Speedier Baseball Games Risks Pitchers' Arms, Study Says

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While new-rule skeptics and baseball purists are already howling that creating a time limit for pitchers will not speed up a Major League Baseball game enough to justify its creation, there's another precinct checking in to voice concern about the controversial proposal: medical science.

Researchers in Canada are suggesting that rules seeking to create a faster pace, forcing pitchers to throw their pitches over a shorter period of time, will give rise to additional arm muscle fatigue, and perhaps serious injury.

Researchers from the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have determined that placing pitchers on a "pitch clock" would result in reduced arm rest, and a 7 percent increase in muscle fatigue. That development would open the door to reducing "natural stiffness of the elbow joint, leading to greater strain on the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL, the ligament which is torn and repaired during so-called 'Tommy John Surgery," according to a Science Codex report.

"Using a computer model to predict muscle fatigue," the report stated, "researchers simulated baseball games for 72 American League starting pitchers from the 2014 season. They simulated pitching performances using both the players' typical rest time between pitches and the enforced 20-second limit."

The rule, which was being used in parts of the minor leagues last season as an experiment initiated by Major League Baseball, mandates that pitchers get "set" -- meaning the set position, the moment before they throw -- within 20 seconds of receiving the ball. Failing to throw in time results in a ball being called; if a batter delays, a strike is added to the count.

Is the measure worth the trouble to be implemented? In attempting to shorten the length of games, at "Triple-A, the International League average dropped 16 minutes to 2:40 and the Pacific Coast League fell 13 minutes to 2:45. At Double-A, the Eastern League dropped 12 minutes to 2:38, the Southern League 11 minutes to 2:41 and the Texas League six minutes to 2:45," according to the Associated Press.

"The pitch clock clearly influences the amount of rest between throws," said Michael Sonne, an ergonomics expert and a post-doctoral research fellow at McMaster, and lead author of a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences entitled "Major League Baseball pace-of-play rules and their influence on predicted muscle fatigue during simulated baseball games." For the purposes of trimming a few minutes off the length of the average game, Sonne had reservations.

"In a league where hundreds of millions of dollars are lost in a year to injury," Sonne explained, "every effort should be made to control known risk factors related to injury. That includes allowing for appropriate rest time between pitches."

In 2015, the average length of a MLB game was roughly three hours.

It should be noted that the study was based on a computer simulation, and not actual pitchers themselves, making the results somewhat more speculative.