Looking Deeper Into Pitch Counts

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

             A while back Joe Breen and I discussed the Pitch Count topic at length for quite some time and he wrote a really good blog titled “Pitch Counts Can Be Misleading” that can be found here: Pitch Counts Can Be Misleading

             The general idea for this blog was that far too often people are looking at the actual game pitch counts and not deep enough into truly how many pitches a pitcher throws throughout the course of a game (pre-game pitches, pre-inning pitches, etc).  I would like to briefly elaborate on another point relating to pitch counts that I feel is typically overlooked.           

            To me, the most important pitch counts occur in each individual inning and not the TOTAL pitch count at the end of the game.  I certainly am not saying that the total pitch count isn’t important.  What I am saying is that the most important pitch count for a pitchers health is the per-inning pitch count.  Most (if not all) youth baseball organizations at this point have rules on pitch counts.  They are almost always a total pitch count per game, and/or a total pitch count per week.  If you look at the American Sports Medicine Institute’s website on pitch counts http://www.asmi.org/asmiweb/usabaseball.htm you will notice very similar suggestions for pitchers.  These rules and restrictions have involved years of studies by major organization such as the ASMI as well as Little League Baseball and Cal Ripken Baseball.  Overall, I think these rules have done a great job creating awareness for the average youth baseball coach and will inevitably help save some players from arm injuries that they may have attained if not for these rules and guidelines.  However, I still have not seen any rules and restrictions on max pitches allowed per INNING. 

            As a coach/parent/player, I strongly urge everyone to focus more on not overloading the arm in any one particular inning.  We all know the throwing motion is very unnatural and can certainly cause injury, but as with any other sporting activity, you will always put yourself at risk of injury more when you are tired and weary.  The overall guideline for pitches per inning usually falls at 15.  For the most part, this is a very acceptable number of pitches to throw in an inning for most pitchers.  If an organization uses a 75 pitch count limit for a pitcher they are typically going off of a five inning performance at fifteen pitches per inning.  Overall, a very good pitch count.   But what about the 75 pitch count limit when a pitcher goes out in the first inning and struggles to locate their pitches, and maybe has an error or two made behind them and is now looking at a 38 pitch inning?  That pitcher was probably pretty tired after his 20th pitch so those last 18 pitches of that inning are putting him at even more risk of injury than if they were thrown in a different inning.  Now that pitcher goes back out to the mound in the 2nd inning and throws another 37 pitches.  So now his total pitch count is at 75 and he’s only 2 innings into the game.  That 75 pitch, 2 inning performance is going to have a much more detrimental effect on his shoulder, elbow, back, etc than if he went out and threw a 7 inning complete game and threw 13 pitches every inning for a total of 91 pitches.  But nobody ever sees that!

             Rest is crucial to the recovery of the arm, even if it’s the 10 minutes between innings for a pitcher.  Let’s look at two scenarios for a 12 year old pitcher:  

 1.)    Pitcher 1 throws 15 pitches in their first inning, 14 in their second inning, 14 in their third inning, 15 in their fourth inning, 14 in their fifth inning, and 18 in their sixth inning for a total of 90 pitches in 6 innings

2.)    Pitcher 2 throws 30 pitches in their first inning, and 35 pitches in the second inning, then comes out of the game.  A total of 65 pitches in 2 innings. 

 Both scenarios are very possible for a 12 year old pitcher. 

             Pitcher 1 has thrown 90 pitches (plus warm-ups) and Pitcher 2 has “only” thrown 65 pitches (plus less warm-ups).  But who has put their arm at a higher risk of injury?  In my experience Pitcher 2 has put a much greater risk of injury than Pitcher 1, but the rules of youth baseball would only allow Pitcher 2’s “pitch count”. 

             In the end, I’m certainly not looking to take away any of the current pitch count rules and regulations that are out there.  However, I am trying create some discussion and awareness of the times in a pitchers career that are putting the most risk of injury on that pitcher.  People are aware of breaking balls putting players (especially younger) at a greater risk of injury (most people don’t really know why), but I would really like people to be more aware of the fact that when a youth pitcher gets up over that 20 pitch mark in an inning, those pitches are considered “tired” pitches in my mind and are greatly putting youth players arms at risk.  Coaches need to look deeper into the pitch counts of a player than they currently are.  They need to look at how many they are throwing in each inning and they need to keep track of those innings where a pitcher throw 20+ pitches, 30+ pitches and realize that those pitches are severely putting youth pitchers at risk. 

             I have been a pitcher for 25 years, and a pitching coach for 10.  Much of what I write and talk about is from personal experience from either myself, my teammates, or my players that I work with.  But I will be the first person to tell you that there are a lot of people out there that are much more qualified to discuss the specifics of injuries to the arm with you.  I strongly recommend having a conversation with a sports medicine doctor, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, or a biomechanics specialist prior to mapping out your pitching programs.  Someone whose blogs and articles I follow closely is Eric Cressey at http://ericcressey.com/ if you’re looking to find someone who is extremely knowledgeable in these topics. 

             If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!

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2 Responses to Looking Deeper Into Pitch Counts

  1. […] be the downfall of their pitching appearances.  I dive deeper into this topic in my article https://rbiacademy.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/looking-deeper-into-pitch-counts/ but pitchers are having too many 30-40+ pitch innings (yes, partly attributed to poor defense) and […]

  2. Chris,

    Great points. Definitely under appreciated or completely overlooked. More research is needed in this area, but it has to be as, if not more, important than total pitch count.

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