Baseball Pitching Compared in Children and Pros

Jan. 13, 2000 (Atlanta) -- The body position and timing of accurate pitchers is virtually the same in little league and professional baseball, according to a report in the Journal of Biomechanics. Experts say the use of good body mechanics should start early to maximize performance and minimize injury.

Researchers analyzed the biomechanics of more than 200 male pitchers in youth, high school, college, and professional leagues. The best pitches of each subject were assessed in terms of motion, speed, position, and timing. High-speed cameras were used to track joint motion, and radar was used to measure ball speed. Pitching distance was adjusted to the standard of each competitive level.

The data showed that 16 out of 17 position and timing measures were not statistically different between competitive levels. Joint forces, however, increased significantly with each competitive level. This led researchers to conclude that the high speed of adult pitching is due to increased muscle strength rather than body mechanics. The chief investigator says the findings support a common coaching philosophy.

"The data support a recommendation by the International Baseball Foundation that children be taught good pitching mechanics from early on," says Glenn Fleisig, PhD, the Smith & Nephew research chairman at the American Society of Sports Medicine. "It also suggests that a lighter ball might allow kids to pitch at the speed of adults." Fleisig tells WebMD that increased joint force may predispose adults to injury, and sports medicine experts agree.

"Pitching injuries fall into a general category known as overuse injuries," says Cindy Chang, MD, head team physician for the University of California, Berkeley. "Overuse injuries are microtears of muscles, tendons, or ligaments. And in younger athletes, they can involve bone." Chang tells WebMD that overuse injuries result from increased intensity and frequency, inadequate warm-up, or improper body mechanics.

"One of the best ways to prevent overuse injuries is to improve overall fitness. This is because athletes injure themselves much more frequently when they're fatigued," says Chang. "It's also important to focus on strengthening and flexibility throughout the year. For pitchers, that means the shoulder, elbow, and wrist." Chang says getting to know children's coaches also helps prevent injuries.

"Parents need to know if their kids are learning pitching mechanics or if they're just being told to throw hard," says Chang. "Parents should also ensure that kids are using appropriate equipment and warming up adequately with stretching exercises." Researchers say further investigation of baseball equipment is needed.

"Proper grips are a big part of pitching technique," says Fleisig. "But adult-sized baseballs are used at every level of competition. And this makes proper grip technique tough for small hands. So further investigation of baseballs with a smaller diameter would be very helpful."

For more information about strengthening exercise, a booklet is available from the American Sports Medicine Institute, a nonprofit organization. A Conditioning Program for Baseball Pitchers may be ordered at (205) 918-2141 or [email protected] for a fee of $8.

Vital Information:

  • The body position and timing of accurate pitchers are virtually the same at all ages, from Little League to the pros.
  • Children should be taught good pitching mechanics from an early age, and the pitches will get faster over time as joint force increases.
  • To prevent overuse injuries from pitching, athletes should improve overall fitness and focus on strengthening and flexibility.