Mark December 1, 2016 on your calendar, as the day the way high school baseball is played changed. It is a not a change casual observers of the game may notice. The bases aren’t farther apart, three outs still end a half inning (almost all the time), four balls you walk and three strikes you’re out. Balls and strikes do factor into the change, North Carolina high school pitchers will now work under new rules that set limits for the number of pitches in a game and define how much rest is needed after throwing varying amounts of pitches. The new rules are summarized in the chart accompanying this article.
The NCHSAA Board of Directors approved the rule effective this coming spring. The National Federation of High Schools announced in June that each state association was required to adopt a pitch-count rule. The NCHSAA sports advisory committee, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and N.C. Baseball Coaches Association were charged with coming up with the new rules. In the end, they simply chose the USA Baseball guidelines for 17-18 year olds. The NCBCA lobbied for a 120-pitch limit, but NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said, “The Sports Medicine Committee felt it was hard to argue against the research and science developed by USA Baseball.” The pitch limits are for both junior varsity and varsity baseball teams.
An American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons study in 2015 found that 57 percent of the 790 Tommy John surgeries performed between 2007-11 were on high school pitchers aged 15 to 19, with an average nine percent increase per year in that age group. Tommy John surgery is a procedure to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow by reconstructing it with a tendon from another part of the body. Some veteran observers point out that it isn’t the number of pitches per game that have increased during this time span, it is the number of months pitchers are throwing competitively.
The rule is clear. However, the NCHSAA has not laid out the specifics on penalties for infractions. Nor have they determined who will be responsible for the “official” pitch count or what will serve as the clearinghouse for pitch count history. If a protest is filed, does it have to take place at the time a pitcher exceeds the limit, before the game ends or at any time discovered after the game? Will the NCHSAA assess fines to schools that do not get their pitch count information in the chosen database in a timely manner? It is not unusual for schools to play games on successive days.
Since the NFHS left it up to each state under their auspice to generate a rule there is some agreement, but more variance state by state. Florida will enforce maximum pitch counts according to the pitcher’s age. If a pitcher is 19 years old, he or she may throw 120 pitches maximum. Pitchers ages 17-18 have a 105-pitch max and 15-16 pitch ceiling is 95. Illinois has the most caveats attached to their restrictions. For example, a pitcher throwing 31-45 pitches must have one day of rest before pitching again. After one day of rest, the maximum number of pitches is 90. With two days of rest the maximum returns to the full 115. Illinois even addresses ambidextrous pitchers, noting that pitch counts are for the individual, not the individual arm. In New York, coaches are required to report the status of their pitchers to their opponent the day of the game. Massachusetts plays baseball using the MLB rules, not the NFHS, and have not adopted a pitch count regulation.
The accompanying chart compares rules that have been adopted by several states. In several cases, the pitch count rule has been set, but the monitoring process and penalties have not been determined.
Part two will be reaction from local coaches and parents.
|North Carolina||South Carolina||Virginia||Tennessee||Georgia||Alabama|
|Maximum number of pitches in a game*||105||110||110||120||110||120 (100 for 9th & 10th graders)|
|Required Rest after number of pitches|
|5 days||NA||more than 90||NA||NA||NA||NA|
|4 days||more than 76||76-90||more than 100||120||NA||NA|
|3 days||61-75||61-75||76-100||76-119||more than 85||more than 75|
|No rest||30 or fewer||30 or fewer||25 or fewer||25 or fewer||35 or fewer||25 or fewer|
|Rest after pitching on consecutive days||1 day||2-day total determines||NA||NA||2 days if 60 or more||NA|
|Who monitors||Undecided||Each team1||Use Game Changer app||Unknown||official scorer3||Paid official using app|
|to document2||created by C2C4|
|Penalty for violation of rule||Undecided||Forfeit, fine,||Unknown||Unknown||Coach suspended 2 games||forfeit, $ 250 fine|
|suspension of coach||$ 250 fine|
|Penalty doubles 2nd offense|
|Maximum number of pitches in a game*||110||110||110||100||120||120|
|Required Rest after number of pitches|
|4 days||86-110||more than 95||NA||NA||106-120||76 or more|
|1 day||31-45||21-39||36-60||31-49||26-50||45 or fewer|
|No rest||30 or fewer||20 or fewer||35 or fewer||30 or less||25 or fewer||Not allowed|
|Rest after pitching on consecutive days||NA||NA||Max of 60. 1 day required rest.||NA||NA|
|Who monitors||Home team designates||Each team. Any discrepancy||Each team. Umpites not||Each team and a designated||Each team Pitch counts||Unknown|
|a pitch-counter5||home book is official||involved in count6||recorder. Counts compared at||recorded on MaxPreps|
|end of each inning. 2 of 3 agree,||within 24 hours.|
|that number used. All disagree,|
|recorder’s is official.|
|Penalty for violation of rule||Unknown||Unknown||Violation of pitch count rule||Unknown||Forfeit, $ 250 fine||Forfeit of game|
|results in forfeit. Not reporting|
|pitches within 24 hours results|
|in restriction from playoffs.|
|* Pitcher is allowed to complete a player’s at-bat when reaching max number.|
|1 Coaches fill out a “card” after game. No info on who receives the card or when.|
|2 Home scorebook is official. Umpires not involved.|
|3. Typically the home team scorer.|
|4 App runs on smart phones and tablets.|
|5 Must be outside of dugout. Can confer with coaches between innings.|
|6 Result, pitchers and pitch counts to be recorded in Maxpreps within 24 hours|