Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Little League pitch counts -- data vs decisions revisited

I posted recently on the new rules in pitch counts for Little League. I've had to defend my comments recently (in a polite way on this blog, and a bit more strenuously in person with friends who have sons pitching in LL), but was struck again about this issue while watching the LL World Series on ESPN.

On the ESPN web site I read this article on pitch counts, and found this comment on point:
What's interesting here is that the 20-pitch specialist is the residue of a change that did not, strictly speaking, emanate from problems within Little League itself. Around the coaching community, it is widely understood that the advent of nearly year-round travel (or "competitive") ball is one of the primary reasons for the rise in young arm problems. In some ways, Little League has made a pitch-count adjustment in reaction to forces that are beyond its control.

Travel ball has become an almost de facto part of a competitive player's baseball life -- just as it has in soccer, basketball and several other youth sports. An alphabet soup of sponsoring organizations, from AAU to USSSA, BPA and well beyond, offers the opportunity to play baseball at levels -- and sheer numbers of games -- that a previous generation of players would have found mind-boggling.

But travel ball is here to stay -- and so too, apparently, is a new approach by Little League to containing the potential damage to young arms. So get used to the 20-pitch kid. He's a closer on the shortest leash imaginable.

In other words, coaches know that it isn't pitch counts per se that cause the problems, but rather the number of months of the year the kids are pitching.

Interestingly, there is no ban on breaking pitches, though when I talk to coaches, there is speculation that these cause arm problems. In fact, on the Little League web site, they state:
While there is no medical evidence to support a ban on breaking pitches, it is widely speculated by medical professionals that it is ill-advised for players under 14 years old to throw breaking pitches,” Mr. Keener said. “Breaking pitches for these ages continues to be strongly discouraged by Little League, and that is an issue we are looking at as well. As with our stance on pitch counts, we will act if and when there is medical evidence to support a change.

I'm glad they are studying it, but the decision not to act to ban breaking pitches due to a lack of data is interesting since there is also a lack of data with pitch counts, but it didn't stop the officials from making rules there! Hopefully with the new pitch count rules, and the new data collected, we can see of the data bears out this hypothesis.


Anonymous said...

In my experience management will make decisions based on some data, no data, or conflicting data.

While the medical studies were probably not true experiments (random selection, random assignment), there probably is some useful information in them. And the coaches are domain experts. So maybe the decision not to ban breaking balls is the (current) conventional wisdom of little league baseball. Which may actually be appropriate. Or not.

Van Scott

Dean Abbott said...

You are right to point out that management has other factors to include in decisions besides the data itself. I shouldn't be too hard on Little League baseball in this regard.

Even so, I would like to see them truly investigate causes of the increase in arm injuries. I don't know about the medical studies either, but they are a good place to start--perhaps a meta analysis on the studies performed so far, including looking at the experimental design.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think it's ok to give them a hard time since their "knowledge" appears to be incomplete and tentative. But there will probably always be a gap between methodologists/analysts and policy-makers.

Now the meta-analysis sounds very interesting if you had access to the studies.

Van Scott