As pitchers at West Bloomfield Dazon Cole and Chandler Sedat understand, and are willing to take, the risks of throwing a baseball 85 or 90 mph week after week after week.
Both began pitching when they were 9 years old and both hope to continue on pitching in college.
West Bloomfield will play its 34th game at noon Saturday in a Division 1 regional semifinal against Northville at Novi and Cole and Sedat will play in an additional 100 or more games this summer as part of travel teams or in summer leagues once West Bloomfield completes its run in the state tournament.
Cole, a senior, and Sedat, a junior, are among thousands of high school-age athletes who play 140 or 160 games in a year, and there are concerns that players, especially pitchers, are being overworked and that an injury to a shoulder or elbow is just a 95 mph fastball away.
A recent study conducted by orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews uncovered some startling figures. Of the high school pitchers who were selected in the major league draft from 2010-12, 30 percent have undergone Tommy John surgery. That’s more than double the rate (by percentages) from 2002-09.
Tommy John surgery, named after a former major league pitcher, is a procedure in which the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow is replaced.
In a Bloomberg News article Andrews said that many of these types of injuries began while the players were adolescents.
Northville coach John Kostrzewa said he has seen a rise in injuries and he places much of the blame on coaches interested in winning more than they are in developing pitchers.
“There are way too many games (played) in a very short time in summer ball,” he said. “Especially with young players who haven’t developed good mechanics or strength yet. Winning tournaments becomes the focus instead of the health of a young kid. Sometimes kids go to tournaments and play six games in three days with only 14 players. Major league pitching staffs can’t handle that workload.”
Kostrzewa had elbow surgery during his freshman year in college. He said it was a result of throwing too much and not being monitored properly.
That was 24 years ago and he said there has been an increase in awareness.
Cole and Sedat are keenly aware of the situation and both adhere to a systematic workout and training schedule that they believe will keep their arms strong and rested.
Cole said he does 800 to 900 push-ups each day to build strength, and he doesn’t lift weights. Cole said he was told at an early age not to lift.
Sedat doesn’t do push-ups but does work with weighted balls. Both work with resistance arm bands and a towel drill, both of which are used to create arm strength.
West Bloomfield coach Eric Pierce does use a pitch count for all his pitchers, and it’s a number that varies depending on the pitcher and other factors like weather.
“It’s different,” Pierce said. “Some guys take longer with the bullpen work before they pitch. Take these guys (Cole and Sedat). They make sure their legs are strong so their arms don’t do all of the work. And they’re not three-day rest guys, they’re four-day. Whether Dazon is throwing 80 or 100 pitches, I’m giving him four days. He likes it that way.”
Many coaches, including Pierce, like their pitchers to throw often during the offseason. They don’t want them pitching. That would put too much stress on the arm for an extended period of time.
Some contend that throwing a curveball at an early age can lead to arm trouble. St. Clair coach Bill McElreath, who coached Joel Seddon (South Carolina) and Jacob Cronenworth (Michigan) in high school, would like to see a ban on players 13-and-under using a curveball. Pierce said if you teach someone at that age the proper way to throw a curve, it won’t do any harm. But Pierce added that throwing a curveball excessively, say 20 or 30 times in a game, is another matter.
One problem is the lack of information available, which is a result of a lack of studies being done. The Andrews study and his findings can only help but shed light. The study also offers instructions and methods in preventing injuries (for information contact Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, 805 St. Vincent’s Drive, Suite 100, Birmingham, AL 35205 or (205) 939-3699).
Another study was done this year by Rob Keller, an orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Keller, with the help of area coaches, conducted a study on 20 high school pitchers with the purpose of evaluating a pitcher’s elbow before and after the season.
“There aren’t that many studies out there,” he said. “You’re seeing more of the Tommy John surgeries taking place and, as a doctor, we ask ourselves how we can prevent this.
“We talked to the Cleveland Indians head physician and he’s interested in doing a similar study on major league and minor league pitchers.”
Keller’s study is not complete as a number of his patients are still competing in the state tournament. But what he has seen from the pitchers he has been able to observe is that there is swelling in the ligament after the season.
Keller said the general consensus is that high school pitchers are not resting their arms sufficiently and that an increase in velocity (mph) also could be a cause for the increase in the number of injuries.