Curveballs and Sliders:
Careful With the Wrist-Twisters
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Pitchers get hurt. That’s a fact of baseball. And anyone who’s played the game has an opinion about why: The pitching motion
is unnatural, curveballs and split-finger fastballs
ruin elbows, pitch counts are too high, some
pitchers aren’t built to last.
Three UNC researchers were a little more
scientific about it. They surveyed thousands of
players from youth leagues, high schools and colleges. Turns out that the type of pitch a player
throws doesn’t matter nearly as much as how
often the player throws any type of pitch.
The curveball has long been blamed for arm
injuries because it requires the pitcher’s forearm to
twist just before the ball is released. A lot of parents
and coaches don’t let their Little Leaguers throw
curveballs. Some parents have even pressured Little
League Baseball to ban the pitch. The organization
has never taken that step, but it did want to find
out why its pitchers were complaining of
achy, tired and injured arms. Little League
Baseball teamed up with researchers from Yale
and UNC, including Johna Register-Mihalik ’06
(MA, ’ 10 PhD), a postdoctoral research associate
in the department of exercise and sport science
who collected and analyzed much of the data.
Between 2006 and 2010, the researchers surveyed hundreds of Little Leaguers. Register-Mihalik also worked with athletic
trainers to survey several hundred
high school and college players.
found that Little Leaguers
who threw curveballs didn’t experience pain or
get injured any more
than the Little Leaguers
who didn’t throw
another pitch seemed
to be causing trouble.
want young kids
to throw curveballs
because the technique
requires pitchers to twist
their wrists. It’s like turning
a doorknob hard while throwing. The idea is to
make the ball drop dramatically as it approaches
home plate. The curveball is slower than a fast-
ball, so it has a second level of deceptiveness. But
throwing a curveball puts torque on the elbow.