Pitch Counts

With the start of baseball season upon us I decided to write about a frequently debated topic, pitch counts. (For my softball readers, this week’s writing is more specific to baseball but you can still pull some thoughts from it.)  I find the discussions interesting and hope to give you some ideas to ponder.

Particularly at the youth level, there is a new wave of people wanting to limit or set pitch counts.  Obviously, Little League baseball has already done so.  For the most part, these are well intending people but the issue is much broader and deeper than simply total pitch counts.  I could write on this topic and end up with a small book.  This week, I simply want to share some of the thoughts and guidelines we use at The Ranch.

Let me start by giving you two pitching scenarios:

Pitching Scenario #1 – Our young pitcher throws 60 pitches in two innings of work.

Pitching Scenario #2 – Our young pitcher throws 90 pitches in six innings of work.

All things being equal, which pitcher had the more strenuous work load this day?  If based on pure pitch counts, people would say Pitcher #2.  Yet, when looking at this deeper, it is actually Pitcher #1 that had the more strenuous outing because he threw more pitchesper inning. Pitcher # 1 averaged 30 pitches per inning compared to 15 pitches per inning for Pitcher #2.

What makes this more interesting is, with pitch count limits of 75 in some leagues, Pitcher #2 would not have been allowed to throw his 6th inning.  In my opinion, we should be more concerned sending Pitcher #1 back out for a 3rd inning.

The key thing to remember, in our opinion, is that pitches per inning is more important than total pitches. We like to see pitchers average 15-18 pitches per inning.  And yes, we do realize that many young pitchers will struggle throwing strikes, their fielders will make errors and occasionally the strike zone is too tight causing this number to be elevated.  It’s not a perfect world but you need to have a long term look at things.  It’s one reason we believe every player in youth ball, that wants to pitch, should be allowed to pitch (but that’s a subject for another writing).

There are also some good guidelines on how long a pitcher should have off or, in other words, how many days rest before he takes the mound again.  Generally speaking, a pitcher should take off the number of hours equal to the number of pitches he threw.

For example, if a young man throws 50 pitches, he should rest 50 hours or 2 days.  So, if he pitches on Tuesday and finished at 7pm, the soonest he should pitch again is Thursday at 7pm.

Many in Select Ball, with the nine inning limits for weekend tournaments, max this out by throwing a young man 3 innings on Saturday and then bring him back on Sunday and think this is great management.  I would strongly disagree.  The only situation where a pitcher should pitch on Saturday and come back on Sunday would be if he throws 24 pitches or less on Saturday, and that rarely is the case.  You’d be slightly better off by throwing a guy on Friday but even then the pitch limit recommendation for Friday would be 48 pitches and that’s considering that he wouldn’t throw again for 48 hours.  Thus a 5 o’clock game on Friday would suggest a 6 or 7 o’clock game on Sunday.

Now that I’ve painted a bleak picture for most people reading this, what would be my recommendation?  Actually, I’ve got two; 1) have players specifically designated as your Friday/Saturday pitchers and then your Sunday pitchers, 2) let everyone pitch one inning on Friday or Saturday and that way everyone is available again on Sunday.

The information I just provided are some guidelines specifically to pitch counts but there are additional considerations that should be made. I won’t go into these in detail but a few of them include:

–       What part of the season is it (early, middle, late)?

–       What is the weather like (hot, cold)?

–       Is the pitcher coming off an injury?

–       What was the intensity of the pitcher’s last outing (regular game, playoff)?

–       How much did he throw/how deep did he go his last outing?

All of these would play into your decision on how much you pitch someone.  Let me give you one final example.  As Major League baseball is active in Spring Training, take a note of how many innings the pitchers are throwing.  Initially all pitchers will throw one, maybe two innings tops!  And these are grown men that have done this all their lives. Yet, many coaches will go out and throw their youth and high school pitchers 5-7 innings in their first start.  It could be classified as madness.

Hopefully you see this is a much bigger discussion than simply total pitch counts.  It is our responsibility as parents and coaches to best aid these young men.  We must step back, look at the big picture and even perhaps sacrifice today’s game for the long term health of a young pitcher.

Are there going to be times when we press someone a little, when we choose to use a pitcher on short rest or when he throws 20+ pitches in several innings?  Yes, it just means we are aware of these decisions and make it a point to have it occur as little as possible.

Previous post:

Next post: