NORTH CANTON Starting this season, high school pitchers in Ohio will be on the counter.
Not the clock, mind you, but a pitch count. The Ohio High School Athletic Association’s board of directors approved new pitch count rules for baseball at its January meeting. The decision came in response to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) announcement last year that all states must have a pitch count limit instead of a regulation based on innings pitched over a certain number of days.
Ohio’s previous rule was that a pitcher could throw 10 innings over a span of three days, but the new rules mandate specific days of rest depending on the number of pitches thrown.
The rules are:
• 1-30 Pitches: 0 days of rest
• 31-50 Pitches: 1 day of rest
• 51-75 Pitches: 2 days of rest
• 76 or More Pitches: 3 days of rest
Hoover head coach Jeff Hite has been around high school baseball for years and based on the way the Vikings have run their program, he believes the rule will have a different impact on each division, with a larger impact on smaller schools.
“It probably won’t affect schools as much that have a lot of depth. Being a Division I school at Hoover, we have usually six or seven pitchers capable of going out and throwing strikes. I think for the smaller schools that don’t have as many guys it could definitely present some issues,” Hite said.
Adjusting to the new rules will take time, but Hite noted that it will be interesting to see if coaches begin to coach against the rule rather than coaching in step with game situations and against their opponent. In other words, will coaches who have a pitcher at the 30-pitch mark take that pitcher out of the game to avoid having to give him the mandated one day of rest, or leave him in?
Doubleheaders will also be a factor, as a pitcher who throws 31 or more pitches in a game can’t be used the rest of the day if his team has another game that same day. Hite, like several other managers in The Suburbanite’s coverage area surveyed for this story, isn’t a big fan of the mandatory day of rest for a pitcher who throws as few as 31 pitches.
“I’m not a fan of the 31 pitches where you have to sit the next day because I have relievers who could throw 31 pitches, throw 15 or 16 the next day and then get two or three days off,” Hite said.
The new OHSAA pitch count regulation also for a maximum of 125 pitches permitted in a day and a pitcher who hits that limit can finish an at-bat during which the 125th pitch occurs. Another possible conundrum, the veteran manager noted, is a Tuesday game in which a Federal League team has a one-run lead and its best reliever in the game prior to the seventh inning and that pitcher is nearing 30 pitches as the seventh inning begins. In that case, a coach would have to decide between leaving that reliever in the game to close it out - knowing he would be unavailable for the next day’s league game - or trust another pitcher to get the final three outs.
The rules could also impact the way coaches set up their schedule for the whole season.
“Why schedule 27 games now?” Hite said. “I think doubleheaders are going to become obsolete, but the first thing you look at is starting pitching is the 125 pitch limit and I’m really good with that. I don’t think it will have that much of an impact on us because I’ve never been one of those coaches who believes in having guys throw 140 or 150 pitches.”
Another way the new rule could have an impact is late in the year, when teams are trying to make up games that may have been postponed from earlier in the year due to weather. The schedule can become extremely packed late in the year and often, teams have weeks that include both all-important tournament games and key league games on consecutive days.
While Division I programs such as Hoover may have an edge over smaller schools in terms of overall depth and more top-end starting pitchers or relievers on their roster, Hite knows that a week with multiple big games will be tough to navigate for virtually any squad.
“In the Federal League where we’re Tuesday-Wednesday for league games, it makes an impact because you don’t have that off day when we were Tuesday-Thursday to rest guys,” Hite said.
One interesting angle for the rule change for coaches is that the state hasn’t yet informed them of exactly how the reporting system will work. At this point, coaches don’t know the lengths they have to go to in order to report pitch counts or the specifics of how the process will work. The OHSAA could perform an audit at any time, so schools will have to maintain accurate pitch counts throughout the season.
Ironing out those details and working out any kinks will be an important part of implementing the new rule, but with the start of the season coming up quickly, the OHSAA and programs across Ohio are on the clock as well.
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