Can science keep MLB pitchers off the disabled list?

Investing in biomechanical assessments and revamping strength training programs is the best way to keep major league baseball pitchers off the disabled list, according to research out of the University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology.

Leading baseball biomechanics expert Thomas Karakolis says that rather than limiting the number of innings young pitchers throw, teams should instead focus on the pitchers’ ability for tissue adaptation by developing strength and conditioning programs that build soft tissue capacity during the offseason and promote recovery during the season.

baseball pitcher

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Conducting a biomechanical assessment of each pitcher’s throw is also vital in curbing the group’s high injury rate.

Curveball on conventional wisdom

“Conventional wisdom among coaches and managers is that restricting innings for young starting pitchers, and slowly increasing the number of innings pitched over several years, gives pitchers’ tissues sufficient time to adapt to the workload of a major league season,” said Karakolis. “But our research shows that these strategies really make no difference in preventing injury.”

Karakolis’ latest study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, found that neither limiting the number of innings nor gradually increasing the total number of innings pitched per season has an effect on young MLB pitchers’ risk of future injury.

MLB commissioner supports biomechanical assessments for pitchers

MLB’s new commissioner, Robert Manfred recently announced that the league is doing an in-depth study of pitchers on six teams. The study will include everything from biomechanics to medical histories to determine what factors cause injuries. Injuries have plagued MLB in recent years, with more than 25 per cent of pitchers on the disabled list.

Karakolis’ recent study looked at injury rates based on the number of innings pitched and five levels of yearly increases ranging from 10 to 50 innings. A year-over-year increase of 30 innings pitched is often used as the limit for the number of innings a young starting pitcher is allowed to pitch in any given season.

Biomechanics of each pitch 

“Injury is the result of workload exceeding the capacity of the body’s tissues, so while counting innings is a tempting way to measure workload, it’s actually a very flawed method,” said Karakolis. “If coaches are looking for ways to prevent injury, simply limiting the number of innings is not the answer. They have to look at how hard a pitcher’s body is working during each inning, each pitch.”

 “The injury rate for MLB pitchers is nothing short of unacceptable,” said Karakolis. “Clearly current methods for preventing injury aren’t working. We need a new strategy that will keep pitchers off the disabled list for good. That strategy starts with biomechanical assessments and more tailored strength training programs.”

Karakolis looked at 761 independent pitcher-seasons between 2002 and 2007. All pitchers were under the age of 25 and had pitched at least one third of an inning in major league.