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Pitchers may have topped out at about 105 mph

After many years of study, pitching motion guru Glenn Fleisig from the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., stated he believes we’ve topped out at just under 105 mph on how fast a human can throw a fastball.

Fleisig attributes this to the frailty of ligaments and tendons that are already stretched to the limit by the pitching motion.

Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR host Ray Horner about this topic. We also discussed Fleisig’s finding that it’s best for young throwers to pitch off a flat surface, instead of the mound.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

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HORNER: Our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, is on board with us right now. Joe, good morning. Thanks for coming in. You want to talk a little baseball, huh?

DR. CONGENI: Yeah. Baseball’s heating up, right Ray? Is the Tribe still alive? I think we are, aren’t we?

HORNER: Ohhh yeah. It’s fun, isn’t it?

DR. CONGENI: It is fun. I’m really enjoying this. You know, [multiple times] we’ve all counted the Indians out and they keep bouncing back, so it’s fun.

HORNER: Yeah.

DR. CONGENI: There were a couple of studies by this gentleman that’s known as the guru of studying the pitching motion, the pitching movement pattern. His name is Glenn Fleisig. He’s down at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham (Alabama). He’s been studying this for over 20 years.

So, all this movement pattern stuff I’ve talked to you about — watching how people serve a tennis ball so they do it better and prevent injury or bat speed and things like that — people have been looking at the pitching motion for a long time. And, Glenn Fleisig has been right in the middle of it.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

I think part of the reason is because we don’t do so [well in this area]. We’re looking at upwards of 40 to 50 percent of young pitchers end up with injuries still.

You know at the highest level, the latest one this year is Matt Harvey, the great young flamethrower from the New York Mets is hurt. He’s down in Dr. Andrews’ office.

Last year, it was Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals). You know, right here in Cleveland we have our phenom Danny Salazar, but he had an ulnar collateral ligament tear a year or two ago and Tommy John surgery.

So, it seems like so many of these flamethrowers break down. And, in the conclusion of years of study, Glenn Fleisig came out — two different studies I want to touch on — and said, he thinks that we’ve topped out on how fast a human can throw a fastball. That surprised me a little. He thinks just under 105 (mph), where some of these people are, we’re not able to get any faster than that.

We’re looking at upwards of 40 to 50 percent of young pitchers end up with injuries still.

Directly quoting him, he said, he attributes this conclusion “to the frailty of ligaments and tendons already stretched to the limit by the pitching motion, the final whip of,” which he calls, “the fastest-known human movement.”

So, we’re probably getting near the end of the line. You know, I think we talk sometimes about how fast people can go in the pool, you know, with Michael Phelps and all this, and how fast runners can go. But, we’re probably getting near the end of the line.

Now, he does say as pitchers get better conditioning, nutrition and mechanics, and get stronger, there may be more kids that get up in the 95 to 100 miles-per-hour range. But, probably we’ve reached our limit at about 105.

Unfortunately, there are so many of these young throwers that break down we’re trying to do a better job to find out what are some things we can do prevention wise. So, on the other hand, Fleisig did a study a year or two ago and it was repeated in Connecticut on younger throwers.

[What he found was] early in the year for a lot of your young throwers, it’s best to throw off the flat surface, instead of putting them right on the mound. There is definitely a 6 to 10 percent increase of stress on the shoulder and the elbow when pitchers throw off the mound.

So when they’re coming back from an injury, when they’ve had a surgery or at the beginning of a sport year, you really ought to start your young pitchers throwing off a flat surface.

HORNER: Hmmm. That is interesting. Why is that? Is it because of the gravity and the stretch and the pull, Joe?

DR. CONGENI: There’s just kind of angular forces on the shoulder and elbow that put an increase stress of what’s called internal rotation in those areas.

So when you get Rocko Horner, his teammates and the pitchers out there next year and they’re chomping at the bit to throw 80 or 90 (mph), start ‘em on the flat surface, don’t climb right up on the mound yet. Particularly after an injury, the last step of progressing ‘em back would be pitching off the mound.

HORNER: Good stuff. Alright, Joe. Thanks for the visit. We’ll probably see you Friday night. I’m broadcasting the Hoban/Barberton football game.

DR. CONGENI: Ah, I think you’re going to be seeing a different Hoban team. They are really coming around.

HORNER: I hear they have a running back. Is that true? [laughter]

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, a very good-looking young man. It’s so fun for us to see kids, you know, develop all over town. There are so many great athletes and great stories and you do a great job with that. Thanks, Ray. I’ll see you Friday.

HORNER: You got it. Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital with us.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.

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