STROHECKER: Pitch count solves some issues, but not all
- The PIAA moving to a pitch count will help prevent arm injuries in high school athletes, but it won't solve all the problems.
- Arm issues can also be a product of a pitcher's mechanics putting stress on his arm.
- Preventing Little Leaguers from throwing curveballs was the previous trendy way to try and limit arm injuries.
This past Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association approved new guidelines for the upcoming high school baseball season.
Pitchers will now be monitored by how many pitches they throw, rather than innings thrown.
It was the latest move for the governing body of high school athletics in Pennsylvania to align itself with the National Federation of State High School Associations, the national governing body of all high school organizations. The national federation made a push to have all states operate on a pitch-count limit, as opposed to an innings limit, as a way to try to keep the arms of high school pitchers healthier for the future.
The proposal by the PIAA Board of Executives passed unanimously on three separate occasions, with last week's reading the third and final.
The unanimous votes should tell you everything you need to know about how the baseball experts — the people who headed the steering committee for this change — and how high school coaches felt about the move. Anything that, on the surface, looks to be a better way of reducing the stress on young arms is going to be welcomed.
Under the new system, pitchers can no longer throw more than 100 pitches per game, unless they reach the 100-pitch threshold mid-at-bat, then they can finish the at-bat, but must be immediately removed after it. Over the course of the week, a pitcher can't exceed 200 pitches and can't pitch on more than two consecutive days. Also included are required days of rest after reaching a certain pitch limit.
With the old system, pitchers couldn't exceed more than 14 innings in a week and couldn't pitch more than nine in a single outing. There were also required days of rest depending on the number of innings a pitcher threw in a single game.
The change came into play because not all innings are created equal. A pitcher could have a quick 10-pitch, 1-2-3 inning, which was essentially the same as having a 30-pitch nightmare frame. One was far more taxing on a pitcher's arm, but they were viewed the same in terms of the innings limit.
Now, every pitch will matter.
Unfortunately, a pitch count can only do so much to prevent arm injuries from occurring in young players. It isn't, and won't be, the solution to everything.
To start, a pitcher's mechanics have a lot to do with how much strain is placed on his arm. The overhand throwing motion is already abnormal for the human arm, so the more torque and constant wear you put on it, the more susceptible you are to having immediate or long-term health issues. Like all innings, no pitching motion is equal and varies from pitcher to pitcher. The bottom line is this: Some pitchers have a motion that isn't as taxing on the arm as others are.
"There's guys on our pitching staff at Dallastown that I would never let run past 50 or 60 pitches due to knowing their ability and knowing their threshold for their workload," Wildcats head coach Brett Kinneman said. "Whereas, other guys, due to physicality or mechanics, would be able to easily run to that 100-pitch mark and maybe even slightly beyond."
Uploading pitch counts online: Within the guidelines of the new rule, each team's scorekeeper must keep track of both team's pitch counts and meet at least once an inning to confirm totals.
Then, each team is responsible for uploading each pitcher's pitch count from that game onto the team's MaxPreps page so it can be made public for the league, any future opponents and the PIAA.
I can already see the confusion this will cause when certain teams forget to put their pitcher's pitch count information online, whether by accident or in an attempt to circumvent the system.
The possibility for arguments between scorekeepers, when they can't agree on pitch-count totals, also has the potential to get ugly.
It starts at earlier age: If you're concerned about a high school pitcher's arm, there's a good chance that any injuries that might occur are a product of an earlier time in their lives.
Look at Little League pitchers now. We gush over the 12 year old who can touch 70 mph on the radar gun and then drop in a 12-to-6 curveball nearly 20 mph slower. But, you know what? If that same player continues to pitch into his teenage years, and possibly even into college, there's a decent possibility he'll suffer some sort of arm injury.
When I played baseball about 15 years ago, it was at the height of the conversation about how much damage throwing a breaking ball can do to a youngster's arm. There was always a lot of talk about putting an age limit on when a kid could start throwing a curveball, or any other breaking pitch, but nothing came of it.
Monitoring pitch counts is the next big thing when it comes to trying to protect a pitcher's arm, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But, what can save a pitcher's arm from injury now, or in the future, isn't an exact science.
In a few years, there will be a new trendy topic on how to limit injuries in the arms of pitchers.
The PIAA is simply taking a necessary step, that is also popular at the moment. You can't fault the organization for that.
Just don't expect a pitch count to solve every problem.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.