Prep Baseball & Softball

State taking steps to protect high school pitchers in metro-east

Belleville West pitcher Luke Vallandingham pitched nine out of 18-innings in a marathon regional semifinal game against Belleville East last spring. Under new guildlines proposed to the IHSA, Vallandingham would have been on a strick pitch count and would have been unavailable to pitch for four more days.
Belleville West pitcher Luke Vallandingham pitched nine out of 18-innings in a marathon regional semifinal game against Belleville East last spring. Under new guildlines proposed to the IHSA, Vallandingham would have been on a strick pitch count and would have been unavailable to pitch for four more days. BND File

The group that regulates high school sports in Illinois is proposing limits on how many pitches a high school baseball player can throw in a game and how much rest he must receive between appearances.

The Illinois High School Association said Wednesday that an advisory committee has proposed a 115-pitch per day cap and requiring up to four days rest between appearances.

The IHSA board of directors is expected to consider the proposals in October. If approved, the new rules would take effect in the 2017 season.

“I think we all knew something like this was coming down the pike,” said Belleville West head baseball coach Todd Baltz. “This has been a hot topic even in Major League Baseball, then it’s kind of filtered down through college and now to the high school level. It seems like a good thing to me because it enforces some common sense.”

A 2015 study by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine found that 56.7 percent of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgeries between 2007 and 2011 were performed on pitchers ages 15 through 19.

The pitch-count limit provides a “soft” cap, meaning the pitcher would be allowed to finish the batter he’s on at the time he reaches the maximum. Mandatory rest time also would be adjusted based on the actual number of pitches thrown in a day.

If a pitcher makes a second appearance in a seven-day period, he is limited to 90 pitches in his second appearance. A third appearance in seven days will be capped at 45 pitches.

IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee member Dr. Preston Wolin, an advocate of pitch-count limits, worked with a group of seven Illinois school administrators, athletic directors and coaches on the recommendation. Their purpose, he said, is to reduce the number of injuries being seen in overworked athletes.

A 2015 study by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine found that 56.7 percent of elbow reconstruction surgeries between 2007 and 2011 were performed on pitchers ages 15 through 19.

The discussion of new pitch-count guidelines was initiated at the behest of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which asked all state associations to implement some new pitcher protection rules.

“Illinois has gone above and beyond any other state in the nation,” Wolin said. “The reason this is important is that while many of the models used by other states protect the pitcher, there is a potential for overuse by throwing the pitcher on multiple consecutive days even at the allowable number of pitches.”

I think we all knew something like this was coming down the pike ... It seems like a good thing to me because it enforces some common sense.

Todd Baltz, Belleville West head baseball coach

Mascoutah baseball coach Don Eddy represented the metro-east on the special committee. He said he and most other coaches already adhere to their own pitch count guidelines to limit over-use.

“We had to do this in response to scenarios we heard of where some coaches were pushing their pitchers to 150 and even 200 pitches,” Eddy said. “We haven’t seen that in this area because I think coaches for the most part know their kids and keep track of pitch counts. I know we didn’t have a pitcher even get to 100 this year.”

Baltz, O’Fallon head coach Jason Portz and long-time Edwardsville pitching coach Mike Waldo agreed with Eddy.

“I think we’re forced to make some big rule changes because of a bad handful,” Portz said. “At least we’ll have a guideline now that everybody has to go by.”

But the proposal doesn’t account for the myriad of other factors that might strain a young pitcher’s arm, such as inclement weather, conditioning, or the innings many athletes will play at other positions.

Fall leagues, year-round throwing programs and winter pitching showcases don’t help young players get the rest the need either, said Waldo.

“If the IHSA could make rules for offseason throwing, then we’d be on to something, because that’s the biggest cause of these injuries,” he said. “The kids are one-sport athletes now — if baseball is your sport, you play it year-round. Baseball wasn’t made to be played year-around, least of all for pitchers.

“The best thing a pitcher can do in the off season is play basketball.”

The new rules, as proposed, also leave some competitive inequities, Portz pointed out.

If the IHSA could make rules for off-season throwing, then we'd be on to something, because that's the biggest cause of these injuries ... The best thing a pitcher can do in the off season is play basketball.

Mike Waldo, long-time Edwardsville pitching coach

Smaller class 1A and 2A programs that often don’t have more than six or seven pitchers will have to alter their schedules to save innings. For the larger 3A and 4A schools, how will playoffs work?

“As it’s set up now, I may play a sectional game on Wednesday and another team may win one on Thursday,” Portz said. “We have to play each other the following Monday, which is fine because I’ve got all my pitchers ready on four day’s rest, but the other guy has only got three days.

“I’d have a huge advantage just because of the way things are set up. Those are the kinds of things that will have to be worked out.”

Baltz and his Maroons could have been burned by pitch-count minimums in a Class 4A regional tournament just this past spring. It took two days, 18 inning, and three pitchers for Belleville West to defeat East in the semifinals.

The Maroons had to turn around the very next day and play Edwardsville for the championship.

“I don’t know how that would have worked out,” Baltz said. “But the idea here is to protect the kids from blowing out their arms and ruining their futures. Anybody who would question that probably needs to be questioned themselves.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Proposed New Rules

▪  A pitcher is limited to 115 pitches in a game. If a pitcher pitches between 76-115 pitches, four rest days are required before his next appearance. Three rest days are required for 61-75 pitches, two for 46-60 and one for 31-45.

▪  If a pitcher makes a second appearance in a seven-day period, he is limited to 90 pitches in his second appearance. A third appearance in seven days will be capped at 45 pitches.

▪  A pitcher who reaches the limit in the middle of an at-bat will be allowed to complete the at-bat.

▪  If the pitcher is ambidextrous, the limit applies to total pitches, not to each arm.

▪  Teams are required to count their own pitches and their opponents'. The teams will compare counts after even-numbered innings.

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