2017 Pitch count rules – a warning
Over the past couple years there has been a lot of debate about the growing number of serious arm injuries at the younger levels. Of course, most of the debates center on two issues: 1) What is causing them to occur and 2) what can be done to prevent them. Sport specialization (playing one sport year round), number of games played, the pressure of AAU teams and showcases, and the types of pitches thrown are all given as possible reasons why these injuries are happening more often. As a result, many organizations are enacting new policies to help stop the trend.
Most new policies involve “pitch count” rules to better limit the amount of throwing for young arms. Personally, I see this trend as an improvement over the “innings-pitched” rules I had to follow as a 13 year high school coach in Pennsylvania.
Our “innings-pitched” rules for Pennsylvania public schools were as follows:
- Less than 3 innings pitched required no days rest.
- 3 innings pitched required 1 day rest.
- 4 innings pitched required 2 days rest.
- 5 or more innings required 3 days rest.
- No more than 7 innings in a game.
- No more than 14 innings in a calendar week.
- 1 pitch in an inning constituted “one inning pitched.”
The “innings pitched” rules were not a bad start but there was a major flaw. A pitcher throws 5 pitches in a quick inning. The opposing pitcher throws 60 pitches in an inning. Both are charged with one inning pitched.
There is obviously a huge difference between those two innings pitched. Although different, the rule treated both outings as exactly the same. Both are allowed to pitch the next day. Clearly, the latter pitcher should not.
The reason organizations are switching to “pitch-count” rules is because they usually are a better indicator of how much a pitcher has actually thrown. I would agree but, like the title of this post implies, “pitch-count” rules are not perfect either.
Here is an example:
My son is turning 10 years old and plays in a Babe Ruth / Ripken League. For this upcoming season, Babe Ruth League adjusted some of their pitch count rules. Below is a chart showing their 2017 guidelines. Focus your attention on the “0-Days” column. See a problem?
As you may have noticed, they allow for a 9 year old pitcher to throw 40 pitches in a game and still pitch the next day. I’m sorry but that is 100% absurd.
Let’s put that rule in perspective …
- This year in Pennsylvania, high school pitchers are required to have at least one day of rest if they throw over 25 pitches as per the new P.I.A.A. (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) 2017 guidelines.
- Although no pitch count rules apply at the professional level, let’s say a Major League closer comes into a regular season game and throws 30 pitches for the save. Is he going to pitch in tomorrow’s game? If the manager wants to keep his job, the answer will be NO. He will almost assuredly get the next night off.
So let’s recap. It is determined that a high school pitcher and a fully grown MLB closer should not pitch the next day after 25-30 pitches but the Babe Ruth/Ripken League says it’s ok for a 9 year old to pitch the following day after throwing 40. Ridiculous.
In Babe Ruth’s defense, there is no perfect number. There has to be a line drawn somewhere with regards to pitches so 40 was their number for that age. So be it. I admire their desire to do something to help stem the tide of injuries. However, my fear is that inexperienced coaches will look at pitch-count numbers as the end-all-be-all. If their pitcher throws 40 pitches, there is nothing wrong with pitching the kid the following day. “That’s what the rule says so it must be ok, right?”
That thinking is misguided because there are so many other factors that go into how “taxing” pitching can be.
Below are 10 variables I quickly thought of that MUST be considered in addition to whatever pitch-count rules apply:
- The true age of the pitcher. If you have worked with young kids then you know that just a 6 month difference in age can make a world of difference in body strength, stamina, and ability levels. A “young” 9 year old is very different from an “old” 9 year old.
- The overall arm strength of the pitcher. This varies considerably and does not always improve as the age increases. An 11 year old arm may be vastly weaker than that of a stud 9 year old.
- The pitcher’s mechanics. Some are “free-and-easy” throwers and some are “max-effort” throwers. Your “max effort” throwers may not bounce back nearly as quickly.
- The condition of the mound. High mound? Low mound? Slope? No mound? All tax the arm in slightly different ways and may alter recoveries.
- “More competitive” vs “less competitive” pitches. Was his 40 pitches over the last two innings of a 0-0 game with multiple runners on base or did he cruise through a weak lineup over four innings with his team up 12-0?
- In-game rest. How much time did the pitcher have to rest between innings? Did he get a chance to sit down? Was there a DH for him? Was he a base runner who was stealing, diving, and sliding in-between innings?
- Body language. Is he displaying positive body language or does he appear to be laboring / tight / hurting? To learn what to look for, click this post – How to know if your pitcher is hurting.
- History. How has this pitcher’s body responded in the past after outings?
- Injuries. Has this pitcher had a previous arm injury? If so, when? Is it fully healed?
- Team needs. What are your pitching needs in the near future?
I’m sure I could come up with more but you get the idea.
Based on my experience as a pitcher and a coach, I am going to consider many more things than just the number of pitches that the young man throws.
And no matter what the official rules say, so must you!