Gentlemen, start your clickers.
Pitch counts have come to local high school baseball.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the state’s largest governing body, mandated pitch counts this spring after approving the new rules in January.
“In the long term, this will have a positive impact on young pitchers,” Bellmore JFK coach James Bailin said. “There is an inordinate amount of arm injuries and a safety concern for the players. I can’t imagine it will have anything but a positive effect on the game over the long haul. We’re just seeing too many arm injuries.”
Bailin’s Cougars opened with a 9-6 non-league loss at Freeport on Friday. He had three different people tracking pitches during the game as the temperature dropped to 36 degrees with gusty winds and a real feel of 28.
“We kept the pitch count for both our team and the opposing team, and we’ll do that every game,” Bailin said. “I had three separate charts; one for Freeport, one for us and a location chart for me for my pitchers. There was a lot going on and I had that clicker going all game. It’s necessary now.”
Bailin was one of the top high school pitchers on Long Island when he won the Diamond Award in 1996 and 1997 while playing for Levittown Division. He went on to pitch for the University of Maine and Adelphi.
And he understands arm care.
“Coach [Doug] Robins had us follow a regimented routine to take care of our arms,” said Bailin, who threw a state-record four no-hitters as a junior in 1996. “Coach Robins never let me go over the threshold of 105 pitches. He was the ultimate creature of habit. In one outing, I threw 81 pitches in a 16-strikeout no-hitter against Floral Park. He made me go down the foul line and throw 20 more pitches to get to my limit. Guys wondered why he made me do that, and it was because he was so focused on that pitch-count number and made sure we were consistent every time out.”
Robins may have been way ahead of his time on pitch-count limits.
According to the NYSPHSAA rules, varsity pitchers can throw a maximum of 105 pitches in a regular-season game. A pitcher can exceed the pitch count if he reaches the maximum in the middle of a batter.
If a pitcher throws between 96 and 105 pitches, he must have four nights of rest before the next mound appearance. A pitch count between 66 and 95 means three nights of rest, between 31 and 65 two nights of rest and between 1 and 30 one night of rest.
The pitch counts increase for postseason games, to a maximum of 125 pitches.
“I see the new pitch-count rules as a move in the right direction to keep young arms safe from injury,” Sachem East coach Kevin Schnupp said. “The implementation of these rules were designed to prevent coaches from abusing arms. I believe most coaches like it.”
Schnupp said the rules will impact the smaller schools more than the larger schools.
“They don’t have the pitching depth in the smaller schools,” he said. “They don’t have the numbers. Some of those scores could be lopsided. There will be an immediate impact because we’re going to see some pitchers with very little experience in varsity games.”
Pitch counts will be the talk of the diamond this spring. They will have a strategic impact on games. Coaches will have to think ahead and be prepared to have multiple pitching options available for games.
“You can no longer ride that horse, that kid with the rubber arm,” Freeport coach Roberto Delgado said. “You need a lot of guys that can throw strikes. And it’s going to change coaches’ strategies completely.”
The home team in all games will be the official book for pitch counts. Bailin and Delgado checked with each other every half-inning on pitch totals. They were off by only one pitch in two half-innings and came to a quick agreement on pitch total in both instances.
“You hope it’s going to be this easy all season,” Delgado said. “But I see some problems down the road. You get distracted in the dugout and miss pitches and lose the count. It’s going to happen.”
There’s no reporting mechanism in place for pitch counts. Coaches are required to keep a state-mandated pitching chart and bring them to every game.
“There are no checks on this, really,” Delgado said. “I don’t feel comfortable asking to see the opponent’s pitching records for the week to know who is on rest and who is not. There’s an honor system here, too.”
On Friday, Delgado pulled senior starter Franklin Gonzalez after he threw 56 pitches in two innings, so Gonzalez needed two nights of rest before pitching again. Reliever Elijah Carrasco threw 57 pitches in the final five innings and also needed two nights of rest. Both are available for Monday’s game against Farmingdale.
Bailin pulled Bellmore JFK sophomore starter Terry Beeker after an 85-pitch, four-inning outing. Beeker can’t pitch again until Tuesday.
“We’ll look for any advantage to drive pitch counts up and get into opponents’ bullpens,” Bailin said. “It’s become a chess match. In the fourth inning, my sophomore in his first varsity start had a 30-pitch inning. That’s where I have to protect him and take him out.”
And he did.
So what happens if a team violates the rule?
Any team found to have done that must forfeit the game.