to prevent to overuse. Moreover, it has requirements about rest periods. A day of rest differs to pitching-count. If a pitcher throws many balls in a game, the pitcher needs rest depending on the number of pitches. In Little League Baseball, all the games mandate these restrictions. However, at the High School Level, the restrictions are different in every state. Almost all states have inning restrictions and days of rest requirements. As an inning restriction, the pitcher cannot throw more than nine innings in one day and can throw no more than 15 innings in a seven-day period. Besides, the pitcher has to have rest day determined by number of innings which pitcher pitched in a day. These restrictions are mainstream, but some states have adapted a different restriction, recently. It is pitch-count restriction. Pitch-count is used as popular tool to measure pitcher’s amount of work, so if pitcher-finishes throwing the seventh innings or approaches 100 pitches, a coach calls the pitcher to the bullpen in the Professional Level. However, pitch-count restriction is a minority restriction at the High School Level. Vermont State changed this way of  thinking. Vermont State has adopted pitch-count restriction, so a pitcher cannot throw more than 120 pitches in a one game. “This restriction is working well,” according to National Federation of State High School Associations. Vermont State has also adopted the rest day. This depends on the number of pitches. If a pitcher throws more than 75 pitches, a pitcher needs three calendar days for rest. Since these restrictions are working well, Jeff Stetson, a coach at Mount Abraham High School in Bristol, Vermont, said, “I haven’t heard of any pitcher in our area that has had the surgery.” Moreover, Alabama unanimously voted to adopt pitch-count restriction, so it starts from the 2017 season. States which have adopted pitch-count restrictions have increased, but there are some problems; “Who would keep recording the number of each pitcher’s ball totally?” and  much money is used to install equipment to count the number of pitching on score board at baseball park. However, if these problems are solved, pitch-count restriction will become more useful for pitchers, parents and coaches.

Fig.2: Pitch Count and Required Rest Limitations, according to Moms Team

Fig.2: Pitch count and required rest limitations

Another way to prevent injuries is to use an extra-inning tie-breaker format. The latest extra-inning tie-breaker format was announced by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) in July, 2008. As for the rules, it starts from eleventh inning if both teams have a tie score. After finishing a tenth inning, each manager can select a batter who they want to start with and the previous two batters of batter who starts from in the batting order become second runner and first runner. It starts in the situation which there are two runners with no-out. From twelfth inning, it starts from the next batter who finishes in the previous inning, and runners are also appointed by the same style of eleventh inning. Eventually, if one team finishes situation which one team wins, the game and an extra-inning tiebreaker format can finish. In addition to these rules, the other rules don’t change. The IBSF used this format in the IBAF “AAA” World Junior Championships which people who are U-18 can play in (2008), the IBAF Men’s and Women’s Baseball World Cup (2009, 2008) and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. If a game continues for a long time, it puts stress on a player, so it is easy to make a player exhausted. Exhaustion is one of the causes of injury. Therefore, if a game finishes in the ninth inning, the exhaustion of pitcher is small. On the other hand, if a game continues extra innings, it makes the pitcher exhausted. However, even if game does not finish in the ninth inning and starts an extra innings, the pitcher will not get exhausted since it is easy for players to score by using extra inning tie-breaker system. It means the rate of injuries decreases. Therefore, it is a useful way of preventing injuries now.

In conclusion, the baseball association thinks the best ways of preventing arm injuries are the registration of pitching and an extra-inning tiebreaker system. These ways are for the pitcher to prevent arm injuries. Since fatigue is a serious cause, the more a pitcher throws the ball, the more pitcher needs break time. If the baseball association of each country uses these prevention strategies, pitchers who experience arm surgery and who suffer from arm pain may be decreased. Therefore, these preventions should be recommended around the world. However, it is a fact that there are arguments for and against these solutions because it may lessen the fun of players and spectators. In the U.S.A, the registration of pitching has been adopted, but Japan has not adopted these ways because of the above reasons. However, it is important for sports to protect players from injuries. Therefore, Japan needs to look for a compromise.


Further Reading

Barton Staraus Lindsey “Daily Pitch Limits: USA Baseball, Little League Rules Are The Same, But Only Little League’s Are Mandatory”, October 2nd, 2015.

Boone Chris “Focus on Health of Pitchers Continues in High School Baseball,” National Federation of State High School Associations, March 16th,2015, WEB.

Bordow Scott “Baseball’s new epidemic: Injured pitching arms” Azcentral, May 23rd, 2014, WEB.

Clark Ernie “Maine high school baseball moving toward pitch-count restrictions”, BDN Maine, February 3rd, 2016, WEB.

“International tiebreaker rule announced –New format to be tested at IBAF 18U event in Edmonton”, USA. Baseball, July 25th, 2008, WEB.

Kosaka Makoto, “The dark side of the Koshien dream,” The Japan Times, Aug 4th, 2014, WEB.

Mair Kathy, “Top Ten Causes of Sport Injuries”,, Feb 7th, 2014, WEB.

McCreary Joedy, “Baseball rules change for extra innings”, Archive Azcentral, July 25th, 2008, WEB.

Schwartz Nick, “Japanese high schools play 50-inning baseball game that lasts four days,” September 1st, 2014, WEB.