Sidearm and Submarine Pitching

Pat Neshek (in the video to the right) is the most famous sidearm pitcher in the MLB. Glenn Fliesig, Research Director at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, says that sidearmers and submariners (such as Byung-Hyun Kim, below) generally aren't any more prone to elbow and shoulder injuries than over-the-top pitchers. Bud Black, San Diego Padres manager and former player, said that the sidearm or submarine style is more effective because of the deception and the release point. I was very suprised to learn this. I had always thought that sidearm and submarine pitchers were much more injury-prone due to the unusual motion.

Labrum Injuries

The torn labrum is definitely baseball's most fearsome injury. The San Francisco Giant's Robb Nen, one of baseball's best relief pitchers, had off-season surgery to "clean up loose particles" in his shoulder. It turned out to be a torn labrum. The labrum is a cuff of cartilage circling the shallow shoulder socket. It acts as a shock absorber, cushioning the bones in the shoulder when they collide. The kinetic forces required to throw a baseball-a major league pitcher's arm moves at 23 revolutions per second- routinely rip apart the structures that are designed to keep the shoulder together. If a major league pitcher's arm was not attached at the shoulder, and he did the normal fastball motion, his arm would fly 70 to 100 yards. The most common variety of a labrum injury is a SLAP-superior lesion, anterior to posterior. A SLAP tear feels like a slight click or pop in a normal overhand pitching motion. What makes the labrum injury so bad is that doctors don't know how to detect a labrum tear, don't know the best way to fix one, and aren't sure why, almost without fail, a torn labrum will end a pitcher's career. Dr. James Andrews, a leading baseball surgeon, estimates that 85% of pitchers make a full recovery after the once-risky Tommy John surgery (later on my page). Of the 36 major league pitchers with a torn labrum in the last 5 years, only one, midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle, returned to his previous pitching level. Think about that: A pitcher with a torn labrum has only a 3% chance of returning to his previous level. Robb Nen, eighteen months and three surgeries later, is still waiting to throw his next major league pitch.

Pitching Surgeries

Tommy John Surgery

What follows is a list of some of the best pitchers in the world: Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, John Smoltz, Tom Gordon, Mariano Rivera. They all have one thing in common- a four-inch scar on their pitching arm from Tommy John surgery. USA Today reported that about one in every nine pitchers who appeared in the major leagues in 2009 was a Tommy John surgery survivor. The surgery- it's technical name is an ulnar collateral ligament replacement procedure- has saved the careers of hundreds of major league pitchers. The surgery was started by surgeon Frank Jobe, whom pitcher Tommy John went to with a damaged UCL and said, "Make something up." The UCL gives most of the stability that is necessary for the elbow to withstand the stress of throwing a baseball at a high speed. Sometimes, the UCL will weaken and stretch (technically a sprain), making it incompetent. Other times, huge stress will cause the UCL to "pop" or "blow out." This is not incredibly painful, and is hard to diagnose without an MRI. But, either incompetent or blown out, a damaged UCL will cause a pitcher to stop throwing at full speed and to lose some of their control. Some people believe that pitching legend Sandy Koufax's "dead arm" in 1966 was a damaged UCL. It is pretty easy to assume that every one in ten pitchers who burned out before this surgery was used could have been saved. Pretty much what happens in this surgery is a new tendon is harvested and inserted. After scraping out the damaged tissue, they drill 4 holes and loop the new tendon in the holes in a series of figure-eight patterns. Then, the pitcher stays on the Disabled List (referred to as the DL) for a half-year to a year, and the pitcher is usually as good as new.

Pitching Injuries Page 2