High school baseball’s national governing body unveiled a new policy on Tuesday that requires pitchers to be given rest between a certain number of pitches in an outing, changing its focus from innings pitched to pitch counts.
Each state association will be required to develop its own pitch count restriction, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced in a news release. Currently, the policy covers an innings limit in a week. For example, the California Interscholastic Federation limits pitchers to a maximum of 10 innings in a week.
The decision emphasizes the “risk that occurs when pitchers overuse their throwing arm,” Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and staff liaison for baseball, said in a news release.
A 2015 study by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine found that 56.7 percent of Tommy John surgeries were performed on 15-to-19-year-olds between 2007 and 2011.
Major League Baseball went so far as to issue its own press release praising the new rules.
"We are pleased to see the NFHS taking this significant step towards curtailing pitcher use and fatigue," Chris Marinak, senior vice president of league economics and strategy at Major League Baseball, said in a news release. "The health of high school pitchers is critical to the future prosperity of our sport. We will continue to work alongside USA Baseball as we further proliferate this important initiative."
Pitch counts in amateur baseball continue to draw more attention from scouts and media in the lead-up to the draft. For just one high-profile example, Wichita (Kan.) West High junior Colby Pelchin threw 157 pitches over 10 innings in May in a regional championship game. He and his coach, Jeff Hoover, were later suspended for violating the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s nine-inning limit.
For The First Academy (Orlando) coach Scott Grove, there’s no downside to the new rules.
“I think it’s a great thing, really,” said Grove, whose school won the 2014 National High School Invitational. “Especially coaching down in Florida, when kids play year-round, some of these (coaches) have kids that are throwing their arms off. The way they set up the playoffs here, it’s going to alleviate running that one arm all the way to the final four. (Coaches) are going to need to have more depth and not rely on one arm.
“We needed to do something because of the overabundance of (Tommy John surgeries). The shame of it is, (pitchers) say, ‘I’m going to get surgery and come back and throw harder,’ but that’s not the case in the majority of surgeries. A lot of people are misled (about Tommy John surgery).”
Michigan State coach Jake Boss agreed that new rules were necessary but isn’t sure there’ll be a trickle-up effect.
“As far as college, no, I don’t think so,” Boss said about college pitch count restrictions. “I certainly would hope not. At our level, I think there are enough guys that we’re not as pressured to run out the same guy (as high school). We’re deeper than a lot of high school staffs. I think I can speak on behalf of college coaches that we’re going to take care of our guys. In high school, a lot of (coaches) feel pressure to win. (But) I think (the new policy) is a good system of checks and balances.
“It’s probably a good idea to start that conversation. No one has any ill intent (to pitch guys too often), but it’s a good start to make sure we’re taking care of all of our guys.”