Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy
Since Little League first installed their pitch count rules, coaches have done a bit better job of managing little league arms simply because they HAVE to. You now see all coaches with handheld pitch counters which I think is a great thing. With the abundance of press and media coverage on the increase in youth and high school arm injuries/surgeries, the pitch-count rules were put in effect mainly to manage the managers themselves to prevent them from overuse of their pitchers.
One thing that people should still take note of is the fact that the pitch-count rules only apply to pitches thrown in live game action and don’t take into account what the player throws prior to the game as well as between innings. For instance, a pitcher might reach his maximum of 85 pitches in the game; however, his ACTUAL pitch count may be closer to 130+! Here is how a situation like this may break down:
Player reaches 85 pitches and let’s just say he throws 5 innings. Before the game, here is the player’s routine:
1. Full-body warm-up (10 minutes)
2. Throwing drills to get mechanics in check (5-10 mins or 15-25 throws)
3. Long toss to stretch arm out (10 mins or 20-25 throws)
4. Pre-game bullpen (20-25 pitches off mound)
So as of this point, the player has thrown the ball between 35-50 throws plus another 20-25 “pitches.” Next, the player and his team take the field for the first inning where the pitcher is given a maximum of 8 warm-up pitches. Just to keep things clean, let’s say the pitcher throws 15 pitches per inning through each of the five innings. The pitcher also gets 5 warm-up pitches between innings.
While this pitcher will be removed from the game at the 85-pitch maximum, he has thrown between 133-138 “pitches” not including any warm-up “throws” prior to the game (which puts the players total at 165-180) OR the throws the pitcher makes from the position he might play in the 6th inning after he is removed from the mound.
It’s scary to think about how much you actually use your arm throughout the entire course of a gamed when pitching, but you can’t just look at the in-game pitch-count as the end all be all.
While I would NEVER recommend skipping or decreasing your warm-up period before the game, one thing I could suggest is not taking the maximum amount of pitches alotted between innings. By simply throwing only 5 pitches before the first inning and 3 pitches before each inning thereafter, you can save yourself about 10 pitches over the course of a 5-inning outing, which may not seem like much but over the course of a long season can add up.