New number important in high school baseball: pitch counts

March 19, 2017
Changes in PIAA pitching rules could lead to more mound conferences such as this one between Canon-McMillan pitcher ptcher Zack Rohaley, right, Ian Hess and catcher Tanner Piechnick during a game last season. - Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Forget who’s on first or what’s on second.

Pitch count limits

Total pitches thrown Required days of rest

76-100 3 calendar days*

51-75 2 calendar days

26-50 1 calendar day

1-25 No rest required#

*Pitchers cannot throw more than 200 pitches in a week

#Pitchers are not permitted to pitch more than two consecutive days

The biggest question high school baseball coaches will be asking this season will be how many pitches has he thrown?

As part of a change made by the National Federation of State High School Associations Baseball Rules Committee last June, the PIAA has instituted limits on how many pitches can be thrown by pitchers per outing.

And it promises to have an immediate impact on how high school baseball is played when teams begin taking the field Friday for the start of the regular season.

“You’d better have a lot of pitchers lined up,” said longtime Beth-Center High School baseball coach Frank Pryor. “If not, you’re going to find yourself in some tough situations.”

While a shift to six classifications in baseball and softball broke up the old sections, they won’t have nearly the impact the new pitching rules will on baseball games.

Per the new rules, pitchers will be limited to a maximum of 100 pitches per game, with specific rest requirements based on how many pitches are thrown.

If they throw 76 to 100 pitches in a game, they must have three calendar days of rest. If it is 51 to 75, two days of rest are required. If it is less than 25, they are eligible to throw the next day, but no pitcher can take the mound on more than two consecutive days.

And pitchers cannot throw more than 200 pitches in a week.

If a pitcher is permitted to throw more than 100 pitches if that mark is reached in the course of an at bat. Even if that at bat requires him to throw, say, 105 pitches, his total reverts back to 100.

The changes might not affect larger schools, which have more players available. But for schools with smaller rosters, it could become an issue.

“You used to be able to get by with four or five kids who could pitch,” Pryor said. “Now, it’s going to be six or seven.”

If a team has only 12 to 15 players, which is common at some smaller schools, that means half the roster should be able to take the mound. Logic would suggest that’s not going to be the case.

“A lot is going to depend on how many pitchers you have,” said current Waynesburg and former Carmichaels head coach Scott Van Sickle. “There were some years when I was at Carmichaels where things would have been difficult. You have your ace and another guy and maybe that’s it.”

Another issue is how teams keep track of pitches.

According to the PIAA, each team is instructed to designate a pitch counter, which in many cases will be the scorekeeper. The pitch counters for each team are going to be in charge of tracking not only their own team, but the opponent.

They are being instructed to check with their counterparts at least between each inning. When the game is completed, both teams are asked to send their pitch counts to Max Preps so that other teams can check on them.

If a discrepancy arises between the two pitch counters, the home team’s book is the official count.

“It’s definitely going to be interesting, because sometimes we have trouble finding scorekeepers,” said McGuffey head coach Scott Henson, who’s also coached at Ringgold, Canon-McMillan and Trinity.

“And who’s going to keep track of the JV and freshman games? You’re going to have to hire an army. Think of all of the (pitching) changes made in a JV and ninth-grade game.”

The new rule also could affect how many games a team plays.

Currently, Pennsylvania teams are permitted to play 20 regular season games, including their section or league schedule.

Given the weather many Pennsylvania teams play in, exhibition games, especially the ones held early in the season, often get postponed. With the new pitching rules in place, they might just be cancelled rather than burn more pitching.

“Coaches are going to have to be smart about that,” admitted Pryor.

The rule change could produce some new strategies.

The PIAA has implemented a rule for intentional walks that also is being used in Major League Baseball. No pitches need to be thrown for the intentional walk to be issued. The head coach simply tells the umpire his team intends to issue the intentional walk and the base is awarded.

“If you’re playing a team and they’ve only got a couple of good hitters, you can just walk those guys to save pitches,” said Van Sickle. “I think a lot of good hitters are going to be at a disadvantage because teams will intentionally walk them.”

And that won’t be the only strategy used.

More coaches could tell their kids to take pitches, especially when facing the other team’s ace, in an effort to get his pitch count up.

“That shouldn’t be a hidden game plan,” Van Sickle said. “That would be my game plan. Take as many pitches as you can the first three innings if you’re facing the other team’s ace. If he’s pounding the strike zone after two, you might adjust. But you want to get that pitch could up as quickly as possible.”

Most coaches agree the intended result of the new rules is a good one.

According to multiple studies, there has been a rise in Tommy John surgeries performed on youths to repair the Ulnar Collateral Ligament, one of a number of injuries that can befall a pitcher from overuse.

“If this keeps one kid from having to deal with arm issues, that’s great,” said Henson.

“It’s a good idea because just tracking the innings didn’t always work because you didn’t know how many pitches a kid had thrown,” Van Sickle said.

And who knows? Perhaps games that will now require more pitchers will add excitement.

“You’ve got to have kids who are going to throw strikes,” said Pryor. “I don’t care how hard they throw. They’ve got to be able to put the ball over the plate. We’ll play defense.

“There are going to be some pros and cons. Some people will like it, some won’t. We’ll learn how to handle it. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. I can’t say this isn’t for the betterment of the game because it’s possibly saving kids’ arms.”

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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