Let me begin by saying that I am in favor of rules around pitch counts. Pitch count rules help to minimize overuse. By putting parameters in place at both the youth and high school level hopefully we could start to see a decline in overuse arm injuries. This past week, the American Legion announced that American Legion Baseball has adopted pitch count rules for the 2017 season. They state, “In an effort to minimize arm overuse injuries, American Legion Baseball has changed its pitching rule for the 2017 season. Legion Baseball has adopted regulations limiting pitchers based on the number of pitches thrown, replacing the previous rule which was focused on innings pitched.”
Here is a brief summary of the rule:
- Seniors (age 19 or younger): max of 120 pitches in a single day
- Juniors (age 17 or younger): max of 105 pitches in a single day
- Can finish an at-bat if max limit is reached
- No more than 2 appearances in a 3-day span
The pitch count rule also stipulates the amount of required rest:
- 1-45 pitches = 1 day of required rest
- 46-60 pitches = 2 days of required rest
- 61-75 pitches = 3 days of required rest
- 76 pitches or more = 4 days of required rest
A similar pitch count rule is being proposed at the high school level for the spring, but has not been formally announced by the Nebraska Schools Activities Association (NSAA). The proposal would limit the total number of pitches in a single game to a maximum of 85 pitches. The proposal also stipulates required rest days similar to The American Legion’s rule as follows:
- 1-25 pitches = 1 day of required rest
- 26-35 pitches = 2 days of required rest
- 36-60 pitches = 3 days of required rest
- 61-85 pitches or more = 4 days of required rest
Once April 1st hits and the State Championships start the pitch count rules adjust to:
- 1-25 pitches = 0 days of required rest
- 26-35 pitches = 1 day of required rest
- 36-60 pitches = 2 days of required rest
- 61-85 pitches = 3 days of required rest
- 86-110 (120) = 4 days of required rest
You’ll notice that the maximum number of pitches increases to 110 pitches starting April 1st and increases even higher to 120 pitches during the District and State Tournaments. It should also be noted that even if a pitcher throws less than 26 pitches in two consecutive days, that pitcher is not allowed to pitch on the third day. Basically, a pitcher can only pitch two consecutive days regardless of the number of pitches thrown.
While these pitch count rules were established and proposed with good intentions, there may be some unintended consequences and questions that need to be addressed.
Who is going to be monitoring pitch counts?
The rules stipulate the number of pitches and corresponding required days of rest, but they do not address how these rules will be monitored. Similar to umpires, this should be done by an unbiased third-party who is required to report the numbers to a publicly available, centralized reporting “database” or “app”. Otherwise, if left up to the coaches, how would you arbitrate discrepancies? That could get ugly, quick.
Why is maximum number of pitches 120?
The American Legion pitch count rule and during the District and State Tournaments for spring high school baseball the maximum number of pitches that can be thrown in a game is 120. My opinion is that 120 pitches in any one appearance is too many. In fact, when I pitched professionally, rarely did I throw over 100 pitches in a single game. My pitching coaches just wouldn’t allow it. Let’s consider that an average number of pitches thrown in an inning is 15 pitches. If a pitcher has an outstanding game and throws, on average, 15 pitches per inning, it would take them 8 innings to reach 120 pitches. What we need to realize is this is a maximum number, not a suggested number of pitches. Coaches need to realize that regularly throwing 120 pitches in a game as a high school player is not smart. I’ll be interested to see how many times pitchers hit this maximum.
Pitchers will be left in the game longer than they should.
A potential unintended consequence of these new pitch count rules is that pitchers will be left in the game longer than they should. Let’s think about these rules from a coach’s perspective. If I have a pitcher that enters the game and throws one pitch, that pitcher is not available the next day. If the pitcher has a great outing and throws a number of innings this may not be that big of deal. But what happens if the pitcher is struggling? Coaches may determine that leaving the struggling pitcher in the game is the best strategy for the team depending on how much pitching depth the team has. If a team lacks pitching depth, the new rule may inadvertently have pitchers in a game when they should have been removed.
An Alternative Approach
Let me reiterate – I believe rules around pitch counts are a good thing. But total pitches per game does not tell the whole story. There are other factors that should be considered such as pitches per inning and the individual pitcher’s strength and overall physical development.
Total Pitches Per Inning
Throwing 30 pitches over 4 innings is much different than throwing 30 pitches in one inning. Even though the number of pitches is the same, the amount of fatigue on the body and arm is different. This is an important factor that should be considered when mandating required rest between appearances.
Here are some guidelines I have put together to help coaches and parents understand when a pitcher should be removed from the game based upon total pitches per inning:
In addition to the above guidelines, we need to consider that no two pitchers are the same from a strength or overall physical development standpoint. Moreover, coaches need to be afforded the opportunity to use judgment when determining when to use their pitchers. If we can’t trust that a coach is making prudent decisions, then that person probably shouldn’t be allowed to coach. Understanding that the majority of coaches put the wellbeing of their players first, the mandatory required rest should be a range of days. This would allow the coach to make a decision that takes into consideration a number of factors – not just total number of pitches in a game.
Mandatory Required Rest Between Appearances
To help illustrate this, I have developed these guidelines and I hope that they reach The American Legion, the Nebraska Schools Activities Association, and most importantly USSSA.
I hope we can come together as a community and understand that while the number of total pitches per appearance is important, it isn’t the whole story.
If you have any questions or would like to continue this conversation here’s how you can reach me: