Pitch count best way to save arms

Posted May 28, 2009, at 9:48 p.m.

It’s a unique, rather subtle piece of information that’s now available to all baseball fans who attend games at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.

Where once was indicated the uniform number of the player currently batting is now a space to display pitch counts for those currently on the mound.

That scoreboard change was spawned by the presence at the stadium each August of the Senior League World Series, a baseball showcase for some of the best players in the world between ages 14 and 16.

Pitch limits are an ingrained part of youth baseball and a major part of coaching strategy at the Senior League World Series.

Those pitching for a Senior League world championship are limited to 95 pitches in a day, and anyone throwing 46 or more pitches in a day must have two calendar days of rest as well as a game between appearances. Those who throw between 21 and 45 pitches in a day must have one calendar day of rest as well as a game be-tween appearances, while no days or games of rest are required for those who throw between one and 20 pitches in a game.

It’s a format that protects pitchers’ developing arms, and it forces managers and coaches to develop depth and then utilize it in game situations.

High school baseball in Maine does not utilize a pitch count, but rather limits the number of innings a pitcher can work during a given time frame.

According to the Maine Principals’ Association baseball bulletin, a player who pitches in four or more innings on a given day — up to a maximum of 10 innings in one game — may not pitch again until three calendar days have elapsed. A player who pitches more than one inning and less than four innings must have one calen-dar day of rest before pitching again.

A player may pitch in one inning — with one pitch constituting an inning pitched — on any number of consecutive days.

And following the specifics of the rule is this advisory: “A coach who has the best interest of a player in mind will remove that player once a total of 90-100 pitches have been thrown.”

The vast majority of coaches in Maine adhere to the general sentiment of that advisory as a matter of common sense in the best interests of both the pitcher and the team.

A tiring pitcher usually becomes a less effective pitcher during the later innings of a game, after all, and an overused pitcher may become a sidelined pitcher to the detriment of both the pitcher and a team’s championship dreams.

But reliance on an inning limit rather than a pitch limit leaves open the possibility for arm abuse, in that there’s no actual pitch limit in an inning limit. A kid might induce three first-pitch groundouts in an inning; more typically a high school pitcher throws between 15 and 20 pitches in an inning.

And there are those outings when an ace pitcher struggles with his control, yet after the pitch count continues to grow beyond that suggested by the MPA advisory he remains the team’s best bet for victory in a crucial game, so he pitches on.

Given that pitching arms continue to develop until the mid-20s, a few of those outings can have damaging consequences.

Perhaps it’s time for Maine high school baseball to make its pitch count sentiment the rule rather than an advisory. Fifteen pitches an inning for seven innings equals 105 — seems like a reasonable limit.

eclark@bangordailynews.net

990-8045

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