RANDOLPH COUNTY, Mo. — While the 2017 high school spring baseball season is three weeks on, varsity coaches across the state continue to adjust to the new pitching guidelines handed down by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
They're spending additional hours trying to groom typical position players into relief throwers from the mound with a good understanding about the responsibilities attached to being a pitcher.
During preseason interviews held with varsity baseball coaches from all four Randolph County schools, the subject of new pitching rules was addressed. Moberly skipper Adam Smith summed up the general opinion on the subject, saying that MSHSAA's new pitch count regulations will be a “game-changer” and affect most all schools in classes 1 through 3 because of roster numbers — and even some Class 4 programs like Moberly's, he added.
“This new pitch count rule has every high school coach on pins and needles as we try to figure out how to manage our pitchers and then make sure those kids that do pitch take the mandatory number of days off from pitching before they are used again,” Smith said. “It forces smaller schools to find additional kids to throw a few innings for us — ones who are not used to being pitchers.”
A couple of years ago, administrators of the National Federation of State High School Associations approved a rule to require each member state association to develop a pitching restriction policy “based on the number of pitches thrown during a game to afford pitchers a required rest period between pitching appearances.”
The NFHS, however, did not offer a set of pitch count guidelines. That responsibility is left up to the state activities association. MSHSAA Director of Communications Jason West in a press release statement said the state organization's board of directors began a process to establish pitching guidelines for Missouri high schools to follow.
At its November meeting, the MSHSAA Board of Directors approved a recommendation from the baseball advisory committee that pitchers be placed on daily pitch limits based on their year in school, and the new rules apply to both regular and postseason games.
The advisory committee voted unanimously to use the Pitch Smart requirements suggested by USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. The new rules are also in response to the increase in the number of arm injuries sustained by young pitchers in recent years.
Under the new rules, high school seniors and juniors are restricted to a daily maximum of 105 pitches while sophomores and freshmen are allowed a maximum of 95 pitches daily. Pitchers can finish pitching to a batter if they reach the maximum number during an at-bat. In addition, pitchers can pitch two days in a row as long as they don’t exceed 30 pitches per day, but they cannot throw three consecutive days.
If a pitcher throws 76 or more pitches in a day, he will be required to take four days of rest. Between 61 and 75 pitches requires three days' rest; between 46 and 60 pitches means two days' rest; and between 31 and 45 pitches requires one day of rest.
At the conclusion of each baseball game, coaches will meet to compare and sign off on the pitch-count numbers of every player used on the mound. If there is a discrepancy, the home team's count will be official and will be reported to MSHSAA within 24 hours of the game.
If no pitch count is reported, the team will incur a fine.
“The larger-sized schools, such as Columbia Rock Bridge and Hickman, have a luxury of having enough baseball players on the team that they can designate kids to be only pitchers on their team and not play other positions,” Moberly coach Smith said. “I can see the idea behind MSHSAA implementing this new pitching rule in the effort to help save a kid's arm, but it hurts or penalizes most of us coaches who already look out for the better welfare and health of all their kids all the time.”
Smith said the new rule has forced pitching at the lower classes of high school baseball to become more of an advanced-catch position.
“What is needed now is to put someone on the mound who is capable of just throwing the ball fairly consistently around the plate, about 16 inches off the ground, not caring about the velocity or how hard they can throw or the number of different kinds of pitches that can be thrown,” Smith said. “The goal now is to have someone who can put it around the plate so that the ball can be hit and put into play instead, giving the team a chance to record the out. Forget about the curve ball or breaking pitch. Just get the ball over the plate.
“But then there is the aspect of teaching these kids about trying to hold on a runner on base and the other aspects a pitcher does during a game, and this presents another challenge for coaches to teach.”
Coach Smith, along with Morgan Matthews of Cairo, Westran's Kyle Ginter and coach Ronnie Barron of Higbee, expected the change will challenge the smaller-sized Class 1 and 2 programs the most, simply because most of those teams will have fewer athletes on their rosters, forcing coaches to put on the mound some players who are unaccustomed to pitching.
It also forces coaches to find someone who will be assigned to document the number of every pitch thrown by both schools during a game, and it causes coaches additional paperwork to satisfy MSHSAA guidelines.
As for Higbee High School, this Class 1 program has only 14 names on its roster. Rural school baseball will often attract students who have had little to no exposure to the sport until the first week of practices.
Some coaches pointed out there could be others in similar positions who are pulled away from time spent on teaching and enhancing the basic fundamental techniques of the game in order to make their program more competitive on the baseball diamond.
“With us being a smaller-sized school, I see this as more of a double-edged sword because there just are not enough kids playing baseball and especially ones that know what pitching is all about. There is a whole lot to know about that position. But I can also see this to benefit kids when many schools like ourselves may only have one strong pitcher and perhaps two, so it helps protect their arms a little more knowing that they are limited to the number of innings they can pitch over the course of a few days,” Tigers coach Barron said. “The new rule makes it tough on a coach as we try to determine when to use a certain player on the mound to pitch against a certain opponent knowing that there is another certain opponent coming up next that you might want to make sure you use a certain player. It can become like a chess game because you have limited resources when it comes to pitching.”
Some coaches said the new rule will encourage all high school coaches to reach out to their local youth leagues to ask those coaches to begin teaching the fundamentals of pitching to players on their respective teams and putting different athletes on the rubber, giving them the opportunity to see whether they are capable of throwing strikes.
Starting this grooming process at an earlier age could within three to five years help coaches find enough players at smaller schools capable of throwing the ball.
NOTE: Comments made by Westran High School baseball coach Kyle Ginter concerning MSHSAA's new pitching rules were captured on video. The video will be uploaded to this page shortly.