At What Age Should a Pitcher Begin Throwing a Curveball

CurveballEvery parent of a youth baseball pitcher wants to know one thing. “At What Age Should a Pitcher Begin Throwing a Curveball?” It is the question on everyone’s mind and the topic of some rather heated discussions around the baseball diamond.

There are several theories on the subject. Some experts feel that youth pitchers should stay away from the curveball until they develop physically, and believe that throwing such a physically demanding pitch too early could lead to future arm issues and even Tommy John surgery.

“Sports medicine experts have been warning since the 1970s that throwing curveballs at a young age can lead to elbow injury,” write Glenn S. Fleisig and Dr. James R. Andrews in “Risk of Serious Injury for Young Baseball Pitchers : A 10-Year Prospective Study.”

“The theory is that more stress is exerted about the elbow when throwing a curveball than when throwing a fastball and that the skeletally immature elbow of a youth pitcher cannot withstand the higher stress.”

Others, meanwhile, do not believe throwing the curveball at a young age is dangerous. A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2008 concluded that “the curveball may not be more potentially harmful than the fastball for youth pitchers.” In fact, a 2009 study found that stress on the shoulder and elbow was “less when throwing a curveball than when throwing a fastball.”

So is the curveball dangerous for youth pitchers? The jury is still out. The primary factor leading to most arm injuries in youth pitchers is overuse, according to Fleisig. The biomechanics expert followed 500 pitchers for 10 years, starting at age 12 and found that those who pitched more than 100 innings in a year were more likely to have Tommy John surgery. Poor mechanics also plays a major role.

Our recommendation: master your fastball first. This will help you grow as a pitcher and help you improve location, control, speed changes, movement, and velocity. These are the skillsets that will help you make it to the next level. While the curveball might help you be successful at a young age, a good fastball is the key to pitching longevity.

“So the problem [with the curveball] isn’t necessary the risk for injury but the risk of slowing the development process,” explains baseball blogger and former San Diego  Padres pitcher John Madden. “Right or wrong, the radar gun plays a big part in the way pitchers are evaluated and recruited.”

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