When Wantagh High School’s Bobby Hegarty took the mound in the ninth inning of the state baseball championship game after throwing more than 100 pitches in the first eight frames, the pitch count couldn’t have been further from his mind.
But it was on the forefront of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which has mandated that each state association, which includes New York, must create its own pitcher-limit policy based on pitch count — rather than restrictions by innings — to take effect Spring 2017.
“I never really thought about pitch counts at all,” Hegarty said about that June 11 championship start in Binghamton, which Wantagh won, 6-5, in a game that went two innings longer than the regulation seven. “I wasn’t coming out of the game regardless. It was the last game of my high school career, so I just left it all on the line. I didn’t really care how many pitches it took.”
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association Safety Committee has its baseball committee analyzing and evaluating pitch counts to determine a daily maximum and rest days between outings. The subject is expected to be discussed in October by the Executive Committee and voted upon by the committee in January 2017.
In previous years, the NYSPHSAA mandated that public high school pitchers could not throw more than 12 innings in one day or 18 innings in a six-day span.
“If you care about a kid and you do what’s best by the kid, you don’t even come close to those limits — probably in any system,” said Wantagh coach Keith Sachs, who added that the original rules were “drawn up really for the person who’s abusing their kid.”
Oceanside’s Kyle Martin, who was the 2016 Diamond Award winner as Nassau County’s top pitcher, said he thinks pitch counts are a great idea to preserve arms.
“I do think it’s a good move,” said Martin, who will be attending Fordham University. “I’m friends with a lot of high school kids that have hurt their arms.”
Jimmy Joyce, entering his senior year at Wantagh, said he has mixed emotions about the rule change. He opened the season as the Warriors’ No. 2 pitcher and started four postseason games during their state championship run and conceded that he was “exhausted toward the end of the year.” Joyce’s continued impressive results even surprised him but he wanted to be on the mound as much as possible.
“It’s probably going to be frustrating some games that I feel like I can go further,” Joyce said, “but all in all, I think I agree with the rules of a pitch limit.”
Dr. Luga Podesta, who worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 16 years, Angels for three years and still does consultant work for Major League Baseball along with his work at St. Charles Orthopedics in East Setauket, held a free seminar in January to discuss baseball’s epidemic of arm injuries at all ages. Podesta is thrilled that high schools will change to pitch count limits.
“I think it’s a great rule,” Podesta said. “It’s just going to be interesting who’s going to make the numbers and how are they going to come up with the numbers.”
As a reference, Podesta mentioned the “Pitch Smart” pitch count guidelines put together by USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. It sets the maximum recommended pitches in a game at 95 for ages 15-16 and 105 for 17-18.
Rest period will also be a part of the new high school baseball rules. The “Pitch Smart” chart has the same recommended numbers for ages 15-18, which allows zero days of rest from 0-30 pitches, one day for 31-45 pitches, two days for 46-60 pitches, three days for 61-75 pitches and four days for more than 75 pitches.
Along with pitch counts, Podesta said pitching on multiple teams, throwing top speeds for a radar gun, attending showcases at a young age and throwing fatigue are harmful for pitchers. He and Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci said managing bullpen sessions are also crucial.
“You can have all the pitch counts you want,” said Petrucci, who coached Mets starter Steven Matz and first-round pick Anthony Kay at Ward Melville, “but if you don’t monitor how many pitches the kid’s throwing in the bullpen, what difference does it make?”