When the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association approved a new pitch-count guideline back in January, York Catholic head coach Joe Gurreri understood the reasoning behind it.
Simply put, not all innings for a pitcher are equal.
When the PIAA formerly monitored pitchers on an innings-limit basis, they could only throw 14 innings per week, with mandatory days of rest between appearances based on how many innings they threw in the previous outing. However, a pitcher could throw more than 100 pitches to get through four or five innings — a very taxing day — but it wouldn't require as much rest, when compared to a complete game that required just 80 pitches.
Back in January, Gurreri said that the new pitch-count guidelines offered a "truer gauge" for the toll on a pitcher's arm.
Now, about three weeks into the season, coaches and pitchers in the York-Adams League have had some time to get accustomed to the new rules, with coaches learning how to better handle their staffs, while pitchers are adapting to being more aggressive and not wasting as many pitches.
So far, the adjustment to the new rule appears to be going well.
"A lot of these guys are going to go onto college, and hopefully they want to play minor-league ball and professional ball," Central York head coach Mike Valencik said. "There's always something else after high school and I'm like every other coach, I want to win, but I don't want to win at the expense of an arm."
You could argue that the pitch-count rule favors teams with a deeper arsenal of quality pitchers. In the past, teams still needed at least two, sometimes three pitchers to be truly effective. Now, teams might need two or sometimes three pitchers to get through a single game, depending on the pitch load during the week.
"I think you have to have two guys going into every game ready to go," Spring Grove coach Steven Stiffler said after a game earlier this year. "Realistically, it hasn't affected us too much right now, but it will when games start to pile up here. ... We don't want our players to be worried about it. We want them to go out there and have conviction and make quality pitches."
At Dallastown, head coach Greg Kinneman has always stood by a philosophy that he never lets his pitchers throw more than 100 pitches in a game, and that included when an innings limit was still the monitoring method. So, for him, nothing has changed.
One place where the new rule has impacted players is with their approach to at-bats. No longer can pitchers afford to nibble or waste pitches on batters when they're ahead 0-2 or 1-2 in a count. With every pitch valuable, it pays to be more aggressive and try to get hitters out as quickly as possible.
"As a pitcher, you shouldn't really see it any different," Wildcats' senior pitcher Jake Gates said earlier this season. "Your goal is to go out there and throw strikes, regardless if there's a pitch rule or not, and pitchers shouldn't be going out there throwing more than 100 pitches if you're pounding the strike zone."
Pitch-count levels: The new rule doesn't just put a cap on a pitcher at 100 pitches.
There are different levels to the rule, with a certain amount of pitches thrown in a game requiring a different amount of rest between appearances. If a pitcher throws less than 25 pitches in a game, they don't need any rest, while 26-50 pitches requires one day off, 51-75 pitches needs two days off and 76-100 pitches requires three days of rest. However, pitchers also can't pitch on more than two consecutive days and can't exceed more than 200 pitches in a week.
In this case, teams have to work with what they have, and because this is high school and teams can't recruit a pitching staff, most teams are limited in the number of true pitchers they have on a team.
"I always try to keep six or seven pitchers," Valencik said. "But, to be perfectly honest, there's usually two of them that you have an abundance of confidence in. Then there's two more that you're confident in and then you have one or two more that you're not sure what you're going to get on a day."
Uploading pitch totals: When the new rule was implemented by the PIAA, it required teams to upload a pitcher's pitch total after every game, so it could be monitored and give opposing teams a better idea of who is and isn't available in upcoming games.
So far, there haven't been any issues with coaches or scorekeepers submitting that information within the Y-A League. Valencik, however, does believe when games start to pile up during the second half of the regular season, it could lead to some teams not submitting information on a regular basis, leading to issues with how truthful teams are being about the pitch count of their hurlers.
There are always going to be flaws to work around when a new rule is enacted, but so far, pitchers and coaches alike seem to be in agreement that the pitch-count rule is working how it should, and is much better for the health of the players.
"It's helping," Valencik said. "It's great because ... very rarely now are you seeing a Monday-Friday guy (an ace pitcher who starts every Monday and Friday). It happens and it's still going to happen, but not with the frequency that it used to."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com