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: