Professional Baseball Scout Likes the Long-Term Affects, Prospects of Little Leaguers Using Pitch Count
Matt Anderson is a professional baseball scout for the Florida Marlins. In his estimation, injuries to amateur pitchers have increased 100 percent over the last 20 years, due mainly to overuse.
Little League has never been concerned with developing the next
great Major League prospect, although there have been several Little
League Baseball graduates who have gone on to excel at the pinnacle
of their sport. At the other end of the spectrum is the professional
baseball scout whose singular responsibility is to judge potential.
“Health has become a huge part of my job,” Mr. Anderson, a graduate of Oklahoma University and former college baseball pitcher and coach, said. “By the time (the Marlins) sign a player, I’ve done extensive medical background work. A lot of guys have already had specific problems with their arms because coaches don’t seem to realize that there are only a certain number of throws a player has in him.”
The Little League program can benefit children from all walks of life through its goal to offer a healthy and safe athletic program. That mission served as motivation to develop and expand the Pitch Count Pilot Program (2005 and 2006), and foreshadowed the decision to introduce the pitch count rule in 2007.
More information on the Little League pitch count rule can be found here: http://www.littleleague.org/media/New_T_Rules_10-06.asp
“In today’s society so much is based on numbers,” Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer for Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “The numbers I use when describing the long-range prospects of any youth baseball player go like this … For the five million children playing baseball in the United States, 400,000 will play ball in high school. Of those 400,000, around 1,500 will be drafted by a professional baseball team. From those 1,500 or so, 500 will play two seasons or less in the minor leagues. Of the 500 in the minors, 100 will reach the Major League level, with one making it to Cooperstown, N.Y. and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Mr. Anderson has been a professional baseball scout since 1995, working with the Atlanta Braves, Montreal Expos and Marlins. In his experience he has seen injuries go up 100 percent in 20 years and attributes the increase to overuse.
“In a general sense, the human arm was not designed to throw,” Mr. Anderson said. “Kids I’ve scouted who have pitched all their lives have shown they wear down. The pitch count rule is a great start in stopping overuse.”
After reviewing Little League’s pitch count rule, Mr. Anderson sees it as a good teaching tool.
“This rule is about throwing the ball over the plate,” Mr. Anderson said. “Efficient innings will be at a premium, because the pitch count is not about striking out players. How long a pitcher stays out there is up to how efficient he can be. If you only have 85 pitches there is a lot more incentive to throw strikes.”
As a player at Oklahoma (1986-88), and later as a college head coach at Benedictine College in Kansas (1991-95), Mr. Anderson acquired first-hand knowledge of the types of physical training and development pitchers need to have healthy and successful careers.
Starting with Little League-age players, Mr. Anderson advised against limiting a player to one position, especially when it comes to tabbing players as pitchers. He suggests coaches provide guidance and allow the player to be responsible for executing while on the mound or in the field.
“If I was a Little League manager, I would cast a broad net,” Mr. Anderson said. The more guys you can get pitching the better off your team will be, and that is where the coaching comes in, he explained.
“Games are won and lost in practice,” Mr. Anderson said. “I think the more guys who have an introduction to pitching passes the art around – and it is an art. It’s not all about strikes, or how hard you throw it. The players who are the best pitchers have a feel, instinct and ability to throw the ball where they want it to go.”
Beginning to develop pitchers starts with the basic throw-and-catch. In Mr. Anderson’s observation, children do not play enough “catch.”
While scouting players throughout Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, he said, “I’ve seen a change in a guy’s health and command when he plays catch every day. I don’t think guys are allowed to just throw anymore.”
Mr. Anderson admitted that from a scout’s perspective there are two schools of thought on evaluating the stability of a pitcher’s arm and the development of his mound presence.
“I look around for guys with good arms,” Mr. Anderson said. “Good pitching is really hard to find, and I think Little League’s pitch count will help guys get to the point where we can draft him.
“A kid who hasn’t pitched has a lot to learn, but he hasn’t used up his physical abilities,” Mr. Anderson said. “On the other hand, players with feeling, who have pitched a lot, have their potential tied to health issues.”
The “feeling” that Mr. Anderson refers to is related to experience as a pitcher, but he also cautions that the feeling can go away permanently if an injury occurs. Often feeling is tied to velocity, and he said it is hard to have velocity if a player has arm problems.
Focused on helping young players enjoy the game, develop their talent, and above all, stay healthy throughout their playing days, Mr. Anderson provided a bit of insight and a reality check for parents and coaches.
“When I am comparing two players of equal value, I will always choose the player with the clean health,” Mr. Anderson said. “The reason – this is a business. If I sign a kid, then he has “Tommy John” surgery, now it’s a workman’s comp issue, not an insurance issue.”