Health News

Angst and Pride..Tommy John surgery

Kids and adults are fascinated by a pitcher who throws hard. Aroldis Chapman has been clocked at 106 mph. But speed kills!!

I have lectured to Little Leagues about the perils of overusing their pitchers and injuring their arms . Years ago the shoulder was the main concern  for pitchers . Now with advanced treatment and rehab, the shoulder has become much easier to save. However  elbow injuries, specifically tears of the UCL have become an epidemic!! The rate of Tommy John surgery has skyrocketed!

2 years ago I repaired a young man’s elbow . After a long hard road he has reached the Major Leagues in Baseball being drafted by the Texas Rangers. The sad reality is that he is not bionic and the rigors of throwing that once racked his arm will return again. Hopefully after working with pitching guru Kyle Boddy , his maturity and mechanics will lead him to a long MLB career!!

And if you have a more than passing interest in this problem, READ THE ARM: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, by Jeff Passan. 
 

Below is the recent USA Today story on speed.
The quest for a 100-mph fastball: Can MLB prospects safely develop velocity?

KENT, Wash. – A warehouse-type building in an industrial park on the outskirts of Seattle would hardly seem like a pitching mecca. Merely finding the place, tucked in between a gym and an auto-glass shop about six winding miles southeast of SeaTac airport, requires more than just plugging the address into a GPS.

Yet pitchers have been making the pilgrimage to the Driveline Baseball facility in such numbers, owner and founder Kyle Boddy is now in his third location in four years. As the summer crush begins to intensify, a flyer at the desk by the entrance asks participants to schedule specific time slots for training and physical therapy, or they won’t be allowed to work out.

The pitchers, amateurs and pros with a wide range in ability, hail from diverse points throughout the country, usually drawn by the same lure: the chance to increase their velocity.

“I was barely touching 91 (mph) in Mexico, came back here, left and got it up to 92-96 in my last month of indie ball. My arm felt electric again,’’ said Alex Casillas, 29, a veteran of the bushes in the U.S. and south of the border who is a Driveline regular.

The motivation is clear. Four of the top five average salaries in the majors this season belong to pitchers, and with 12- and even 13-man staffs now the norm, so do about half the jobs on big league rosters.

The average fastball velocity in the majors rose from 90.1 mph in 2005 to an all-time high of 92.1 last year, leaving little doubt about what college and pro scouts are looking for.

The increased speed has been accompanied by a spike in elbow injuries requiring Tommy John surgery, and experts like Glenn Fleisig – research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute – see a correlation, pointing out ligaments and tendons can’t withstand that kind of sustained force.

Major League Baseball and the players association are concerned enough to commission a five-year study looking into the causes of the injuries. A study published last month revealed a connection between increased fastball use and injuries, though not necessarily a link with velocity.

Regardless, as Thursday’s major league draft approaches, hopefuls like local product Herbie Good – a 6-8 right-hander who has trained with Boddy for the last four years and features a mid-90s fastball – have been ramping up their workouts and showcasing their talents at the 4,000-square-foot facility.

Brent McMinn, a former New York Mets farmhand from Houston, traveled to Driveline in hopes of reviving his injury-riddled career.

“I’m finding out here there’s more in the tank than I thought there was,’’ said McMinn, 25, “and I’m pretty confident now that I’m going to get a chance to play with another professional organization in the near future.’’

Such results stem from a training program designed by Boddy and employed by a handful of major leaguers, most notably the Cleveland Indians’ Trevor Bauer, as well as Dan Straily and Caleb Cotham of the Cincinnati Reds, Chris Capuano of the Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers rookie left-hander Matt Boyd.

Their jerseys hang on a wall near a TrackMan machine that provides information on velocity and spin rate, and a hitting simulator that tracks command of pitches. Across the open gym, young men on a platform that simulates a pitching mound hurl PlyoCare balls – mini-medicine balls filled with sand – with all their might against a wooden wall covered with rubber, which barely drowns out the constant thud of their throws.

These are all elements of a training regimen that aims to “Develop healthy, high velocity pitchers of any age,’’ as the Driveline web site states in its home page. The program also incorporates weighted baseballs that range from 3-11 ounces – the normal ball weighs 5 ounces – and it includes elements of recovery, pitching mechanics and command.

The real draw, however, is the potential to boost the radar gun numbers.

“We want to be a full pitching-development service, not just velocity gain,’’ said Boddy, a former high school baseball coach and software developer, “but for better or worse, that’s what a lot of guys are interested in.’’

This month alone, more than 100 pitchers – mostly from high schools and colleges – are planning to train at Driveline, which charges $650 for a single month or $500 per for a commitment of at least two months. The pros typically arrive in the winter.

“The fact he’s gotten a lot of different pitchers to go up there and certainly has grown his client base, it shows the interest in some of his methods,’’ said Cleveland Indians farm director Carter Hawkins, whose club has worked with Driveline.

Boddy’s methods are a combination of his exhaustive research into the works of dozens of sources – including former Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, long-toss advocate Alan Jaeger and University of Hawaii professor Coop DeRenne – with his own testing and experimenting, much of it in a biomechanics lab he assembled.

Like Jaeger, Boddy is at odds with the baseball establishment’s approach toward protecting pitchers’ well-being, insisting more throwing, not less, leads to healthier arms, as long as it’s done with proper mechanics and sufficient recovery. That’s the objective of training with the Plyo-balls.

Weighted baseballs – which speed up arm action the lighter they are – are used for catch play, warmups, command, throwing to a target and increasing velocity. They have been around since at least the 1960s but have come back in vogue, evoking a combination of curiosity and skepticism.

The same can be said of previous cutting-edge pitching gurus like Tom House, a former major league pitcher, and Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch, credited with helping Scott Kazmir salvage his career from the depths of independent-ball oblivion.

“Driveline is building on the past guys, the Tom Houses, the Marshalls, and layering on smart programming, on-ramping, cool-down recovery protocols,’’ said Cotham, who added 4 mph to a fastball that now averages 93. “Because if you’re going to do that type of stuff, you have to pay the price in recovery, or you won’t be able to do it.

“That’s one of his taglines: The recovery should be 40, 50% of your work. You have to earn the right to do the cool stuff, throw weighted balls as hard as you can. If you’re not doing the other stuff, that becomes dangerous. But I think altogether, it’s very logical, and in my opinion, if done correctly, it’s safe.’’

Though still aggravated by the slow pace of change in baseball, Boddy has found more acceptance for his ways as young, analytical thinkers have joined the industry. He believes some form of weighted-ball training will be implemented throughout the game within the next five years.

“I think at this point in the baseball-training community, we can really say there are quantitative ways to improve your velocity, whether it’s Driveline or another program, lifting heavier or throwing long-toss,’’ said Boddy, 32. “Whatever it is, it’s generally accepted that you can now throw harder. Ten years ago, nobody believed that. The belief was, ‘Velocity is God-given – you either have it or you don’t.’’’

Even when pitchers possess that gift – via genetics, training or both – evaluating them remains a vexing proposition for major league clubs investing millions of dollars in teenage arms.

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who describes his organization as open to newer modes of training and maintaining a pitcher’s comfort level, says radar guns don’t lie, but they also aren’t crystal balls.

“Understanding what players are doing to gain velocity – the question is, how long is that sustainable?” says Mozeliak. “When you’re looking to make investments, you’re looking at future performance. Yes, what you do today matters. But it’s more important what you do tomorrow.

“If somebody’s doing something that gets them to this point, with the future unknown, that’s a little scary.”

Boddy said he didn’t start out looking to provide a vehicle for enhanced speed, but rather a data-driven method for preventing pitching injuries, having endured some himself as a youth player in Ohio. He discovered that as pitchers stayed healthier, they could train more and gained velocity.

Two years ago, Boddy authored “Hacking the Kinetic Chain,’’ a guide to developing hard throwers that’s included in a package Driveline sells for about $180 to pitching prospects, their parents and coaches.

His methods have gained converts among two college powerhouses – Vanderbilt and Oregon State – and he has consulted for five major league clubs, typically doing pre-draft analysis.

Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown is particularly enthusiastic in his endorsement, saying the Commodores – whose distinguished pitching alumni include David Price and Sonny Gray – use the Driveline program for arm health and recovery, relying on both the Plyo-balls and the weighted baseballs.

“I think Kyle’s taken an idea that’s been around for a long time and he’s developed a plan and formula for it for people to use,’’ Brown said. “And he’s used his technology and his hours and hours in the lab seeing the effects of it and how it can grow. He’s provided the world with a really good foundation and structure.’’

That’s not to say everyone’s convinced he’s on the right track, or even a healthy one. Fleisig said the use of weighted balls has become a hot topic in the baseball community, and researchers at ASMI have been studying them for the last two years.

MLB teams have been calling to inquire about the value and safety of training with weighted baseballs because several of their pitchers are rejoining them in the spring after spending the offseason using those tools as part of their workouts.

His conclusion?

“So far, the research is pointing to it being effective for mechanics and for gaining ball velocity,’’ Fleisig said. “Although more work is needed to definitively show it, the initial work is encouraging. The part about safety is a complete unknown.’’

Fleisig also raised concerns about the impact on the arm when a pitcher throws as hard as possible with balls that weigh less than 4 ounces, and he was skeptical of the benefits of training with 1- and 2-pound Plyo-balls, which are part of the Driveline program.

“Varying by a few ounces seems to be good drills for training pitchers,’’ Fleisig said. “But going really heavy, I’m concerned you’re teaching bad mechanics. Going really light, I think you may put a dangerous force on your arm.’’

Boddy makes no guarantees that his clients can avoid injury, saying risk is an unavoidable element in a performance program, but he adds that most of Driveline’s investments in the last year have been devoted to recovery tools.

And Bauer and Brown both point out other components of the Driveline program, such as command, rehab from injury, pitch design and spin rate, all backed by scientific analysis. They proved enticing enough for 39-year-old lefty reliever Joe Beimel to drive up from California in an effort to pitch in a 14th major league season.

But even as he works to enhance Driveline’s command program and improve safety, Boddy acknowledges speed remains the primary allure.

“Scouts come with radar guns. That’s what they want to see,’’ Boddy said. “We have to be honest and tell (pitchers), ‘This is what they want. This is, we think, a responsible way to develop it. There are risks. We have to be upfront with them.

“When the draft fires, the top of the board will be full of guys who throw upper 90s. It’s clear where the priorities are for Major League Baseball, so we need to adapt in the most responsible way.’’

Contributing: C. Trent Rosecrans and Gabe Lacques

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