The pitch count rule: Gurus got it right

Published 6:03 am Thursday, July 7, 2011

Many local recreation teams are still competing in postseason play and some unlikely heroes are expected to emerge on the mound due to a rule change that has changed the face of amateur sports.

In only its fourth year of enforcement, the “pitch count rule” has given coaches both options and headaches.

The rule, officially known as Rule 8:90, was implemented by Dixie Boys Baseball in 2008 and has caused changes in the way coaches use their aces.

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The intention of the rule is to “prevent arm injuries” and “eliminate winning a league championship using only one pitcher.”

At the Dixie Boys level, a pitcher is limited to 95 pitches. Dixie Majors pitchers are allowed 105 pitches.

A pitcher throwing fewer than 45 pitches is allowed to throw the next day without any required rest.

Previous pitching limitations saw number of innings pitched as the regulatory instrument.

One thought was that by keeping a coach from riding his stud all the way to a title other players would be forced to develop their pitching skills in order to help a team win.

The change may be accomplishing both of those goals.

“For me, the pitch count rule is better,” Troy Dixie Boys head coach Gary Fox said. “We’ve got several talented pitchers and the rule allows me to keep them pitching without over-throwing them.”

Before the change, three or four pitchers would throw as many pitches they could muster as long as they stayed under their allotted number of innings.

Now, coaches will use a stable of arms to maneuver through a tournament while keeping pitch counts down.

Assistant Recreation Director David Dickey feels the rule is good for youth sports.

“I think now you’ll see some talented guys pitch who, under the old rule, might not get that chance.”

That was not always the sentiment around recreation sports. When Little League Baseball first implemented the rule in 2007, fans and coaches hammered the decision claiming that it would detract from the competitiveness.

The fact remains, that as much individuality as there is in baseball, it is a team sport and at the little league level a team concept should be enforced.

The change has helped to do both of the things it set out to do plus, I believe, help engrain into both the coaches’ and players’ psyche that everyone must contribute in order to be successful.

Many baseball experts have said about the major leagues that it’s not the team with the best 25-man roster; it’s the team with the best 40-man roster that wins most often.

Whether it’s because of rule or necessity, teams will have to rely on every player over their given course of a season or tournament.

“We’ve got seven guys that can pitch and that seventh guy will have to get a big out for us at some point,” Fox said.

While the intention behind the rule is strong, the on-the-field execution can sometimes be daunting.

Troy Junior Dixie Boys coach Sam Kitchens says organization is the key.

“Fortunately, tournament staff helps keep up with pitch counts during the game, but if you don’t pay attention and let a guy go over his number it can cost you.”

USA Baseball and the American Sports Medicine Institute have exhaustively studied injuries to youth pitchers and have found that pitch counts were a major contribution.

In any event, no limitation rule will ever fit every individual uniformly. Bodies are made differently but an effort must be made to preserve young arms.

As a former coach, I have always believed that a regular throwing regime is most beneficial to pitchers. Even major leaguers throw five to six days a week in some capacity but those are professionals. They have trainers and team staff watching over them every second they are at the ballpark.

Kids want to play and play often. It is up to administrators and coaches to prevent children from pushing themselves past the point of over-exertion.

In this case, I think the sports medicine gurus got it right.

Wes Johnson covers sports for The Messenger. Contact him via email at wes.johnson@troymessenger and follow him on Twitter at messenger_wes.