This past spring, I called high school games in which starting pitchers, working six or more innings, piled up pitch counts of 110 or more – in one case, as high as 127.
Then there were games in which shorter outings by a starter or reliever still resulted in uncomfortably high pitch counts. In one instance, a starter on a second-division team hoping for an upset logged 77 pitches over two innings. Another kid in a similar circumstance put in 74 pitches over 2.1 innings. Those are per-inning pitch rates in the neighborhood of 32 to 38 – more than double what’s followed by many professional organizations.
In both instances, the pitchers had command problems – issuing, respectively, five and six walks. But a lack of control is a sign that a pitcher just doesn’t have decent stuff that day, and no amount of extra pitches will help him find it.
I’d wager that anyone who played baseball in high school and beyond knows at least one guy who has a bad arm, that bothers him every day, years or decades after he last took the mound. Little League already has pitch count rules in place. High school and other amateur association need to follow suit, if they haven’t already. Parents also have to realize that the dream of a college scholarship or a professional career means nothing if their sons are need Tommy John surgery at age 16 or 17.
Coaches who overuse their young pitchers sentence them to a lifetime of pain. Causing irreversible harm to a major limb is about more than winning a summer ball or high school game – it damages a pitcher's quality of life. Forever.