David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Preventing Tommy John surgery?
Now there's an app for that, too.
Much in the same way that people monitor their daily caloric intake or plan a faster route to the mall, a new app -- featuring the guidance of renowned orthopedist James Andrews -- will provide an extensive protocol designed to slow the dizzying rate of elbow and shoulder injuries plaguing baseball at every level.
Pushing a button won't halt the alarming number of pitching-related injuries overnight. But everyone -- from players to general managers to Andrews himself -- agrees that changes must take place in the sport's youngest leagues to have any chance of reversing a trend that has reached epidemic proportion in the majors this season.
That's where this app -- currently under development at ThrowLikeAProApp.com -- hopes to succeed. By the time a pitcher reaches college, or even high school, it already might be too late.
Dr. Kevin Wilk, a rehab specialist who works with Andrews at his American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., helped create the app and believes that early education is the best shot at making a difference.
"We see all these players who get hurt, and we're treating them, and we're doing all these things to get them back," Wilk said during a telephone interview. "Why don't we front-load the program?
"Front-load it with preventive stuff. The stuff we do with teams to try to cut down on injuries. But make it available to empower the parents and the coaches of these young people."
It's a multifaceted utility. The app provides age-appropriate pitch counts, as well as the ability to keep track, and recommends the number of rest days between performances. There also is a full regimen of exercises -- with video demonstration -- and what Wilk describes as a "position statement," which is a guideline for a young pitcher to follow.
Some examples include not playing year-round baseball or holding off on curveballs until later in a child's development. Also to avoid "max throwing" on every pitch. Mixing speeds and rationing effort can save a young arm as well.
"The idea is for the mom or dad whose kid is pitching," Wilk said. "They can just keep hitting the clicker on the app to count the number of pitches. During the game, the coaches have the best intentions, but they lose track. And they don't have five or six coaches on a Little League team.
"We don't want parents to barge into a game. But at least in between innings, they can know when the kid is getting tired. Also they need to know how many days to rest. That's what I think was missed for a bunch of years. These kids think, OK, I threw my 60 pitches. Now I can pitch two days later. That's not the approach we take."
Those rest days can be the difference between long, healthy careers and the operating table. As Wilk explained, the data has shown that pitching tired -- commonly known as overuse -- is the biggest contributing factor. Wilk said a fatigued pitcher is 36 times more likely to suffer an elbow or shoulder injury.
The study focused on youth baseball -- not pro baseball -- and the damage done was not insignificant. It required medical attention or surgery.
Andrews and Wilk hope this app can help set the record straight after seeing so much misinformation about Tommy John surgery in recent years. The doctors are not alone. The Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers joined forces this past week to conduct a survey of the news media regarding the perception of the ligament-replacement operation and its rehab process. In the past calendar year, 32 major-league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery or been scheduled for it.
Everyone is looking for solutions, and prevention is always a better option than surgery. Wilk remembered a recent study he did with Andrews that involved Birmingham youth leagues. Among kids between the ages of 9 and 14, more than 50 percent of them complained of shoulder or elbow pain. Wilk said that about 12 percent of Andrews' UCL repairs in 1998 were done on kids who were 14 and younger. Now that figure has jumped to 36 percent.
For almost three decades, Wilk and Andrews published a booklet of exercises and guidelines to combat pitching injuries. But they already see this app as having the potential to reach a far wider audience.
And as with most epidemics, knowledge usually is the best medicine.
Yanks after Korean SS?With Derek Jeter's farewell season in full swing, the Yankees need to find their shortstop of the future, and that search might involve the signing of Korean high school star Hyo-Jun Park, according to two sources.
The switch-hitting shortstop is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) first-year player draft later this month. But a person familiar with the situation said Friday that Park's family has told KBO teams not to waste a pick on the 18-year-old senior because he intends to play in the States next year.
The Yankees were among the teams that scouted Park in February when his high school, Yatap, made a spring training trip to California. The international signing period for major-league teams does not begin until July 2, but an official from another club interested in Park said he expects him to end up with the Yankees or Dodgers.
Park has drawn comparisons with another Korean prospect, Hak-Ju Lee, a shortstop who signed at 17 with the Cubs in 2008 for a $1.15-million bonus. Now in the Rays' system, Lee is struggling after coming back from multiple knee surgeries, with a slash line of .224/.327/.286 in 30 games for Triple-A Durham.