Arms control comes to Japanese high school ball

Japanese high school baseball, where epic feats of pitching endurance are as much a part of the narrative as who wins or loses, will get a new look next spring, thanks to the efforts of Niigata Prefecture’s high school baseball federation.

The local federation will prevent pitchers in next spring’s prefectural tournament from starting an inning after throwing 100 pitches. That’s it. No recommended rest, no reduced limits for pitchers on short rest.

But for Japan, this is radical stuff.

A Kyodo News story reported Saturday that the prefecture acted because too few youngsters are signing up for high school ball. After forming a committee to look into the problem, it was decided that one way to maintain participation in the sport was to keep players healthy.


“If we ruin fewer talented players, the level of Japanese baseball will improve.”

Dr. Kozo Furushima, head of Keiyu Orthopedic Surgical Hospital

reported Saturday that the prefecture acted because too few youngsters are signing up for high school ball. After forming a committee to look into the problem, it was decided that one way to maintain participation in the sport was to keep players healthy.

The story cited MLB’s “Pitch Smart” guidelines, which you can find here. The story also quoted Dr. Kozo Furushima, whose hospital in Gunma Prefecture is a go-to for Tommy John surgeries in Japan.

“If we ruin fewer talented players, the level of Japanese baseball will improve,” Furushima said.

Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama was also quoted by the Kyodo story, saying, “There will be a lot of objection to this (pitch limit) but I want them to give their best shot.”

Pitch smart risk factors:

  • The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) found that adolescent pitchers who undergo elbow or shoulder surgery are 36 times more likely to have routinely pitched with arm fatigue.
  • ASMI found that players who pitched more than 100 innings in at least one year were 3.5 times more likely to be injured than those who did not exceed 100 innings pitched. Every inning — whether it be during a game or showcase event — should count toward that threshold.
  • ASMI also found that pitchers who competed more than 8 months per year were 5 times as likely to suffer an injury requiring surgery. Pitchers should refrain from throwing for at least 2-3 months per year and avoid competitive pitching for at least 4 months per year.
  • Daily, weekly and annual overuse is the greatest risk to a youth pitcher’s health. Numerous studies have shown that pitchers who throw more pitches per game and those who do not adequately rest between appearances are at an elevated risk of injury. While medical research does not identify optimal pitch counts, pitch count programs have been shown to reduce the risk of shoulder injury in Little League Baseball by as much as 50% (Little League, 2011). The most important thing is to set limits for a pitcher and stick with them throughout the season.
  • Pitchers should avoid pitching on consecutive days, if possible, irrespective of pitch count. According to Yang et al., pitchers who pitched on consecutive days had more than 2.5 times greater risk of experiencing arm pain, compared with pitchers who did not pitch on consecutive days.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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