With an eye on player safety, NSAA to monitor pitch counts heading into baseball season

With an eye on player safety, NSAA to monitor pitch counts heading into baseball season
World-Herald News Service

Pitch counts.

While that topic might not excite the average fan, it will be a critical part of this baseball season. And something that the Nebraska School Activities Association — and undoubtedly the coaches — will be taking very seriously.

The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) now will require a restriction policy based on the number of pitches thrown in a game. Previous restrictions dealt only with innings, a less precise way to monitor a pitcher’s workload.

“It’s all about player safety,” NSAA official Dan Masters said. “And that’s obviously very important to us.”

Each state was required by the NFHS to develop its own pitching restriction policy based on the number of pitches. Pitchers also would need a required rest period between appearances.

Masters formed a six-member committee to help set those guidelines for Nebraska. The committee included longtime Metro Conference coaches Bob Greco of Omaha Westside and Pat Mooney of Omaha Creighton Prep.

“We dissected a number of things,” Masters said. “We looked at what other states were doing, especially those that are geographically similar to Nebraska.”

The committee drafted a proposal and submitted it to athletic directors, coaches and sports medicine personnel. After receiving input from those sources, the official pitch count numbers were set.

The requirements go for all levels of high school baseball — varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams. The number of pitches allowed increases after April 1, when the weather is warmer and pitchers have been competing in games for two weeks.

In games played before April 1, a varsity pitcher who throws between 61 and 85 pitches must have three days rest before pitching again. The other requirements during that time: 36-60 pitches, two days rest; 26-35 pitches, one day; 1-25 pitches, zero rest needed.

Those limits also remain in place for games played from April 1 through the end of the season. The only difference is that pitchers may throw 86 to 110 pitches in a game, but that will require four days rest.

“So far, the coaches’ comments have been positive about what we’re doing,” Masters said. “There hasn’t been any pushback.”

Mooney said the new pitch-count rules will be an adjustment but that they should be a positive for the game.

“The whole intent is good,” he said. “Coaches realize that they can’t abuse a pitcher’s arm.”

Mooney said he had seen a situation where an opposing pitcher threw a complete game on the first day of the season and then not pitch again the rest of the spring.

“We’ll all have to manage our pitchers more,” he said. “It will be an adjustment, but we’ll all be trying to go through this together.”

If there is a negative, Mooney said he could foresee teams taking more pitches in an effort to drive up the pitch count. Class B teams that often do not have the pitching depth of Class A teams also could see a greater impact.

“It’s going to force everyone to have more pitching depth,” the coach said. “And if you’ve got it already, you’ve got a big advantage.”

Each school must keep track of its own pitch counts during games, and coaches will be asked to submit those numbers on the MaxPreps website. Masters said that during games, teams have been urged to double-check pitch counts between innings so there are no discrepancies at the end of the game.

If any discrepancies do arise, the home team numbers will be considered official.

Masters said the pitch count rules shouldn’t be that difficult for coaches to abide by.

“Most coaches already have pitch counts in place,” he said. “But this is one way to make sure that everybody is on the same page.”

Masters added that the new policy is something that’s probably been overdue at the high school level.

“It’s already in place at a lot of levels, starting with little league,” he said. “Statistics have shown there has been an increase in arm injuries among high school pitchers, so it’s something that needed to be addressed.”

Masters said he knows there will be an adjustment period, and the NSAA is prepared for that.

“We can tweak some things after this first year,” he said. “But I think we’ve got a good plan in place moving forward.”

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