With the concussion epidemic slowly losing steam, the next national sports story may be gaining traction. Overuse injuries are hurting high school aged athletes all over the country and baseball and softball seem to be the main suspects in the sources of overuse injuries.
For that reason, pitch counts in baseball are no longer a matter of if, but when they will become a rule.
“It is probably coming,” Ohio High School Athletic Association Assistant Commissioner Jerry Snodgrass said. “The experts are not in total agreement that pitch counts are the most effective way to minimize arm overuse injuries, but it may be the only way right now.”
Youth baseball to blame?
In a June 2014 article, Bleacher Report lead baseball writer Danny Knobler said 28 professional pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery that season. Of the 28, five were 21 years old and under. The most notable was Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.
Many pitchers have the surgery to add years to their careers after the age of 30. Tommy John surgery originated in 1974 when Dr. Frank Jobe had the idea of using a tendon from somewhere else in the body to replace the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow. John, then a power pitcher for the Yankees, pitched 13 more seasons.
Knobler also stated doctors and trainers increasingly believe overuse of teenage pitchers is behind the rise. Knobler wrote overuse and overthrowing as a teenager leads to a far greater risk of serious arm trouble as a professional. They have studies to prove it.
In the article, Kevin Rand, a Detroit Tigers athletic trainer for 12 years, blames youth baseball for the rise of overuse injuries simply stating, “They’re throwing too hard, too fast, too much, too soon.”
So, why is youth baseball to blame? For starters, pitchers are 36 percent more likely to experience arm injuries when fatigued.
“That stat is troubling and confusing. How exactly can you tell when a kid is fatigued? Athletes have a dangerous mindset when it comes to letting a coach know they are tired,” Snodgrass said.
“The problem is identifying that fatigue. It can be monitored by keeping an eye on the speed of pitches. If a kid is regularly around 85 mph and suddenly drops to 78 and stays there for 10 pitches, odds are he is fatigued and needs to be pulled from the game before he injures himself.”
Little League Baseball’s pitch count rules
The Little League World Series was the first nationally televised event to really educate viewers on pitch counts. Pitchers between the ages of 7-14 who throw 66 or more pitched are mandated to rest four complete days. Twenty or less pitches require no rest. For pitchers 15-18, throwing 76 pitches will require four days of rest. The rules are only implemented in leagues that follow the Little League Baseball Rules.
“The solution starts with youth baseball. Leagues need to educate the dangers of overuse injuries and pitching. A lot of leagues do have inning restrictions, which are great. But there are just as many that have no restriction at all,” Snodgrass said.
NFHS discusses pitch count
Snodgrass said there has been discussion among the National Federation of High School Associations as to a pitch count in baseball in high school on a national level.
“The numbers have not been set yet but it will most likely go by age group and the number of pitches they are allowed to throw,” Snodgrass said.
When the numbers are set, enforcing the rule will be the next hurdle. There will have to be designated people at each game to keep track of pitch counts and make sure that each team is following the rule.
“That will be the toughest part is to make sure the counts are enforced for the right pitchers. With the competitive nature of coaches and players, I think it could run smooth with other teams keeping track of counts, but there still needs to be the one person there to be the mediator in case there is a disagreement,” Snodgrass said.
Colorado Pitch Count
Colorado implemented a pitch count in its 2015 high school baseball season. Rest days were determined by the number of pitches thrown in a game. Information courtesy of Gannett partner The Fort Collins Coloradoan.
•For one to 35 pitches, no days off are required.
•For 36 to 60 pitches, one day of rest is required.
•For 61 to 85 pitches, two days are required.
•If a pitcher throws 86 to 110 times in a game, he’s required to take three days off.
•The maximum amount of pitches allowed is 110.
Additionally, no pitcher may throw more than 60 pitches over a two-day span. If they hit 60 pitches in two days, one day of rest is required.
Colorado also put the responsibility on the coaches.
“Coaches are responsible for keeping pitch counts, and a violation will result in a variety of penalties, including potentially keeping a team out of the postseason,” Lytle wrote.
Colorado implemented the rules with the risk of forfeiting its vote on the NFHS rules committee. The OHSAA Constitution demands that the state is to follow the NFHS rules.