Latest Issue

Pitching Woes

Have you taken note? The cover date of this week’s Webb Weekly is 042424. There might be lucky numbers in there somewhere — but if there aren’t, don’t blame me!

Speaking of numbers, fans who have recently attended South Williamsport baseball home games at the recreational complex have been greeted by a new scoreboard beyond the left field fence. The big blue board contains the usual game information numbers, along with a PC number notification, tracking the number of pitches each pitcher has thrown.

PITCH COUNT, the statistical number that has greatly changed the way the game is played on baseball diamonds at all levels across the country.

Little League Baseball was the first baseball program to implement the safety-inspired rule in 2006. Since then, the organization right here in our backyard has been at the forefront of promoting arm safety for young pitchers. The rule varies depending on the pitcher’s age and the number of pitches thrown and contains a mandatory rest requirement dependent upon how many pitches were thrown when the pitcher departs the mound.

There is a belief that implementing the LLB pitch count rule traces its impetus back to the 2002 LLB World Series, perhaps the greatest pitching duel in the event’s long history.

That year, Fort Worth, Texas, squared off against Louisville, Kentucky, with Walker Kelly pitching for Texas and Aaron Alvey on the hill for Kentucky. Both pitchers were sensational, each throwing no-hitters in a scoreless game after six innings. At the time, Little League rules permitted pitchers to throw a maximum of nine innings in a game. Both pitchers remained in the game through nine scoreless innings, with Kelly striking out 21 and Alvey maintaining nine no-hit innings while striking out 19.

Kentucky eventually won the game 2-1 in eleven innings and went on to capture the World Series title with a 1-0 victory over Japan.

In the years that have followed, most baseball programs have instituted some type of pitch count rules. For high school baseball in Pennsylvania, the PIAA rules state: 1-25 pitches, no rest required; 26-50 pitches, 1 day rest; 51-75 pitches, 2 days rest; 76-100 pitches, 3 days rest. The rule also states pitchers may not exceed 200 pitches in a week.

At the collegiate level, no pitcher can exceed 110 pitches per game. If a pitcher reaches that threshold, he will not be able to throw for at least three more days. To further deter injury, there are pitch limits and rest periods required. If a pitcher throws fewer than 25 pitches, there is no mandatory rest required.

At the Major League Baseball level, where the stakes are the highest and huge salaries are being paid, there are no rules for how many pitches a pitcher may throw in a game. Teams establish their own policy as to how they will protect their investment and the player’s health. One hundred pitches for a starting pitcher seems to be an unwritten rule most often followed, but the rash of injuries to pitchers in the first few weeks of the 2024 season has sent the industry scrambling for answers.

Many theories have been forthcoming; implementation of the pitch clock, emphasis on spin rate, the increased velocity of pitches, and overuse of the pitching arm have all been cited as contributing factors. But whatever the causes, the pitcher injury results in 2024 are concerning. According to the MLB Injured List Tracker, there are 27 pitchers on the IL that required Tommy John surgery, and dozens more had elbow and shoulder ailments among the 206 players tracked on the list.

Although no concrete evidence has been presented, some have cited that the growing popularity of travel ball among young developing players may be a contributing factor. Its popularity has been advanced by the belief that the program provides better coaching, increased competition, specialized training, travel, and increased exposure. Without debating those claims, that desire for increased exposure tends to lead to young pitchers throwing harder and more often as they chase their baseball dream.

In youth travel baseball, pitching rules vary based on the specific league or organization. Without prudent judgment, a pitcher could throw an 85-pitch limit in a Little League game one day and pitch in a travel ball game the next day.

Protecting pitching arms will continue to be a debated concern. In a recent article I came across, it was suggested that young pitchers 9-14 should:
– Maintain a balance between skill development and enjoyment.
– Not exceed 80 combined innings pitched in any 12-month period (9-12) or 100 combined innings (13-14).
– Take at least four months off from throwing every year, with at least 2-3 of those months being continuous.
– Warm up properly before pitching and follow pitch counts limits and rest.

In the adolescent and teenage years, letting kids be kids without a high degree of one-sport specialization may actually be a good thing.