GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Michigan is one of 44 states to enact a mandatory pitch count rule for high school baseball pitchers this season.
No pitcher is allowed to throw more than 105 pitches in a single day. Once he does, he is required to take at least three days of rest. For example, a pitcher who throws between 76-105 pitches on a Monday, can’t pitch again until Friday at the earliest. This rule is in response to the growing number of arm injuries associated with baseball pitchers.
Statistics show that "Tommy John Surgery", the reconstruction of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in the elbow, is at its highest rate ever, according to Pitch Smart USA Baseball. Younger pitchers are undergoing the procedure at rates more than doubled from the year 2000.
The National Federation of High School Associations last summer mandated that participating states enact a pitch count limit for the 2017 baseball season. Mark Uyl of the Michigan High School Athletic Association was part of the team that put together this rule, which he admits, could be even more stringent on the required days of rest.
“While in a perfect world that number might be four or five (days of rest), unfortunately us living in a northern climate with cold weather, and we’ve got to get in a majority of our competitive season in seven or eight weeks, we don’t have the luxury of a Florida or a Georgia or California that between outings that that kid can rest for four or five days,” says Uyl.
Matt Vriesenga, the Rockford Baseball Head Coach and "Tommy John Surgery" recipient, admits he was pitched too much as a youth on his way to college and eventually being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Was I overused? Yes, by my own choice probably," says Vriesenga. "It was, ‘Give me the ball, I’ll pitch.’ The most pitches I ever threw, by my own accord was 170 in a game.”
That’s 65 pitches more than the current rules allow. He adds, “I’m glad it is (now) mandated because I don’t think it ever would have passed if it wasn’t mandated.”
Both Vriesenga and Uyl agree while the new pitch count rule is a good idea, it won’t work to its fullest extent if summer ball coaches aren’t equally protective with the pitchers since these rules only cover the three months of the high school season.
Dan Taylor, a long time pitching instructor at Elite Baseball in Wyoming, who also played college baseball and minor league ball in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system, believes the pitch count rule is one piece of the puzzle to preventing injuries, but there are many other aspects that should go into it.
“It’s really important to have some type of arm care program (during off days)," says Taylor. "The day's rest is important, more so though is coming up with a plan for those guys to recover in that day’s rest.”
All three men know there are coaches out there who feel this is an overreach, and FOX 17 surveyed ten coaches. None of them would say that they feel this new rule is an overreach, but one did tell us, “It all comes down to coaches not being idiots.”
Whether this new rule will cut down on the number of arm injuries won’t be known for years, if not decades, but most agree, the new rule can’t hurt.