29 May 2011

The Science of Baseball: May 29, 2011

Last week we begun with this weekly report highlighting three papers that were recently published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and whose focus is largely baseball.  Today we have an article on long toss, which may be of interest to you.  In an article whose truth has been disputed, top draft-eligible high school pitcher Dylan Bundy was allegedly informing teams that he insists on long toss.  Second is an article that looks at rotator cuff injuries and recovery from those injuries.  Finally, we range a little outside of science and bring attention to a dissertation paper on baseball thespians.

Biomechanical comparison of baseball pitching and long-toss: implications for training and rehabilitation.
Fleisig et al. 2011. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 41:296-303

As we know from the aforementioned Dylan Bundy story, long toss has been a highly contentious issue.  Proponents of long toss say that it helps strengthen the arm, increasing velocity and resilience against injury.  The stay the 120 ft or less rule of distance for pitchers' throwing is unfairly based off protocols for the rehabilitation of pitchers overcoming Tommy John surgery.  Those against long toss often state that it strengthens the arm in a way that is not useful to pitching and causes unneeded stress.  This study attempted to measure differences between pitching from a mound and long toss.

Seventeen college pitchers were recruited and told to throw from 60 ft (on a mound), 120 ft, and 180 ft throwing hard in a straight line.  They were then asked to throw maximum distance at any trajectory.  The group found that hard, horizontal, flat-ground throws resulted in similar biomechanics as throwing off a mound and could be useful in training and/or rehabilitation.  However, maximum distance throwing resulted in higher torques and changes in kinematics.  Roughly speaking, maximum distance throws do not show any indication, based on these measures, for helping a pitcher, but do show an increase in stress in the elbow.

Performance after rotator cuff tear and operative treatment: a case control study of Major League Baseball pitchers.
Namdari et al. 2011. J Ath Training 46:296-302.

Supposedly, little is known about how pitchers perform when coming back from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.  The study used press releases and medical reports to determine whom fit in which group.  They found that rotator cuff surgery did not hurt a player's ability to remain pitching in the Majors.  The attrition rate for both groups remained that, which was surprising.  I would have expected injured pitchers who have more difficulty staying in the majors than injury-free pitchers.  It was also noted that pitchers with shoulder injuries never regained their original performance levels and that the injured group of pitchers were originally better pitchers than the control group.  This begs the question of whether the control group was adequately selected.

From the ball fields to Broadway: performance identities of professional baseball players on the 19th and 20th century American stage.
Stern 2011. Dissertation. University of Illios Urbana-Champaign

Feel free to download this here.  The author assessed the theatrical careers of Cap Anson, Mike "King" Kelly, Christy Mathewson, and Ty Cobb.  In the days before television and radio, the stage was often how the game was replayed for interested fans.  Cap Anson's career on stage was one where he played a fictionalized version of himself and was an attempt to make the game more mainstream as opposed to the rough and tumble way it was viewed.  King Kelly's performances appeared to expand the player's identity beyond the diamond.  In a section on Mathewson, you can read up on an interesting concern about a woman owning a baseball team.  Finally, the Ty Cobb section is one that would be familiar to most of us, but is still a good, interesting read for those who are unaware.  To say the least, it is an interesting dissertation concerning the history of baseball.

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