In the new age of baseball, it's nearly impossible to go through a major league telecast without hearing announcers harping on a pitch count.
Now, the intense monitoring of how many pitches a pitcher has thrown has made its way to Pennsylvania high school athletics.
Wednesday night, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors unanimously approved the use of pitch counts as a way to limit how much a pitcher can throw in a given week.
"Our national governing body, the group that writes the playing rules for high school baseball, informed us last summer that all states were going to have to adopt a pitch count," PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said. "...We knew that the change was coming at some point, but we were a bit surprised at how quickly the (national) Federation mandated that we make the change."
The governing body that Lombardi was referring to is the National Federation of State High School Associations. It announced back in July that it would be up to the states to come up with its own pitch restrictions.
Under old guidelines, the PIAA operated on an innings limit per week. Pitchers couldn't throw more than 14 innings in a week and couldn't throw more than nine in a game. If a pitcher tossed four to five innings in an outing, they were required to have two days of rest, while six or more innings needed three days of rest.
Lombardi said the PIAA discussed switching to a pitch count before last season, but didn't see a reason to change the rule until the national federation said that it was going to be mandatory for all states to operate on a pitch-count limitation.
The new rules: Under the new rules, pitchers who throw 76-100 pitches in an outing are required three days of rest. If a pitcher reaches the 100-pitch threshold in the middle of an at-bat, he may finish the at-bat, but must come out immediately following the at-bat. The next level is 51-75 pitches, which requires two days of rest, while 26-50 pitches will need a day of rest and 1-25 pitches will require no rest. Pitchers may not appear in more than two consecutive days and cannot exceed 200 pitches in a week.
"The pitch counts that we have developed, were developed by our baseball steering committee and our sports medicine committee," Lombardi said. "They met separately of each other and looked at the proposals and accepted what the baseball people put together. It is very, very close (to) Dr. (James) Andrews' recommendation (for) Major League Baseball. It's not the same, but it's similar."
Andrews is well-known for performing Tommy John elbow surgeries on major league players.
Lombardi said the baseball steering committee is made up of baseball experts from each of Pennsylvania's 12 districts, and when they were read the proposal, it passed unanimously upon the first reading in October. Following that, the representatives of each district went back to their respective areas and put the proposal out for people to "kick the tires," according to Lombardi. It again passed unanimously in December. The final step was for coaches to get on board with the new rules and, based on the third unanimous approval on Wednesday night, Lombardi doesn't see how any coaches could've been against the change.
"I think it certainly adds a safety measure for young pitchers and young arms. I don't think there's any doubt about that," Dallastown head coach Greg Kinneman said. "It certainly takes a lot of guess work out of it, as a high school coach, in terms of deciding whether to let a kid finish a game or not finish a game, depending on what their pitch count is. Now, you don't have a choice."
How it will work: The PIAA expects scorekeepers for both teams to track pitch counts and meet at least once an inning to make sure they have the same counts. Should the numbers be different and the two scorekeepers can't come to an agreement, the home team's number will be the official one. It's then up to the teams to upload pitch counts for each pitcher in the game to either MaxPreps or GameChanger, a free app that can sync to MaxPreps.
The idea of going from an innings limit to a pitch limit was simple, in Lombardi's eyes. A pitcher can throw 20 pitches to get three outs in an inning and do that over the course of six innings and be well over 100 pitches. Now, with the pitch count in effect, if a coach chooses to stick with a pitcher having command issues, he may only get three innings out of him before having to pull him, and then be forced with having to give him three days of rest.
Coaching reaction: "You have to plan for this, but it's not something you can control," York Catholic head coach Joe Gurreri said. "...You schedule your pitching staff for the week and you look and say you can start this guy on Monday and Thursday and this guy on Wednesday and Friday and you know how many innings you're going to pitch those guys. Now, a kid goes out and throws 25 pitches in the first inning, he's not going to throw seven innings, so you're going to have to have a deeper pitching staff now."
Even before this new mandate comes into play for the upcoming season, Gurreri has always been in favor of a pitch-count limit over an innings limit, and rarely lets any of his pitchers exceed 100 pitches in a game. With the amount of pitching kids are doing nowadays between high school, American Legion ball and AAU, the health of the player is what's most important and, in Gurreri's eyes, not every inning is equal in terms of wear on a pitcher's arm.
"If someone pitches an inning, it can be 10 pitches, or they can pitch a long inning and it could be 25 pitches," he said. "The pitch count is a truer gauge as far as what the pitcher has done that inning."
Pitch-count policies for nearby states:
New York — Will consider approving its policy Friday. Varsity, junior varsity/freshman and junior high will all have different thresholds. Varsity pitchers will face a max of 105 pitches in one game in the regular season and 125 in the postseason. In the regular season, 96-105 pitches requires four days rest; 66-95, three days; 31-65, two days; and 1-30, one day. In the postseason, the thresholds change to 103-125; 72-102; 41-71; and 1-40. Teams will record pitch counts on specific forms and will bring them to every game.
New Jersey — According to The Record (Hackensack), pitchers will be allowed a maximum of 110 pitches per game. An outing of 91-110 pitches requires four days of rest; 71-90, three days; 51-70, two days; 31-50, one day; and 1-30, no rest.
Maryland — Seniors and juniors will be allowed to throw more pitches per game (a maximum of 105) than sophomores and freshmen (95). For seniors, juniors and sophomores, 76 pitches or more requires four days of rest; 61-75, three days; 46-60, two days; 31-45, one day; and 1-30 needs no rest. For freshmen, 66 pitches or more means four days of rest; 51-65, three days; 36-50, two days; 21-35, one day; and 1-20 needs no rest. Home teams will supply a designated pitch count recorder for games, though visiting teams can bring one as well.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com