Monday, November 08, 2010

On kids and curves, big leaguers aren't experts

The debate over when youth pitchers safely can begin experimenting with curve balls is about as old as the most elderly reader of this blog. I've found references going back 60 years.

As a rule, I pay attention to the advice coming from pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, biomechanics researchers. These are people who understand the human body, how it works and when it's stressed in risky ways. They don't always agree, and this article about youth pitchers and curves shows that. But the debates are over real issues.

On the other hand, I'm wary of the advice of pro baseball players and that includes those who rent themselves out as youth pitching coaches. They've tutored hundreds of kids, but does that qualify them as experts?

What brings this to mind is a comment last week by Dave Johnson, former big-league pitcher with the Orioles and Tigers, now a broadcaster with the Orioles. Johnson gives pitching lessons, his son is a prospect in the Orioles organization. He's a nice guy.

Johnson was quoted by blogger Roch Kubatko:

"For me, it's like, go back to when you teach a kid to throw a curve ball. Is 10 too soon? Is 12 too soon? The fact is, we don't know. We really don't know. Some guys have great curve balls and have arm trouble their whole careers. Others don't ever have arm trouble. Some start at 12 and never have a problem. Some start at 11 or 15 and say, 'I blew my arm out. I threw too many curve balls in Little League.' There's no way to say definitely."

Next time, Johnson should say:

"I've been giving lessons for years. But you know what? I'm really not the best person to ask. I do know this: While there is no conclusive medical evidence that curves are bad, the top surgeons say don't throw them until 15. That's good enough for me. In fact, if I catch any Little Leaguer goofing around with curve balls the sentence will be a season playing lacrosse!"

Thanks Ben

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