West Raleigh Baseball looked into the growing body of evidence that youth pitchers are placed at greater risk of injury and long-term arm impairment by over-use and by throwing curveballs at early ages. We particularly considered the research and recommendations of the USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee. Based on these findings, West Raleigh Baseball took a leadership step in protecting the health of our youth players by making two significant changes in pitching rules.
The Rookie, American, National and Junior Leagues in West Raleigh Baseball will follow pitch count and minimum-rest rules rather than relying on traditional innings-pitched rules. A great deal of research has shown conclusively that innings-pitched rules are ineffective in reducing over-use injuries to young pitchers. Pitchers have been known to throw innings stretching over 50 pitches (even at West Raleigh where we have tried to prevent over-use). Pitch count and rest rules being implemented at West Raleigh are in accordance with the latest recommendations available for youth players. For details about the new pitching rules and how they are applied, see the individual league rules.
In addition to pitch counts, West Raleigh prohibits the use of the breaking ball - pitches in which the pitcher deliberately breaks his or her wrist in order to induce a forward or side-angled spin on the ball - in our Rookie, American and National Leagues. This decision follows guidance from leading researchers indicating that pitchers who throw curveballs at an early age - under 13 years old - experience significantly more injuries, and shoulder and elbow pain than pitchers who do not. We strongly believe that one of our primary responsibilities is to ensure that our players can continue playing in good health as long as they wish - and eliminating the curveball from our younger age divisions is a strong step in that direction.
West Raleigh Baseball recognizes that the elimination of pitches in which the pitcher intentionally "breaks the wrist" is a controversial subject....the most controversial aspect is probably enforcement. We at West Raleigh Baseball place good sportsmanship well ahead of competitiveness, and this applies to this rule as well. We expect that parents, players and coaches will accept that there will be occasions when pitchers unintentionally break the wrist when throwing pitches - many young pitchers do "slide" their wrist as part of their natural throwing motion. Other pitchers can throw pitches that drop or slide without breaking the wrist (circle-changeups and two-seam fastballs can be mistaken for curves or sliders by the ball movement). Our coaches are being counseled in how to deal with these situations - and part of that counseling is that discussion of whether or not a pitcher is throwing "breaking balls" is NOT to take place during games or on the ballfield or in the stands. These matters will be resolved between the coaches and the league commissioners after the game. Arguments on the field over curveballs will be considered equivalent to arguing balls and strikes with an umpire, and will not be tolerated. We intend to work to reduce and remove usage of the curve ball, and do so in a fair and even-handed manner. We expect that coaches will NEVER ask or permit their pitchers in the affected age group to intentionally throw a curveball, and will assume that any that are thrown are unintentional. Coaches' ability to improve their pitchers' mechanics so as to reduce or eliminate curveballs over the course of the season will be a consideration for future coaching assignments. We do not expect that our efforts will be perfect, but we do expect that over time we will improve the health of our youth players.
All our All Star Championship teams have been following these rules, self-imposed by the coaches, for several years and this has not hindered our success. See Championship link in WR Info tab above. This experience confirms we can play good, competitive baseball and not risk the health of our players for the sake of winning. We have also communicated our rules to Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth Baseball, and to Tarheel Leagues. At this time neither sanctioning body has adopted these measures, though both readily agree that our action is within their rules, and they are very supportive of our efforts to do this on a local level.
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