Record Observer - - Sports -

If a pitcher in ninth grade throws 66 or more pitches in a sin­gle ap­pear­ance, he has to take the next four cal­en­dar days off.

Cal­en­dar days of rest, by the way, are man­dated for a rea­son. I’ve ac­tu­ally heard the oc­ca­sional screw­ball coach in Lit­tle League say some­thing along the lines of, “well, he pitched in a 6 p.m. game Mon­day, and he was done at 7:30, and he needed 72 hours of rest, so he can pitch in an 8 p.m. game Thurs­day. It’s in the rules!”

(Ac­tu­ally, it’s not. Nor, to my knowl­edge, has it ever been that way. But it’s not stopped self­ish coaches from try­ing to sell that par­tic­u­lar fal­lacy.)

For sopho­mores, ju­niors, and se­niors, the num­bers are as fol­lows: a mem­ber of those classes can throw 30 pitches in a sin­gle day with­out rest; 31-45 re­quire a day off, 46-60 means he gets two days off, 61-75 pitches man­date a three-day break, and throw­ing 76 or more pitches equates to four con­sec­u­tive days of rest. Sopho­mores, re­mem­ber, can throw only 95 pitches, while ju­niors and se­niors can throw 105.

The pitch lim­its — 95, and 105 — re­flect the same lim­its set for play­ers of the ap­prox­i­mate ages of high school­ers of their cor­re­spond­ing grades. Lit­tle League, of course, uses an (oc­ca­sion­ally-vi­o­lated but of­fi­cial) age-based sys­tem, and not one based on a kid’s level in school.

Most 13- and 14-year-olds (Ju­nior League, which car­ries a 95-pitch limit) are ris­ing fresh­men and sopho­mores in high school, and most 15-and-16-year-olds (who play Se­nior League, which caps pitches at 105) are about to be ju­niors and se­niors, so it matches up fairly well.

What does this all mean for high school play, though? Well, for one, the era of high school pitch­ers throw­ing com­plete games, ex­cept as an anom­aly, has of­fi­cially ended. A 14-pitch in­ning equals 98 pitches in a reg­u­la­tion, seven-in­ning high school game. That’s on the low side, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, as to how many kids throw in a given in­ning — it’s usu­ally in the high teens.

Does any­one else re­call that 10-in­ning clas­sic Class 1A East Re­gional fi­nal in 2013 be­tween Cam­bridgeSouth Dorch­ester and St. Michaels, where both start­ing pitch­ers went into the 10th in­ning, and the win­ner, C-SD’s Ju­nior Hard­ing, fin­ished all 10?

Well, that’s not go­ing to hap­pen any more. Hard­ing struck out over a dozen bat­ters, as I re­call, and though I didn’t keep track of pitches, I know he had to have been near 150. His coun­ter­part, Saints left­hander Zach Cor­rea, was prob­a­bly pretty close to that as well.

My guess is the era of the five-in­ning start has dawned on us, be­cause, at 19-21 pitches per in­ning, which is pretty com­mon, that would max out pretty much ever yone in five in­nings.

An­other ef­fect of the new rule is vis­i­ble in the MPSSAA 2017 base­ball bul­letin. As with al­most ev­ery other team sport, the base­ball play­offs used to be­gin on a Fri­day, then have en­su­ing rounds of play on Mon­day, Wed­nes­day, and Fri­day of the fol­low­ing week. The state semi­fi­nals took place the Tues­day after re­gional fi­nal games, and the state cham­pi­onships for all but the largest schools were the Sat­ur­day after that.

Now, with the new rule be­ing im­ple­mented, the first play­off round is on Thurs­day, May 11. The sec­ond round is Sat­ur­day, May 13, with the re­gional semi­fi­nals on May 16, and the re­gional fi­nals set for May 19. So there’s an ex­tra day in there, and now, two rounds will be in the books by the end of the first Sat­ur­day dur­ing play­offs, rather than one, as was the case through 2016.

The gap be­tween re­gional games be­yond the first round has ex­panded by a day at each level. There was a time when, if you had a su­per­star pitcher, all you needed to make it through to the state fi­nal was one guy to throw in the re­gional semi­fi­nals, since your stud could pitch Fri­day, Mon­day, Fri­day again, then Tues­day, and once more on Sat­ur­day, leav­ing only semi­fi­nal Wed­nes­day as the ques­tion mark.

That era, too, is over. But there will be a cor­re­spond­ing change in strat­egy, and not what many might think (or want to see).

Since there is a long-stand­ing NFHS 10-run rout rule after five in­nings, the ob­vi­ous New­to­nian ef­fect of the new rules will be quick and bloody: teams try­ing to push across more runs ear­lier in games against far weaker teams, to get them done in five in­nings more of­ten.

Coaches will not want to burn three arms against some­one who’s ter­ri­ble if they can play small ball, grab an ex­tra run here and there, and shorten games by an in­ning or two.

That’s not evil or de­vi­ous: it’s a new kind of Dar­win­ism, the sur­vival at is­sue, in this case, be­ing that of a high school pitch­ing staff.

Tues­day brings with it the start of the 2017 high school base­ball sea­son. Let’s hope it also brings in more pitch­ers, be­cause in ad­di­tion to the days of the com­plete-game start, sea­sons where teams got by with three, or even two, good arms, are pretty much gone as well.

So, while the 14-in­ning rule be­com­ing a night­mare in the case of games sus­pended due to weather is now no longer a con­cern, hav­ing one bad in­ning can ab­so­lutely kill a pitcher’s day on the mound.

In clos­ing, let’s con­sider one more thing: catch­ers.

Un­der Lit­tle League rules, a pitcher who throws 41 or more pitches is not al­lowed to catch for the re­main­der of that day — the logic be­ing that catch­ers han­dle the ball, and throw it back to the pitcher, after more than 75 per­cent of pitches, and if you put a pitcher be­hind the plate after he just threw a bunch, it’s go­ing to wear his arm out there, too.

Though there’s no equiv­a­lent high school rule for that yet, I, like Mangum and oth­ers, an­tic­i­pate this may come next. My guess is we see that rule be­ing adopted in two years, maybe three.

See you soon, Jake. Let’s hope for wide strike zones if we ex­pect to see any com­plete games. Fol­low me on Twit­ter:


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