Bill Hendrick

July 20, 2010

July 20, 2010 — Baseball may be a funny game, as former Major Leaguer Joe Garagiola once wrote, but it’s also fraught with the risk of injury, especially for pitchers, a new study finds.

Researchers who studied data for the 2002-2008 seasons say pitchers suffered significantly higher injury rates for upper and lower extremity injuries than fielders.

According to the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine in Providence, R.I., pitchers spent a greater proportion of days on the disability list, 62.4%, compared to 37.6% for fielders.

The study also says that fielders as well as pitchers spent significantly more days on the disabled list for upper extremity injuries than for the lower extremities.

It’s especially hazardous for pitchers before the annual mid-season All-Star game. During the period examined, pitchers were 34% more likely than fielders to be injured before the mid-season break. And 77% of all injuries to pitchers happen before the All-Star game.

“Even though baseball is a passion of many people and our national pastime, there is very little information about the epidemiology, characteristics, or distribution of injuries in Major League Baseball,” Maj. Matthew Posner, MD, says in a news release.

Baseball Injuries Similar by League

Posner, an orthopaedic surgeon at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, and colleagues analyzed MLB disabled list data from a single web site for the years 2002-2008, then calculated the frequency and proportional distribution of injuries by anatomic region, league (American or National), time of season, and position.

Among their findings:

  • 51.4% of all injuries during the period were to the upper extremities.

  • 30.6% were to lower extremities.

  • 7.4% were back injuries.

  • 4.3% were injuries to core muscles.

  • Pitchers accounted for 67% of upper extremity injuries, compared to fielders, who had more lower extremity injuries and injuries to other regions.

  • Fielders had a greater proportion of lower extremity injures, 47.5% compared to 16.9% for pitchers.

The researchers also say injuries were very similar in players in both leagues. National League players injured upper extremities 51.7% of the time, lower extremities 30.7% of the time, and other anatomic regions 17.6% of the time.

Players in the American League injured upper extremities 51.1% of the time, lower extremities 30.5% of the time, and 18.4% of the time for other anatomic regions.

Among other findings:

  • 74.4% of all Major League players’ injuries occurred before the All-Star break.

  • 79% of all shoulder and elbow injuries happened to pitchers before the All-Star game.

  • 74.8% of all hamstring, quadriceps, groin, and core injuries to fielders occurred before the mid-season hiatus.

  • 3,072 players were placed on the disabled list from the 2002 season through 2008, an average of 438.9 per year. The high during the period was 516 in 2008, and the low was 388 in 2005.

The authors explain that players put on the disabled list must be certified as unable to play and must stay inactive for at least 15 days.

The authors also say that injuries during practice were greatest during the preseason due to “deconditioning and overload.”


News release, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

2010 Annual Meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, Providence, R.I., July 15-18, 2010.