AUGUSTA, Maine — The baseball committee of Maine Principals’ Association drafted a proposal Tuesday that would establish separate pitch-count restrictions for its varsity and subvarsity levels to fulfill a mandate issued this summer by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The proposal faces a follow-up review by the MPA’s sports medicine committee as well as an opportunity for feedback by member schools before being ready for a vote of the organization’s full membership on Nov. 17.
“Just to double-check we’re going to send this proposal back to the sports medicine committee to see if there’s anything they want to tweak,” said Phil St. Onge, assistant principal at Nokomis Regional High School of Newport and chair of the MPA baseball committee. “I think we’ve really covered our bases.”
Under the NFHS mandate, all state associations under its jurisdiction must implement pitch-count regulations beginning with the start of the 2017 baseball season in a continuing effort to minimize injuries from arm overuse.
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Little League Baseball employs pitch-count restrictions in its age divisions, while American Legion baseball just last week adopted pitch-count limits to be used nationwide beginning next summer.
“Our thought is that pitch counts are good for the health of the pitchers, and it’s also going to force programs to develop more pitching, which we think is good in the long run,” said St. Onge.
In Maine, the pitch-count restrictions — similar to USA Baseball’s Pitch Smart recommendations — would replace limiting availability based on the number of innings pitched.
The baseball committee’s proposed limits for high school varsity pitchers would require no calendar days of rest for one to 20 pitches in a day, one day of rest for 21-39 pitches, two days of rest for 40-65 pitches, three days of rest for 66-95 pitches and four days of rest for 96 or more pitches with a maximum of 110 pitches in a day.
For all subvarsity levels, no calendar days of rest would be required for one to 15 pitches in a day, one day of rest for 16-35 pitches, two days of rest for 36-55 pitches, three days of rest for 56 to 74 pitches and four days of rest for 75 or more pitches with a maximum of 90 pitches in a day.
Should pitchers reach the 110-pitch varsity limit or 90-pitch subvarsity limit in the middle of an at-bat, they may finish pitching to that batter before being replaced.
The baseball committee also recommended middle-school pitch limits, and while the MPA doesn’t govern middle-school sports any middle school that follows national federation rules must employ a baseball pitch count beginning next year, MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham said.
The middle-level recommendations would require no calendar days of rest for one to 15 pitches in a day, one day of rest for 16-30 pitches, two days of rest for 31-50 pitches, three days of rest for 51 to 70 pitches and four days of rest for 71 or more pitches with a maximum of 85 pitches in a day.
“We’ve tried to be proactive,” said committee member Dave Utterback, athletic administrator for Brewer’s high school and middle-school sports programs. “Setting recommendations for the middle-school level could easily be overlooked but for those of us who work in the middle-school setting and follow NFHS guidelines through the middle-school rulebooks that’s very important and powerful language that’s in the proposal.”
The proposal also recommends that a player not switched between pitcher and catcher in the same day because such a change may not be necessarily resting the arm, Burnham said.
The draft proposal was developed based on input from USA Baseball, the MPA’s sports medicine committee, existing pitch-count rules from such other states as Vermont, New York, Georgia and Alabama, and from coaches around the state through the Maine Baseball Coaches Association.
“Changing to pitch counts from innings pitched is a huge change for everybody, not just here in Maine but nationally with so many other states also adopting it,” said MBCA president Nick Caiazzo, “It’s just a matter of finding the balance that makes most sense.
“I think we have a pretty good feeling about where we’re at right now.”
The mandated four days of rest for pitchers with the highest pitch counts represents a change from the previous standard that required three days of rest after reaching the innings limit. It also will be instituted in conjunction with existing high school baseball schedules that largely have allowed pitchers who work deep into games to pitch regularly on three days rest.
“But you’re only talking about four days rest with the kid who gets up between 96 and 110 pitches,” Burnham said. “The Pitch Smart recommendations have four days rest, the Little League rule has four days rest, and the brand new Legion rule has four days rest when you get over a certain number of pitches.
“I think there’s some consistency in what’s being recommended by all these groups.”
Each team will be responsible for tracking all pitches during a game — and at the varsity level it is recommended that adults be the pitch counters.
Team representatives will communicate after each half-inning to verify their counts, and if there is a discrepancy the game umpire will seek to rectify the situation. If the discrepancy cannot be resolved quickly, the home scorebook will be official, Burnham said.
Final pitch counts in a game will be recorded on a tracking form that must be signed by the opposing coach and then kept in case there are any subsequent questions.