New pitch count rules have obvious flaws: Commentary

New pitch count rules have obvious flaws: Commentary

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New pitch count rules have obvious flaws: Commentary

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We can all agree that protecting young pitchers is a good thing. In that spirit, I can definitively state that flawed regulations are better than no regulations at all.

Beacon High School's Lenny Torres pitches to a hitter from Ossining on April 29 at Beacon.

Beacon High School’s Lenny Torres pitches to a hitter from Ossining on April 29 at Beacon.

Thanks to Friday’s vote by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which approved pitch count rules for the upcoming 2017 season, varsity pitchers will be prohibited from exceeding 105 pitches in a regular season game.

Amen to that.

But beyond the number of pitches being capped, there are legitimate concerns regarding the new policy — most glaringly, with the nights’ rest portion.

EVERY PITCH COUNTS: Rule aims to curb high school pitcher injuries

The regulations state that any pitcher who throws 96 to 105 pitches in an outing is required to have four nights of rest, which might look good at first glance. But here’s the problem: The night of the game counts as a night of rest, meaning pitchers can throw another 105 after only three days off.

Standard practice in the professional and college ranks is that starting pitchers are given four full days off in between outings, so a pitcher who throws on Monday won’t pitch in a game again until Saturday. That’s where the saying “every fifth day” comes from.

According to the NYSPHSAA rules, high school pitchers can throw 105 on Monday and do the same on Friday. That’s 210 pitches in a five-day span, which would be considered excessive by almost any expert. Even more alarming is that, if a pitcher throws 95 on Monday, he can come back and throw 105 on Thursday for a shocking total of 200 in a four-day period. That’s downright abusive.

“No HS pitcher should be throwing 95 pitches and then coming back on 3 days rest,” Miami Marlins veteran Tom Koehler, who pitched in Section 1 for New Rochelle, tweeted last week. “No one does that in the bigs (barring playoffs/big games).”

Spackenkill High School's Court Reichel pitches on May 9 against Marlboro at Todd Middle School.

Spackenkill High School’s Court Reichel pitches on May 9 against Marlboro at Todd Middle School.

Dr. Steve Jordan, one of the leading sports surgeons at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla., called the rest portion of the NYSPHSAA rules, “a big issue,” noting that any high school-aged pitcher who throws over 75 pitches should be ineligible to pitch in another game for five days. The Pitch Smart guidelines developed by Dr. James Andrews, Major League Baseball and USA Baseball reached the same conclusion.

A recent statistical analysis out of the University of Michigan emphasized the importance of rest, concluding that, “These data imply that recovery after pitching bouts may be just as, if not more, critical to injury prevention as pitch counts.”

So if four days of rest is standard practice in the baseball world and the science supports it, why did a committee of executives decide to shave a day off?

“Hours of conversation and research went into this decision,” NYSPHSAA baseball chairman Ed Dopp said in an e-mail. “We have reviewed all of Dr. (James) Andrews and USA Baseball, along with MLB recommendations. We really can’t compare high school with college and MLB as for a variety of reasons. They are apples and oranges.”

The thing is, we’re not talking apples and oranges. We’re talking baseball, and if four full days of rest are required for pitchers who are fully-developed, why should less be required for more fragile arms? If anything, you can make a case that extra rest should be required for younger age groups.

Dopp went on to write that, “We are concerned with running out of pitching at levels,” which is reasonable. Smaller schools with fewer student-athletes will have a difficult time finding enough quality pitchers to eat up innings in a short and condensed season. But the response to that problem shouldn’t be allowing more arms to be overused — it should be to give more athletes the opportunity to pitch.

“All of these things were brought up,” Section 1 co-chairman and John Jay-Cross River athletic director Chris McCarthy said. “When you’re talking about moving a state of New York’s size into something that’s this confining, it’s a process. Change is not always easy. Like anything, this is political, too. You’re all representing your sections, and each section has its own opinion.”

McCarthy openly acknowledged that throwing 200-plus pitches in a four- or five-day span is “not appropriate,” and spoke about “not only rest, but a pitching program of stretching, long toss and a scheduled bullpen. My concern, and what I think happens, is you pitch and then you’re forgotten.”

Thankfully, nine out of 10 coaches — if not more — are proactive and sensible. They would never allow their pitchers to throw upwards of 90 pitches on a Monday and another full workload on Thursday or Friday because they know better.

The new policy unfortunately allows it, but let’s hope that common sense prevails.

The good news is that Dopp said, “When tweaks are necessary, we are very open to making them,” and it sounds like alterations will come after more data is compiled this spring. In the meantime, it’s imperative to have an open discussion and continue to educate as many as we can.

“Think of this as an evolving process and this is the first step in the right direction,” McCarthy said. “You hope people won’t manipulate (the rules), but some probably will. That’s why it’s important to keep the conversation going.”

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