Sep 21, 2016
Protecting Pitchers

This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

How many pitches should a high school baseball player throw before resting his arm? And how much time off is needed before getting back on the mound? Each state association will be required to answer those two questions in the next few months, thanks to new NFHS rules passed in July.

Previously, pitchers were allowed to throw a maximum of 14 innings in a seven-day span or 10 over three days. But with the heightened focus on arm injuries to players, many sports medicine professionals and administrators felt zeroing in on specific pitch counts was necessary. For the upcoming 2017 season, each state will now “be required to develop its own pitching restriction policy based on the number of pitches thrown during a game to afford pitchers a required rest period between pitching appearances,” explain the new rules.

A handful of states are ahead of the game, putting pitch count policies in place over the past year. Wisconsin’s were formed through a collaboration of coaches and physicians.

“In September of 2015, we told our high school coaches that pitch counts were coming and that we needed to collaborate with doctors on what was best for our state,” says Wade Labecki, Deputy Director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA). “I proposed several options to them, and then they came back in May of 2016 and proposed their suggestions to the doctors, who accepted them.”

The WIAA’s plan places a limit of 100 pitches per outing and requires differing amounts of rest depending on the pitch count. It is as follows for high school players:

• 30 pitches or less: no rest

• 31 to 49 pitches: one day of rest

• 50 to 75 pitches: two days of rest

• 76 to 100 pitches: three days of rest.

For middle school pitchers ages 11 and 12, a maximum of 85 pitches are allowed over four days with four days rest required. Middle school pitchers ages 13 and 14 are allowed 95 pitches over four days with the subsequent four days rest.

Alabama is another state that issued pitch count rules this past summer, and it is allowing higher limits than Wisconsin due to its warmer climate. Its high school pitchers will be allowed no more than 120 pitches per day, followed by three days of mandatory rest. The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) new rules are as follows:

• 1 to 25 pitches: no rest

• 26 to 50 pitches: one day of rest

• 51 to 75 pitches: two days of rest

• 76 or more pitches: three days of rest.

One of the biggest hurdles of the new rules may be counting pitches. This coming season in Wisconsin, each team will be required to track the pitches themselves and then compare their number with the opposing team’s pitch counter. Any team that fails to do this or does not follow the pitch count and resting requirements will have to forfeit the game.

“Our concern is that at the lower levels, like freshman and j.v. games, or rural schools where there are less kids, you might not have an abundance of people to count pitches,” says Labecki.

Alabama is requiring every high school baseball game to have an official pitch count recorder who will be paid as an impartial observer. These individuals will use a pitch count app developed by C2C, and will have the ultimate say over any discrepancies. Teams that do not adhere to the pitch count rules will have to forfeit a game and pay a $250 fine.

“It’s a health and safety issue,” AHSAA spokesman Ron Ingram said. “It’s about protecting the players, and this is going to make high school baseball safer.”

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