High School Baseball: Making a pitch to limit wear and tear

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Addresses new national mandate of a pitch count limit for high school baseball.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Last week the National Federation of State High School Associations addressed what is as common now as balls and strikes in baseball — the pitch count. It’ll be up to each state member, including the Ohio High School Athletic Association, to develop a combination of maximum pitches and recovery time for pitchers.

The OHSAA hasn’t addressed the new ruling, but it’s understood to begin next season. Already in place in Ohio is a maximum 10 innings pitched in three days. However, that doesn’t account for total pitches in that span, which could vary by many.

Veteran Northmont High School baseball coach Chuck Harlow and Dayton Dragons minor-league pitching coach Derrin Ebert are convinced that ruling is a good thing for the sport.

Harlow has been the Thunderbolts’ head coach for 37 seasons. He’s witnessed multiple rules changes in that span. That would include the hockey-like masks catchers use (previously it was a two-piece cage/batting helmet combination) and the implementation of BBCOR bats, which replaced so-called “hot bats.”

“It’s going to be a good rule,” said Harlow, who guided Northmont to the Division I regional two of the last four seasons. “It’s been coming for a long time. We’ve been educated a great deal, especially the last 10 years, on stress on the arm from our state clinics. I’d be surprised if any (coaches) are upset about it.”

Harlow said Greater Western Ohio Conference coaches already adhere to pitch counts, as do opposing coaches and even parents.

“In the GWOC, I don’t see a lot of (coaches) pitching their guys into the ground,” he said. “I’m sure back in the day there were guys who pitched a bunch, but in the last 20 years (coaches) have been aware of pitch counts. Nobody counted pitches 37 years ago. I don’t think this is going to change the game because we’re already doing it.”

Addressing wear and tear

Ebert, 39, is in his first season with the Dragons, coming from the Reds’ rookie-ball affiliation at Billings, Mont., along with Dragons manager Dick Schofield. A pitch count figures heavily into grooming a minor-league player and continues at the major-league level. That’s an injury-preventive necessity considering the hefty contracts that are awarded top-level and potential aces.

“It’s something that’s been long overdue,” said Ebert, who played the role of former Athletics pitcher Mike Magnante and was a consultant in the 2011 movie hit “Moneyball” that starred Brad Pitt.

“Kids nowadays become a one-sport player, they choose baseball at a young age and they play year-round and they get a little bit abused. There’s more wear and tear on those arms before they get a chance to get into their adult body. By doing something like this, regulating how many pitches a kid pitches in his early teens is going to help tremendously in the long career of actually trying to do this at a higher level.”

Ebert also runs an Arizona baseball academy that attracts recent high school graduates. He said he often dials down ambitious attendees who think anything less than seven innings pitched is weak stuff.

“I tell them you have to realize, four-five years from now you’re not going to know if we won this one tournament or not,” he said. “Our goal is to get you to college, maybe get drafted and actually have a career in this thing. If we could start training kids to understand that and start thinking that it’s a process, just like the developmental process here in the minor leagues on how we want to groom a player, that should be the same thing on the high school level.”

More arms the better

Ebert also suggested an alternative for high school programs: develop a deeper pitching staff. Like a pitch count, that also would limit potential overuse.

“High school and college coaches, they were hired to win games, I completely understand that,” he said. “The best way to do that is develop more pitchers within your program. Don’t just stick with the one or two guys who are really good. Develop more guys who are athletes; get them on the mound and teach them how to pitch and now you’ve got a bigger pool of guys to go through and you’re not wearing down your better guys deep into the season.”

Associate commissioner Jerry Snodgrass will spearhead the OHSAA implementation of the pitch-count edict. It likely will involve feedback from coaches’ associations, school administrators and a medical input.