HEISER: PIAA pitch-count rules to face major obstacles
- The PIAA plans pitch-count rules for the 2017 high school baseball season.
- The PIAA is following the lead of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
- The new rules will be developed over the next several months.
It's an idea with good intentions.
That's a promising start.
Implementing the idea, however, will not be easy.
The devil, as always, will be in the details.
In case you haven't heard, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has decided to follow the lead of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and institute pitch-count rules for the 2017 season.
The move is being made in response to an alarming rise in arm injuries among high school pitchers.
You want a scary statistic? According to research by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, nearly 57 percent of all ulnar collateral ligament (Tommy John) elbow surgeries from 2007 until 2011 were performed on teenagers.
Previously, the PIAA used innings pitched to limit the workload on young arms. For instance, under current state rules, pitchers were restricted to 14 innings pitched per calendar week, with mandatory rest periods in between.
There was just one problem with that rule. Not all innings pitched are created equal.
Some innings may require just a handful of pitches to complete, while other innings could require dozens of pitches, or more.
A pitch count is a much more accurate gauge of wear and tear on shoulders and elbows. Unfortunately, in the past, there have been instances when high school pitchers were allowed to throw in excess of 150 pitches in a single start, while adhering to the current innings-pitched rule.
That should never happen.
The PIAA, however, will face some serious issues in implementing new pitch-count rules.
Namely, determining the new rules, effectively communicating those rules to hundreds of coaches and athletic directors throughout the state and enforcing the new rules.
That is one big job.
Writing the rules: In the coming months, PIAA officials will meet in an effort to write the new rules. The NFHS is allowing each state to come up with its own pitch-count rules.
Major league pitchers, for instance, are rarely allowed to exceed 110 pitches. That's especially true for younger pitchers.
Given that, it would seem wise to limit high school pitchers to no more than 100 pitches per start. In addition, any pitcher throwing 75 or more pitches should be required to have at least three days rest.
That's a good place to start, but the new rules will have to be much more detailed, and much more complicated, in order to account for every possible pitching scenario.
Communicating the rules: That brings up the second problem.
The new pitch-count rules, by their very nature, are bound to be extremely complex. The PIAA must be diligent in communicating the new rules to the state's coaches and ADs. It may be wise for the PIAA to hold a series of informational seminars across the state.
After all, it's much easier to keep track of the current innings-pitched rules, but there were even rare instances when there was confusion over the current rules. Christian School of York, for example, was forced to forfeit a game this past season when the PIAA decided that the team's coaches improperly interpreted the innings-pitched rule.
It will likely be even easier to inadvertently misinterpret pitch-count rules, especially since it will be much harder to keep an accurate pitch count than it is to correctly track innings pitched.
Enforcing the rules: Finally, there is the enforcement issue. That is undoubtedly the biggest elephant in the room.
To be frank, it may be an insurmountable obstacle.
Normally, the only impartial observers at every high school game are the umpires. Will they be given the responsibility to track and report pitch counts? That would be asking a lot of the umps, who already face very difficult jobs.
You could leave it up to the coaches or other athletic officials on site to keep track of their own pitchers. But that would have to be done on the honor system, right? Most coaches are honorable, but surely some would massage the pitch numbers so their aces could stay on the mound just a little longer.
Maybe coaches from both teams will have keep track of the pitch counts for all pitchers in the game, in order to ensure accountability. But what happens if the two teams come up with different numbers? And who will keep track of the pitch counts that span multiple games? How will records be verified and tracked?
Hard nut to crack: It will be one hard nut to crack.
The PIAA has a few months to figure it out. Hopefully they will come up with a workable solution.
Pitch-count rules are a very good idea, in theory.
Translating that theory into reality, however, will be downright difficult.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.