PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL PITCH COUNTS TO GO INTO EFFECT THIS SEASON
By Steve Kallas
In July 2016, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) announced that, beginning with the 2017 spring baseball season, each state member would have to institute a pitch count rule for high school baseball. Now, virtually every state has made up its own rules and, while well-intentioned, there are already issues depending on the state.
THE HISTORY OF LITTLE LEAGUE PITCH COUNTS
For those who have listened for years to Rick Wolff’s “The Sports Edge” show over the years (Sunday mornings at 8 on WFAN radio and wfan.com), you will remember that a similar issue came up with Little League Baseball about ten years ago when they instituted a pitch count based, allegedly, on the work of Dr. James Andrews, the foremost authority in the world on young pitchers and protecting their arms.
Back then, as now for high schools, Dr. Andrews suggested pitch count ranges along with proscribed days of rest to help protect young arms. Little League adopted the pitch counts but, without telling Dr. Andrews, lowered the days of rest for pitchers who threw 85 pitches from four days (the Andrews’ suggestion) to just three days (for the regular LL season) and then to an incredible just two days of rest (for the Williamsport tournament).
While literally thousands of articles were written at that time praising Little League for its “innovative” pitch limits, Rick Wolff and I wrote two articles strongly criticizing the days-of-rest change, which legally allowed 12-year-olds to throw more pitches (260) in a nine-day span than virtually every major league pitcher. One youngster, Kyle Cotcamp, actually threw 267 pitches over a nine-day period in the LL World Series in Williamsport in 2007. He underwent Tommy John surgery just a few years later. During that same LL World Series, three other kids threw at least 230 pitches in seven days.
After several years passed, it took interviews with Little League President Steve Keener and Dr. Andrews (who was finally told of the change in the change of days of rest) to eventually have Little League “correct” its mistake.
NOW FROM LITTLE LEAGUE TO HIGH SCHOOLS
The NFHS has instituted the pitch count rules to begin in the 2017 season, but has left it up to each individual state to set their own rules. We will focus on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to point out the rules and their unique differences. It is disappointing to note that, while Dr. Andrews recommends that a 17-18 year old pitcher should have four full days of rest if he throws more that 81 pitches in a game, none of the above states will implementing that approach.
NEW YORK STATE
The New York State pitch count rules are probably the most troubling. That’s because, as with Little League many years ago, New York has changed the days of rest. How are they doing that? By saying that, when a pitcher pitches on a Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night (as opposed to Wednesday) is his first “day of rest” (or, more appropriately, “night of rest”).
Thus, for example, under the New York new varsity pitch count rules, a pitcher who throws between 96 and 105 pitches needs four days of rest. So a pitcher who throws 105 pitches on Monday, under the (until now) way everybody else in baseball considers days of rest, the youngster could not pitch again until Saturday (with Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as his four days of rest).
However, under the New York definition, according to Ed Dopp, the New York State baseball chairman, Monday night (in the above example), and NOT Tuesday, is the first “night of rest.” So therefore, the pitcher who throws 105 pitches on Monday can pitch again on Friday, not wait until Saturday (as all major league pitchers would). (For an excellent article on the New York days of rest issue, see Vincent Mercogliano’s article at lohud.com on January 27,2017.)
Thus, New York pitchers can throw more pitches in a five-day span than any major leaguer will (barring the extreme rarity of an MLB pitcher pitching on three days of rest during crunch time, usually late in the season or in the playoffs).
By definition, that New York rule is a bad rule.
Here are the varsity numbers in New York: 1-30 pitches, 1 day of rest; 31-65 pitches, 2 days of rest; 66-95 pitches, 3 days of rest; 96-105 pitches, 4 days of rest.
But understand that, in New York, if a pitcher throws 30 pitches on Monday, he can then pitch on Tuesday (because of the new “night of rest“ rule – that is, Monday night is the one day of rest). If a pitcher throws 65 pitches on Monday, he can pitch again on Wednesday (yes, that’s two days of rest). If he throws 95 pitches on Monday, he can pitch again on Thursday (again, outrageous. No major leaguer would pitch again until Saturday).
If the purpose is to try and protect kids’ arms, this is scary stuff.
Furthermore, in New York, once the HS playoffs start, the top limit is moved from 105 pitches to 125 pitches. Why? So coaches can ride their top pitcher 20 pitches more? In a much more (generally-speaking) tense game? With much more at stake?
This all seem certainly seems counter-intuitive.
One final New York note: the NFHS does not govern New York City; the Public School Athletic League (“PSAL”) does (for public schools). The PSAL has had pitch count rules in effect since 2011. As far as I can tell, the PSAL counts days of rest the way the rest of the world does; for example, if a public school pitcher in New York City throws 91 to 105 pitches on Monday (105 being the limit), that pitcher needs four full days of rest and cannot pitch again until Saturday.
Of the three states discussed here (for a complete list, see the article in baseballamerica.com by J.J. Cooper from February 10, 2017), New Jersey has done the best job but still falls short compared to the Dr. Andrews recommendations.
Here are the varsity numbers in New Jersey: 1-30 pitches, 0 days of rest; 31-50 pitches, 1 day of rest; 51-70 pitches, 2 days of rest; 71-90 pitches, 3 days of rest; 91-110 pitches, 4 days of rest. Keep in mind that New Jersey counts days of rest the way everybody does; that is, if you throw 110 pitches on Monday, you can’t pitch again until Saturday.
But New Jersey has added some additional rules that can only be viewed as positive for young pitchers. For example, a pitcher cannot pitch on three consecutive days, even if he only throws less than 30 pitches the first two days. In addition, a pitcher who pitches on consecutive days cannot throw more than 50 pitches (so if he throws 30 pitches on Monday, he can only throw 20 the next day).
The strangest part of the new Connecticut pitch count rule is the fact that there appears to be no upward limit. That is, based on the rules as currently written, it seems a pitcher can throw 110, 130, 150 or even more in one day. While common sense would dictate that this won’t happen, you never know if you have a coach in an extra-inning playoff game or a coach who wants to win at all costs or a coach (very rare) who really doesn’t look out for a pitcher’s best interests.
Here are the varsity numbers in Connecticut: 1-25, 0 days of rest; 26-50, 1 day of rest; 51-75, 2 days of rest; 76-110, 3 days of rest; more than 110 pitches (with no limit), 5 days of rest.
Connecticut is troubling for two reasons: the lack of a top limit, discussed above, and the fact that a pitcher can throw 110 pitches on Monday and pitch again on Friday (again, no regular major league starter would pitch again until Saturday).
While the overwhelming majority of HS coaches do a good job managing their pitchers to protect their arms, the theory here is that, given the explosion in Tommy John surgeries in the last 15 years or so, something had to be done. Many of the coaches correctly point out that these state rules won’t stop a kid from pitching for his high school during the week and then pitching on the weekend for a travel team or at a showcase, where he will throw as hard as he can (to impress college or major league scouts).
While a good point, this is where the intelligent parent(s) has to step in and protect their son. When your child is an excellent young pitcher, many people will try to take advantage of that. While there are many well-qualified travel coaches, you probably should not let your child pitch on two teams at once; if you do, than it is up to you – the parent and not the coach — to regulate your son’s pitch count.
Travel coaches are also in the business of winning. The best approach, in this writer’s opinion, is to avoid pitching for multiple teams at the same time. If you do, keep your own pitch count, not per team, but for your son as an individual. If he has the talent to go to a showcase, talk with one or both coaches to set up a proper rest period both before and after a showcase. Or, don’t go to a showcase at all (which admittedly would be tough under today’s system).
I would strongly suggest that you follow the pitching guidelines for pitches AND days of rest set forth at pitchsmart/pitching/guidelines. These have recommendations for all ages. If you can adhere to these recommendations (or, at least, get close to them if they don’t seem realistic to you), this will give your son a better chance (no guarantees) that he can avoid the epidemic of arm injuries that is spreading across the country now.
ONE ADDITIONAL ISSUE FOR ALL STATES
The obvious issue is: who’s going to count the pitches? The new rules talk about having each side count the pitches and check with the other side after each half-inning. If there is a discrepancy, the home team’s pitch count rules.
Uh-oh! That could be a problem if the count goes up a pitch or two (or three) per inning against the visiting team’s star pitcher. Could that happen? Well, in the (again) overwhelming majority of situations, it won’t. But, mistakes are made and, on (rare) occasions, someone may try to get the upper hand.
New Jersey has an additional rule that states that the home team has to provide an “independent adult” pitch counter, but, if they can’t, the home team’s count is the official count unless the umpire has “definite knowledge” that the count is wrong. High school umps (and there are often only two per game) have more than enough on their plate to have “definite knowledge” of a pitcher’s pitch count.
Connecticut states that the pitch counter does not have to be an adult. Well, again, mistakes can and will be made, especially if the pitch counter happens to a younger HS student who is just volunteering to help out.
Also, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Apparently games can (and will?) be forfeited if pitch count mistakes are made. That raises a number of issues: what if it was an honest mistake? How do you prove it (absent a video of the game, which may now occur more)? Is a game forfeit too big of a penalty?
The PSAL rule is that the coach is suspended for one game on the first violation. After that, more serious punishment, including forfeiture of a game, is considered.
The latter rule seems more reasonable.
While well-meaning, the various rules from the various states can (and will) lead to issues. While these new rules are an improvement on the past (believe it or not, the prior rule in New York State allowed a pitcher to pitch a maximum of 12 innings (yes, 12) per day and no more than 18 innings in a six-day period), they have to be carefully monitored and looked at during this season and changed when necessary (like the strange definition of days of rest in New York).
Obviously, the strange definition of days of rest in New York should be fixed immediately and the pitch count counters in all states have to be looked at carefully (and improved).
And remember, parents, it’s up to YOU, more than anyone (including right-minded coaches), to protect your son and his arm.
© COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED