HARTVILLE 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
Lake Center Christian head coach and athletic director Shane Byler, who is entering his fifth season as the school’s varsity baseball coach, believes that the rule's impact on programs will vary.
“For coaches and programs that have done things the right way in the past in terms of taking care of kids doing the right thing, these new rules shouldn’t affect those programs that much,” Byler said. “There’s the possibility that kids that have been and are overused, and those programs will be affected.”
Other coaches in The Suburbanite’s coverage area who have been surveyed have noted that bigger schools with more depth may not see as much of an effect and Byler conceded that such factors could play a role, but said the way LCC approaches its pitching staff, the mindset is the same for each game regardless of who’s on the mound.
“Everybody talks about being able to throw their No. 1 in a particular game, but for us, our philosophy is whoever takes the mound is our number one for the day,” Byler said.
Adjusting to the new rules will take time, but Byler 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. Byler, 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.
“It’s not necessarily the days between for our starting pitchers, but it might affect how we approach our relief, because we’ve had kids who can throw 31 pitches on a Monday and come in and be able to throw 30 pitches on a Tuesday, so from that standpoint you might have to be a little deeper in the bullpen,” Byler 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 is a Tuesday league game in which one 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.
In the past, Lake Center Christian has had what Byler deemed “soft” pitch counts depending on a player’s size, strength and when in the season a start occurs. For example, a pitcher in an early season game with cold weather and less endurance built up would get less leeway with their pitch count than he might get later in the year when he’s had more starts under his belt.
The rules could also impact the way coaches set up their schedule for the whole season.
“It’s an interesting point … it might sway some coaches from playing as many doubleheaders,” Byler said.
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 may have an edge over smaller schools in terms of overall depth and more top-end starting pitchers or relievers on their roster, a week with multiple big games will be tough to navigate for virtually any squad.
“It adds another element to the coaching decisions you might have to make, but it’s still on a game-by-game basis and it’s no different than the postseason when you might have a league game Tuesday and a sectional tournament game the next day,” Byler said. “In that case, you have to make a decision about what’s more important and you have to do what coaches are supposed to do that’s make a decision about what’s most important and what’s best for the team.”
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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