Normally, Logan Campbell, one of Belding baseball’s ace pitchers this spring, would work the count against batters. However, with a new pitch count rule this year, the soon-to-be college pitcher had to be more cutthroat.
“I pitched totally different this year than I did last year. This year, I went right after guys,” Campbell said. “Last year, on an 0-2 count, I would throw out of the strike zone and work the batter. I like keeping batters off balance. This year though, knowing there’s a pitch limit and I want to go deeper into the game, I needed every pitch to count.”
The new pitch count rule was initiated by Michigan High School Athletics Association (MHSAA) this winter to keep high school pitchers from being overused, according to MHSAA Assistant Director Mark Uyl.
“The National Federation — who writes the high school playing rules for all 50 states — passed a new rule last summer that now requires each state association to have a pitching limitation rule that includes pitch counts (not outs or innings),” Uyl said. “This new, national rule was driven by data through the NF Sports Medical Advisory Committee as well as a group of experts from MLB and USA Baseball (pitchsmart.com).”
While high school pitchers, coaches and parents understand and mostly agree with the new rule, it still made for some adjustments to teams and pitchers like Campbell, who will be playing at the next level at Mesa Community College in Arizona this fall.
“I believe what they’re trying to do is save pitchers’ arms and keep them healthy,” Campbell said. “I had no arm issues at all this year and I feel like that pitch count helped.”
Campbell was averaging 1.3 strikes per inning last year. This year, his average is up to 1.5, which he credits the pitch count rule for being more efficient with his pitches.
According to the rule for high school baseball, a pitcher can only throw a maximum of 105 pitches daily. If a pitcher throws 76-105 pitches in a day, he must be given three days rest; 51-75 pitches equals two days rest; and 26-50 pitches, one day’s rest. Anything less than 25 pitches, no rest is required.
Dave Riches, in his first year varsity coach of Belding, said his philosophy was to shut down pitchers once they reach 100 pitches anyway; however, when it came to doubleheaders or tournaments, it made for some tricky scheduling.
“I get what (MHSAA) is after, but it also takes away how to pitch with pitchers like Logan,” Riches said. “Most of the time, a pitcher is now throwing it over the middle and hoping for a quick out. With Logan, you want him to work on the craft.”
The pitch count leaves little room for mastering the craft. Riches said adding it also means pitchers have to make more risky choices and attack the strike zone more often.
It also means coaches have to save their best pitchers for the team’s toughest games, which could mean a pitcher like Campbell may sit for a week without throwing.
“You have to project looking at your schedule, where the huge conference games are, so my No. 1 will have to take a longer rest,” Riches said. “You want to save him for the best teams for a chance at the conference title. Logan and I would meet almost daily and go over the game plan for the next two weeks.”
He also pointed out some teams from smaller schools may only have one or two good pitchers, which puts the coach in a tough situation.
“There were times our schedule was slammed and I’d pitched Logan and my other great pitcher, Dylan McMaster, and they’d be out for a week. I was able to bring up a JV player and it gave them a chance to get their feet wet,” Riches said. “But some smaller school teams might end up relying on a player who hasn’t pitched since he was 10 years old.”
Like Belding, Greenville’s team this year was blessed with a deep pitching stable, thus the pitch count rule didn’t affect the Yellow Jackets too much, according to Greenville varsity coach Corey Kohler.
“We don’t throw in a starter more than once a week, anyway, but with district play, there were times a kid could’ve gone deeper into the games or play again, but the rule eliminated that option,” said Kohler, who supports the pitch count rule.
Aside from the tedious job of keeping count on each pitcher and making sure log books are properly signed and shared with the other teams, Kohler agrees the new rule has changed the way pitchers think on the mound.
“We had to pitch where batters could make contact. That changes your whole mindset,” he said. “Every one of our starters had to change. You have to pitch for contact if you want a chance to go seven innings. If you’re a team with not a lot of pitching, you’re forced do that.”
Kohler said he was able to avoid having to call up junior varsity players to pitch because of his deep pitching staff this year, but with losing up to nine players to graduation, next year’s team may include some junior varsity players, he said.
Teams like the Lakeview Wildcats used a different option — converting field players into pitchers to create a pitching-by-committee system.
“We were setting up a platoon of three-and-a-half guys or almost four guys to pitch, and the only problem I ran into were weeks in tournament play or make-up games. That got a little hairy,” said Vern Smith, Lakeview’s varsity baseball coach. “We were able to do it without bringing up JVs, but we had some guys that normally wouldn’t throw at all. It got to the point where we needed them.”
Carson City-Crystal varsity baseball coach Thane Erskin used the same tactic, but took the initiative to train players who never pitched before during the off-season once he heard the new rule was passed.
“I’d tell the kids in open gym to get on the mound and throw and I was able to turn some kids into pitchers,” Erskin said. “We just worked at it hard most of the winter. We ended up with five pitchers mid-season.”
One of those fielders-turned-pitchers was Bretten Stanley who came in as a relief pitcher and, at times, even started.
“We relied on him during situations on count limits, and he did a great job,” Erskin said. “In fact, I can almost guarantee he’ll be starter next year.”
Erskin said the paperwork and logging can be a coach’s nightmare, but he fully supports the count rule.
“I see it as a benefit because you’re going to have kids that are going to go to college and they’re going to have an arm,” he said. “I assisted for 10 years and I’ve seen kids throw 130-140 pitches in doubleheaders and next season they can’t throw 80 pitches. If the kid is good enough to go to college, he is able to because he’ll have an arm. It’s more a pain in the butt for coaches, but it’s a big benefit for the kids.”