There have been several alarming studies done over the recent years that have indicated a substantial rise in arm injuries in high school and youth baseball pitchers.
The main cause cited has been overuse of a pitcher which in turn damages the pitcher’s arm.
In response the National Federation High School Sports has mandated that every state must come up with a pitch-count limitation rule and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has followed suit and has switched from an innings pitched rule to the pitch-count mandate.
On the surface the rule makes sense but will it really curtail arm injuries when the majority of these players are in involved in several leagues in the offseason and pitch year round?
We shall see and it brings up the nagging question that has dogged high school athletics for the last 20 years of club ball versus high school and the ethics and rules pertaining to both.
NJSIAA convened a Pitch Count Committee in the Fall of 2016 to determine pitch count limits and mechanics of operation. The Committee was comprised of athletic directors, baseball coaches and officials. Larry White, NJSIAA Assistant Director chaired the committee, according the NJSIAA website.
The committee was concerned with the potential for overuse of pitchers; particularly with the amount of travel ball and other organized baseball programs for which NJSIAA cannot govern.
The committee examined models that had already been approved by states. Some of the warmer climates had larger pitch counts; some states in the Northeast and Northern Tier of the United States had smaller pitch counts. The New Jersey model is closer to those of states in the Northeast region, a statement on the NJSIAA website stated.
Here is the breakdown of the new rule:
“The head coach must remove the pitcher when said pitcher reaches the pitching limit below. Pitcher may remain or re-enter the game at another position per substitution rule.
Maximum of 110 pitches per game/day; NJSIAA Baseball.
If a pitcher reaches a pitch limit while facing a batter, the pitcher may continue to pitch until one of the following occurs.
The batter reaches base,
That batter is retired, or
The third out is recorded to complete that half-inning or game.
a. If a pitcher pitches 91-110 in a day, four calendar days of rest is required.
b. If a pitcher pitches 71-90 pitches in a day, three calendar days of rest is required.
c. If a pitcher pitches 51-70 pitches in a day, two calendar days of rest is required.
d. If a pitcher pitches 31-50 pitches in a day, one calendar days of rest is required.
e. If a pitcher pitches 1-30 pitches in a day, no (0) calendar day of rest is required.
A pitcher cannot pitch on 3 consecutive calendar days.
A pitcher cannot pitch more than 50 pitches in a two consecutive day calendar period.
A pitcher cannot exceed 140 pitches in a five day calendar period.
A player may be used as a pitcher in more than one game per day. The combined number of pitches per day will determine the amount of rest required.
In a NJSIAA State Tournament game suspended by darkness, weather or other cause resumed the next day, the pitcher of record may continue to pitch to the extent of his eligibility provided he has pitched less than 50 pitches.
1. If the pitcher has thrown 50 or less pitches before the game was suspended, that pitcher’s count shall carry over to the next day and pitcher may pitch until the maximum of 110 pitches in a game is reached.
2. If the pitcher has thrown more than 50 pitches before the game was suspended, that pitcher shall be required to meet the rest period as per pitch count limits above.
Failure to remove a pitcher when he has reached the maximum number of pitches thrown is the basis for protest by the opposing coach. If the protest is upheld, the penalty shall be forfeiture of the game.
The use of a pitcher not observing the required rest period, is the basis for protest by the opposing coach. If the protest is upheld, the penalty shall be forfeiture of the game.
Before every game, both head coaches shall exchange their pitching logs as part of the pre-game conference with umpires. This shall include names, numbers and pitches thrown by each pitcher. In addition, the name(s) and number(s) of all ineligible pitchers for that games shall be identified on each team’s lineup card.
Umpires are reminded they are not to suspend or terminate any game for pitch count rule violation. Schools are responsible for reporting use of ineligible pitchers to the NJSIAA.”
All right so far so good. But here is one of the sticking points-enforcement. The rule calls for pitch counts to be logged in when teams report their box scores to njschoolsports.com.
And that each team has “Adult” pitch-counter. What is that? Good question. I will let the NJSIAA explain.
“The Home School shall provide and “Official Adult Pitch Counter” and this person shall count pitches for both schools. This count is official.
The pitch counts are to be verified with representatives of both teams after each half-inning.
If there is a discrepancy between the Official Pitch Counter and one or both team’s representatives, the following process shall be followed:
1. If both teams agree on a pitch number, that number shall be recorded in place of the Official Pitch Counter.
2. If both teams disagree on a pitch number, the Official Pitch Counter’s number shall be recorded.
When the home school is unable to provide an “Official Adult Pitch Counter”, the following process shall be followed:
Both team’s pitch counter shall meet at the end of each half-inning to verify the pitch count. If there is no agreement among the team’s pitch counters, the following process shall be followed:
1. Both team’s pitch counters and coaches shall consult with the game’s umpires. They have authority to rectify the pitch count issues IF they have definite knowledge of the exact number of pitches thrown. Under no circumstances shall the umpires allow this to become a lengthy delay. The game is to be resumed as quickly as possible.
2. If the umpires have no definite knowledge, the home school pitch count shall be the official number of pitches recorded.
Home schools must provide an “Official Adult Pitch Counter” for NJSIAA tournament games up to and including the Sectional Final. NJSIAA will provide “Official Adult Pitch Counter” at all neutral site games in rounds 5 and 6 (State Semi-Final and State Final.”
Did you get all that? Once again a rule implemented with good intentions does not follow through on all the particulars, like is the pitch counter to be paid? How impartial can they be?
Again, I agree in theory that pitch limits will be a benefit and hopefully will cut down on arm injuries and force teams to develop more pitching.
Little League implemented a similar rule within the last 10 years so it can be done, But there is a big difference from Little League to high school ball as we all know.
I asked three veteran and well respected local coaches to weigh in on the subject and here are their are their responses.
“I think its a good rule. Being on the state committee, I can see both sides of the argument. If it was not broke why fix it? But listening and participating in those meetings I can say it is a good rule and it may need to be tweaked as we go forward but for now it is a good rule,” Vin Bello of Pope John.
Sam Slobodzian of Sparta said, “In principal I certainly agree with the paramount importance of the safety and well being of all pitchers. This new regulation will in the long run serve us well into insuring that we protect our pitchers safety.
“The concerns I have with the new program will be the monitoring and tracking of the pitches. With budgets already set, the state is demanding that an adult be the one counting the pitches. So their will be the burden to schools to pay for such services at all three levels Varsity, JV and Freshmen. Basically you are adding the cost an additional umpire to each game.
“However I’m interested in how the new regulations will affect the outcomes of games. I feel you will see less waste pitches, therefore perhaps an increase scoring? Developing more pitchers who normally would not pitch will take place. Teams will have to develop more relief or closer type pitchers. Overall this should be an interesting year for sure.”
John Selitto of Newton said. “I think I’m pretty much of the same opinion of it as the other coaches. I think it’s unnecessary mainly because I think most of the coaches do a really good job of taking care of the kids arms. I thought the innings rules was sufficient. It just adds more administrative work to our job as coaches.
“What should be stressed more then anything with high school coaches is to coach with your conscience and do what is right by the player.
“I understand what the state’s concerns are but until they recognize that the bigger issue is not how many pitches in a game but the amount of times a player is pitching in the course of a calendar year it’s not the fix-all. These kids are playing a lot more baseball in a 12-month period then kids 20 years ago, especially at the younger levels.
“I also feel that to put this new pitching rule in place the state should have three officials working these games with one being designated the “pitch count official”. It would make it easier on the coaches who have so many other things to tend to in the course of a game.”
There you have it. As always, change is not always greeted warmly but if the new rule cuts down on injuries I am all for it. But we won’t know for a while so get ready for high school games to get even longer with more pitching changes on the horizon.
That’s it for now see you on the sidelines.