Pitch counts add new wrinkle to season
When the high school baseball season begins this week, new rules mandating pitch-count limits for players will drastically affect late-inning play.
Replacing innings-pitched rules which have been in use as long as I can remember, pitch counts — something in use by professional, college, and Little League programs for a number of years now — also come with mandatory rest-day rules, a new wrinkle which will hopefully prevent some arm injuries.
By comparison, there is no pitch limit in softball. As far as I know, there’s no innings-pitched rule either (though Little League has such rules in some cases) and I don’t recall there being one in high school play.
This is largely due to the fact softball pitchers, who “windmill” and throw pitches underhanded, use an entirely different arm motion — while throwing a bigger, heavier ball, at a lower speed — and thus don’t suffer nearly as many arm injuries as baseball pitchers. A softball team with one really good pitcher can ride her arm all year, and she can pitch whenever needed with comparatively few problems. It happens with most teams, as a matter of fact.
As for baseball, let’s start this examination of the new rules from the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, as recommended by the National Federation of High Schools, last fall, by looking at the rules being replaced.
Last season, if a pitcher — we’ll call him Jake — pitched on Monday, getting the last out of the first, pitched the entire second inning, and got one guy out in the third, he’s only pitched 1 2-3 innings, right? Wrong. Under NFHS rules, since Jake threw one or more pitches, or was on the field as pitcher while one or more plays, in each of three innings, took place, it counts as three innings thrown by that pitcher.
Furthermore, Jake could not throw more than 10 innings in any span of three consecutive calendar days, and no more than 14 in any seven-day period of time.
So, if Jake threw the aforementioned three innings Monday, he could go seven on Tuesday and/or Wednesday combined and stay within the limit. He could then throw up to four more innings over the next four calendar days and stay at or under the 14-inning cap.
Jake could not, however, throw six innings on Wednesday and then five on Friday, because though he’d still be at his permitted limit of 14, that would constitute 11 innings over a three-straight-day span of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
An added wrinkle was that, if a game got suspended, when it was picked back up, the pitching rules from the day of the original play date, and the date of the resumption, both applied.
In other words, Jake’s probably not pitching in the continuation of that suspended game unless the rest of the week it was started, and the week it gets finished, are clear of other games.
In 2008, one of the Class 2A semifinalists had to forfeit a victory and a statechampionship berth for breaking this rule. It’s rare, thankfully, but occasionally, it gets broken.
Several years ago, I saw a game get suspended twice, and finished on the third try only because they got done before rain that day as well got too heavy. Imagine the headache that caused.
By the way, the new rules match exactly the age-based pitch-count and rest-day limits set forth by Little League Baseball.
Freshman and sophomore pitchers can throw no more than 95 pitches in a single appearance. I’m assuming the Little League “plateau” rule — which allows a pitcher to finish a batter, if they started that batter below their pitch limit — applies in high school. This means if Jake is at 93 pitches, and Tommy is next up, Jake can pitch to him even if he goes over the 95-pitch limit. (Yes, even if it’s a 13-pitch at-bat, or more.)
Unlike in Little League, though, the plateau rule does not allow a pitcher to “declare” a hitter, and then stop at a rest-day limit.
For instance, if a freshman throws 20 pitches, he can pitch the next day (it’s 30 for sophomores and beyond). In a Little League game, his coach could declare a batter to be the pitcher’s last one of the day, and keep him at 20 pitches, and thus available the next day, no matter how long that last batter took.
“You can’t do that in high school,” Colonel Richardson heads coach Dan Mangum said. “You know how in high school the coach could say ‘last batter,’ and keep him at 35 or whatever many pitches? That can only apply to the upper limit now.
“So, if the coach wanted to save him for another day, he has to pull the kid in the middle of a batter now,” Mangum added. “You can’t do it to keep them from a rest-day limit like in Little League.”
Here’s a more detailed breakdown: freshmen can throw 20 pitches in an appearance and not need a day off. Throwing 21-35 pitches means a calendar day of rest, 36-50 means two days, and 51-65 requires three.