A year ago an exhausted yet jubilant JT Morin of Wilton stood on the field at Harbor Yard clutching the FCIAC baseball championship plaque as if he never wanted to let it go.
Morin had certainly earned the plaque, striking out 12 Staples batters and going the distance for the 1-0 win while tossing over 120 pitches in eight innings.
Morin’s feat was even more impressive when considering he threw 120-plus pitches just three days earlier in the Warriors’ quarterfinal victory.
However, not everyone was thrilled to see a high school pitcher throw so many pitches and are calling for a change in the rules.
With an increase in youth arm injuries over the last decade, local coaches are looking for ways to better protect players’ arms and they feel limiting the number of pitches thrown in a certain time period is the answer.
A performance such as Morin’s would be a thing of the past in the state as the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference is considering pitch-count rules to take effect next season.
Connecticut is looking at switching from the current out-based system to switching to a pitch limit with mandatory rest similar to what is used in Little League baseball with modifications.
The reactions to Morin’s accomplishment and abundance of pitches thrown ran the gamut from admiration to dismay.
One side loved seeing a performance harkening back to the days when pitchers would throw the entire game with no regard for pitch counts. Others shook their heads, concerned for the long-term health of a young player’s arm.
Morin told the Wilton staff he felt great, and his coach said he was more concerned with how his player felt and how he was performing rather than looking at an arbitrary number as a cut-off.
“I felt like I could have gone forever today,” Morin said on the field after the game. “During the game my arm never hurt. I felt so good and I felt like every pitch was on tonight and I was going to throw every one I threw for a strike, and that’s what I did.”
He felt fine and he was able to bring home Wilton’s first FCIAC championship since 1999.
Morin remains healthy, pitching for UMass Boston this season, even being named Little East player of the week at one point.
The out-based standard
The current CIAC mandate is a pitcher can throw 30 outs over three days. A pitcher throwing a complete game Monday could come back and do the same Friday, with no restrictions.
With 21 outs in a seven-inning game, players could conceivably pitch Monday, Wednesday and Friday without violating the rule. In theory, they could even pitch three innings of every game of the season with no restrictions.
While most coaches do not push pitchers this way, a few do, forcing the rules committee to reconsider how the pitchers are handled.
McMahon coach John Cross is a member of the CIAC rules committee, and with coaches Mike Scott of Darien and DJ Mulvany of Westhill, is recommending what they feel is a reasonable approach to handling pitchers’ workloads.
“We are looking for coming up with a common-sense approach to protecting kids arms,” Cross said. “I got together with DJ Mulvany and Mike Scott and we came up with the consensus that at no time should you have to pull a pitcher out of a game because of a pitch count. We thought there should be mandatory rest based on the number of pitches to prevent any type of injury.”
Under the new plan, the amount of rest would be directly correlated to the number of pitches: one full day of rest for 35 pitches, three days for 75 and five days for more than 75, which would prevent throwing two complete games in a week.
“Nothing is set in stone, yet. We are looking and tracking how many pitches our guys are throwing, then take that data to the state and then we will make some decisions,” Cross said. “Given the lawsuit era we are in right now, and trying to protect kids, I think it kind of makes sense. What we came up with was based off things that we saw.”
What is an out?
It might seem like an easy question, but how many pitches are needed to record an out can vary wildly.
Then what about the hits, the walks and the errors? Right now there is no accounting for all that throwing when the only metric to go by is outs.
“These kids are still growing and developing and I don’t think they are equipped to throw 100 innings in a year. Even in college you are still working towards that,” Scott said. “I think there is some merit to pitch-count limits that are on the horizon. The innings limit in all honesty is a joke because 30 outs over three days, that is going to burn a kid out if you go out and abuse that rule. It’s 30 outs, but it resets every three days, so if you spread that out over a week and a kid could be throwing every single game that week because innings on Monday don’t count for Friday and people could really abuse it. Thankfully, most of us don’t, but I think pitch limits are a good thing overall.”
Keeping it the way it is
Weston coach Frank Fedeli is not in favor of going to a pitch limit, saying if coaches would be more responsible for their players, a rule change would not be necessary.
“It is innings this year, and next year they are going to go with the Little League stupid pitch thing,” Fedeli said. “Right now you get 30 outs every three days. I could have a kid pitch 10-10-10, but I’m not going to sit here and screw a kid. To me it seems they are going to go to this pitch rule because of 10 guys in the state that hurt kids. I think the way we do it now is a better way to protect kids’ arms.
“I rarely use kids more than once a week. Now maybe at the end of the season when it’s warm and we are at the end, then maybe you go at it, but we very seldom do. It is mostly just common sense. I have my own kids at home and I don’t want to hurt their arms and don’t want anyone else hurting them, so I’m not going to do it to anybody else.”
Fedeli is not on an island thinking mandatory pitch limits are not the way to go.
In an interview with Baseball Prospectus from 2014, Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute said pitch counts should be used as a guideline, not a set-in-stone rule.
“Even though I’m essentially the reason why there’s pitch counts in Little League, I can tell you, in an ideal world, there should be no pitch count rules or limits,” Fleisig said. “And while that might be surprising for the guy who did the science studying that, that’s because, in an ideal world, pitchers and coaches should use pitch counts as guidelines to say where are you if you feel where your arm is. But the pitch counts shouldn’t be rules, they should be guidelines to give you a feel for if he has had a high workload or not. The rule should be that when a pitcher has arm fatigue, he should come out. So when he has arm fatigue, he should not pitch again until the fatigue is gone.”
In Little League, the rest runs from no days off if the player throws fewer than 20 pitches to at least four days off for a player under 14 who throws 66 pitches.
Little League also requires a pitcher be pulled once they hit their threshold for that game.
What about the children?
As is often the case, players are not consulted when rule changes go into place despite being the ones the rules are designed to protect.
The gist from the players was, whatever the rule is we will play with it as long as it is enforced across the board.
Pitchers from several teams were asked what they thought was better, pitch counts or outs limits, and they all gave an answer along the lines of Warde pitcher John Natoli.
“Honestly it hasn’t really affected us. We have a really good pitching staff this year and we have not had to come to that issue, but whatever the rule is we will just work with it,” Natoli said. “If it is universal throughout the state and everyone has to deal with it, then there is no advantage or disadvantage for anyone. We do have to keep in mind the number of pitches because regular season is not as important as the postseason. But we just try and go out there and work and not think about the number of pitches we are throwing.”
How will it work?
It is easy to keep track of how many outs a pitcher has thrown in a given week. The same will not be true of pitch counts.
Unless there is going to be an outside official scorer at every game — which is not happening — it will be left to individual teams to add up and report how many pitches a player threw each game.
This system can obviously be manipulated both intentionally and not.
One proposed system is to have each team use Game-Changer or other baseball scoring apps in which a person is inputting each pitch as it happens and the results would be available for anyone to see, lending transparency to the proposal.
This seems like an equitable way to go about it, but getting every team to get and use the technology and finding a scorekeeper who can be trusted to watch and record every pitch will be a different story.
In Little League tournaments the pitches are recorded by an official scorer and are often put on the scoreboard as they pile up.
These are questions being addressed by the rules committee for which they hope to have an answer by the time next season rolls around.
If the state goes to a pitch limit, there will surely be bumps in the road as it is implemented and grumbles from those opposed to the change. But if it is in the best interest of the player’s health, that should be all that matters.