Things are a-changin’
Well, that’s certainly true when it comes to baseball and how long a pitcher stays on the mound.
Pitch counts are in, and any other way to tabulate the duration of a hurler are going by the wayside.
Now high school baseball is about to see the change.
Beginning in the 2017 season, the Virginia High School League will have in place a pitch count system. The National Federation of State High School Associations, of which the VHSL is a part, approved such a policy this summer, leaving it up to each high school league as to the policy to adopt.
The VHSL is currently in the preliminary stages of working on such a policy which will replace the current one that involves innings pitched. Presently, a pitcher has to have two days rest if he pitches 4-7 innings in a game and one day if he pitches 2-3 innings. And there are other rules including a maximum of nine innings in a day.
“Personally, I am in favor of it,” Robert E. Lee baseball coach George Laase said of the impending change.
“We have a lot of young arms that need to be monitored. At the college level, you see the affects of what has happened from their youth.”
Laase understands the problem with the current system. “A kid can throw over 30 pitches in an inning four or five times,” he said. “There can be over use. There can be 90 pitches in just three innings.”
And just recently in a Virginia state 12-year tournament, there was a report of a pitcher throwing over 200 pitches in one game.
Fort Defiance athletic director Mark Mace, who has many years of head coaching at both the high school and college level agrees with Laase.
“This is a great move,” he said. “All the coaches I have coached against already follow pitch counts. You can throw 90 pitches in three innings or seven innings. We never looked at innings pitched. Pitch counts take care of arms.
With the pitch count coming to high school, Laase sees a possible problem.
“How will it be policed?” he asked. “Will there be a control person or a web site, or will it be an honor system. I would like to think everybody would be in it for the right reason, but there are probably some people out there who will abuse it.”
Laase already is involved with using pitch counts since he doubles up in the summer as manager of the Staunton Braves of the Valley Baseball League which has a roster of college players.
“We use the Pitch Smart count endorsed by Major League Baseball,” he said. “It’s black and white, with no gray areas. Coaches who deal with it love it. It ensures proper care and maintenance of players, and that’s a long-term goal.”
Laase said that Valley League players are here for the summer, and their college coaches want to see them returned with a full tank of gas. They can constantly check on line at the Valley League website to not only see how they are doing, but also monitor pitch counts.
“The Valley Baseball League has digital box scores,” he said. “The pitch count comes down at the end of the report, and proper rest goes with that. And you have to honor it. We try to e-mail and contact (college) coaches daily.”
Also involved in the Pitch Smart compliance programs is youth baseball.
For example, the 12-under Cal Ripken leagues in the Babe Ruth program were given an option this year to go with either a pitch count or continue with the six innings per week allowance.
Staunton’s Cal Ripken league went with the Pitch Smart compliance program, and this is how it works.
Each age group has certain limitations starting at 7-8 with increments of two years until the final, 19-22 age bracket. There is a chart for each of the seven age brackets.
Let’s say a pitcher is age 11-12. His daily maximum pitches is 85. If it were a 7-8 year old, it would have been 50 pitches. For high school freshmen and sophomores age 15-16 it is 95. For most juniors and seniors who are usually age 17-18, it’s 105.
If at age 11-12, a pitcher throws 1-20 pitches, no days of rest are required, 21-35 pitches, one day; 36-50, two days; 51-65 three days; and 66 and up to 85, four days.
For the high school player age 17-18, 1-30 pitches, no days of rest; 31-45, one day; 46-60, two days; 61-75, three days; and 76 and up to 105, four days.
So a pitcher’s limitations and rest period is based on his age. Hopefully the pitch count will reduce the need for Tommy John and rotator cuff surgery.
J.R. Troxell who coaches in Staunton’s 12-under Cal Ripken league, approves of the pitch count method. “It saves arms and helps you develop more pitchers,” he said.
But there’s always a fly in the ointment.
Many players not only play local league ball during the week, but also travel ball on weekends. Where a pitch count may take care of local ball, what about additional innings pitched on a travel team? All that throwing can literally wear out a pitcher’s arm.
And that’s where parents must come in and self-monitor their child’s pitching arm.
“They are paying money to showcase arms,” Mace said.
And what about travel teams and near year-round baseball for youngsters.
“In my opinion, pitchers should be shut down for three months. That’s what we did in college,” Mace said.
Mace pointed to the fact that depending on what college division, players have 40-60 games. Then there are 40 or more in summer leagues like the Valley League or Rockingham County Baseball League. And that’s not counting travel ball, especially for younger players not yet at the college level.
“Playing baseball the year round can affect arm strength and endurance,” Laase said. “A pitcher should take at least two weeks off before starting on a (off-season) throwing program.”
So, for baseball, pitch counts to protect arms are becoming a way of life.
Just look a the majors. Every game shows pitch counts on the television screen. The magic is around 100 pitches. Reach that level, and the starter is gone. It’s usually around the seventh inning.
Every major league team has hurlers whose assigned duty is middle relief, eighth inning setup or ninth inning closer.
Last year, only four hurlers threw as many as four complete major league games. They were Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals. This year, only Johnny Cueto of San Francisco has hurled four complete outings.
To throw a complete game, it has to be special. In Scherzer’s case, it was a pair of no-hitters. So far In 2016, out of 103 games played, the Nationals have just one complete game.
But it used not to be this way. A century ago, complete games were the norm. Walter Johnson of the Washington Nationals in 1910 had 38 complete games in a season, and 29 or more in six seasons.
Cy Young had 749 complete games for his career, which is the major league record. And even Babe Ruth hurled 35 complete games for Boston in 1917. Bullpens and relief pitchers weren’t so significant then.
Yep! things are a-changin’ and have changed. Those guys of a century ago didn’t know what a pitch count was. But they had to have taken care of their arms or they would have never lasted for so many complete games.
Now, everyone is about to know what pitch counts are about.