Check Engine Light – Are You Missing the Signs of Future Arm Problems?

By Coach Ron Wolforth-



Wouldn’t it be great if our pitchers came with a “check engine light” that would flash on before they had serious problems, if they needed to be placed on the IL, or, worst-case scenario, if they had an injury requiring surgical intervention?


The great news is that if we pay close attention to the athlete’s body and his performance, we can create our own diagnostic system that will help him stay healthier, while also supporting his growth and skill development.


In other words, if you learn to notice the signs, athletes do indeed come with at least some degree of their own “check engine light”.


First, let me state the obvious: In my opinion, no matter how much we pay attention to warning signs or how good a particular developmental system we build is, we can’t avoid every injury. Human beings are simply too complex, too unique, and the outside forces are too varied in order to predict or solve every case.


However, creating a sound, robust, holistic diagnostic system can be incredibly valuable in assisting parents, athletes, and coaches in reducing injury and developing healthy, durable, consistent, high-performing athletes.


As you can imagine, building such a diagnostic system is a very complex and involved process. In this piece, I’m going to risk oversimplification in order to afford a more straightforward assessment so that others can benefit from its potential utility.


The following is “The Pitcher Check Engine Light” Series of diagnostic descriptions that we utilize at the Texas Baseball Ranch® to determine the methods, direction, and urgency of our intervention with each pitcher.


The descriptions lead us from the most serious and urgent (magenta) to the least serious (light yellow).



Concrete pain and discomfort that impedes normal throwing and requires shutdown or intervention.


Velocity drop of 3+ off average fastball during a game before 40 pitches have been thrown. (We refer to this as Recovery 1)


Velocity drop of 3+ off average fastball from the previous game or from game-to-game with normal rest between outings. (Recovery 2)


Stuck on the same velocity or losing velocity over a 6-month period while the body is otherwise getting stronger.


Regularly missing intended locations that are significantly high to the arm side and/or significantly low to the glove side.


Difficulty in developing an effective curveball – a tendency for the ball to “pop” or “slip” out of the hand, and an inability to get the fingers at the correct position at release.


All of these are indicators of an athlete’s (likely) mechanical inefficiency and, more importantly, possible (probable) difficulty in attenuating or mitigating stress.


Of course, there can be alternative or additional contributors to these behavioral descriptions such as sickness, sleep issues, poor nutrition, or mental/emotional stresses outside of baseball. These possibilities absolutely need to be considered and factored into our decision-making process.


However, much more common is that most, if not all, of the descriptions below “concrete pain” are rarely considered, observed, reflected upon, or appraised by the general baseball universe.  And just like the engine light that pops up on your car dashboard, simply ignoring the indicator is almost never a good idea.  This happens all over baseball every single day, and yet we are somehow surprised that injury rates to youth pitchers are still on the rise.


The signs are all over the place, yet we ignore them. 


If we familiarize ourselves with these 6 simple signs of disconnection and inefficiency, we have a far better chance at intervening before the athlete needs to take time off or, worst-case scenario, requires surgical intervention.


Just like we, as parents, train ourselves to look for signs of physical or emotional maladies in our children to avoid more serious issues down the road, I believe, with a little help, we can do that with our throwing athletes.


It is my hope that this starts the process for athletes, parents, and coaches to look at an old problem with a new pair of eyes.   


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  • We’ve just released the information on our Extended Stay Summer Program.  Ranch athletes receive messages like the one above at the start of every training day.  If you’d like more information, go to There’s a $500 Early Bird Savings through March 31st.  Space is limited each week so don’t delay.


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