It’s a mess in travel baseball. The showcase scene and Travel Ball USA mania have exploded over the past decade. The number of travel teams is on the rise, but the number and quality of organisations that truly put arm care and development at the forefront of their work seems to be declining.
This post was written jointly by Justin Barber, the Director of Operations & Player Development for the Indiana Chargers and Joel Mishler (Chargers Co-Founder & General Manager). Since 2008, the Indiana Chargers have seen 140 players leave their program to go on to college baseball. They are now in their 13th season. They will have teams at the 11-18u level and will also run a college summer training program.
After 13 years of dealing with the structural problems presented by Travel Ball USA, we made an organizational promise to prioritise player development. We’ll be discussing the issues of arm care that Travel Ball USA presents, and the specific solutions we made.
The current Travel Ball USA climate is facing one of its biggest challenges: arm care. Pitch counts are the most important aspect of arm care and protecting pitchers. They play a crucial role in managing abuse or overuse of young arms. Pitch counts aren’t perfect but it is a good place to start.
Pitch Smart was created by USA Baseball and Major League Baseball in late 2014. Every state has its own pitch count rules in high school competition.
For more information, please see the Pitch Smart Pitch Count Limits & Required Rest Recommendations. J.J. Cooper from Baseball America has created an article with the High School Pitch Count Rules by State.
Some tournament companies, such as Perfect Game, comply with Pitch Smart, but most travel baseball tournaments do not have any pitching rules. When it comes to pitch counts or pitch limits, coaches are advised to use “good judgment”.
We understand that tournament venues may not want to enforce the Pitch Smart protocols. However, this lack of accountability is what leads to the “Travel Ball USA” nonsense we witness on a weekly basis.
Quick Story: Travel Ball USA Nose
A 14U opponent pitcher throws 90 pitches Saturday and then takes multiple games Sunday. The opposing shortstop closes Saturday’s game and throws a complete Sunday game (120 pitches).
Next weekend, we lose to the opposing team’s 14U starting pitcher. He’s the best of this year’s arms and he throws 95 pitches. This is not the problem. This team had been defeated 2 days before, and the child who started threw 65 pitches in less than 48 hours of his CG win on Sunday. This kid, aged 14U, had thrown 160 pitches in less than 48 hours.
Travel Ball USA veterans are familiar with these types of stories. It is risky for a child in the Midwest to throw more pitches in 48 hours than professional pitching in the playoffs. This is just one way of risking injury with an at-risk population in order to win a game which, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing.
To Justify Short Rest, “Bullpen Day” Work
Travel Ball USA tournaments see a common decision in arm care: bringing back starters two to three days later. It is called a “bullpen” day by coaches. Standard pens typically have between 30-45 pitches. It’s incredible to see how many Travel Ball USA “bullpen day” games turn into 4-5 innings or 75+ pitches. The kid claims he feels good, and it’s an elimination match!
Day 3 or 4 may be a bullpen day at college and pro levels, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a high school arm can handle this type of workload every week during summer.