Little League and USA Baseball have focused in recent years on total pitch count limits and rest periods between pitching outings as ways to reduce the number of pitching injuries. Some baseball experts believe, however, that per inning pitch counts are more important than total pitch counts and that removing pitchers when they exceed per inning pitch count limits and show signs of fatigue will do more to protect the arms of young pitchers than focusing exclusively on total pitch count limits.
For example, MomsTeam's baseball expert, John Pinkman, recommends as follows:
- Goal: 15 pitches per inning
- 1 inning at 25 to 30 pitches okay; 2 in a row done for the day
- 1 inning at 35 pitches or more: done for the day
Another set of guidelines comes from pitching coach Ron Wolforth of Pitching Central and the Texas Baseball Ranch1
|Pitches per inning||Action
|12 to 15 (ideal)
||Pitcher stays in game unless shows signs that he is tired (see signs of fatigue below)|
|18 to 22
||Pitcher is more closely monitored for signs that he is tired (e.g. shows signs of fatigue)|
|23 to 30
||Pitcher is replaced. Veteran pitcher, late in season, might be allowed to finish inning, but "young arm is simply done for the night."|
"I am completely convinced per count per inning is vastly more important than total pitch count," writes Wolforth, arguing that a pitcher who throws 62 pitches over two innings (31 per inning) is at "far greater risk" of an arm injury than a pitcher who throws 104 pitches, but spread out over 7 innings (14.8 per inning) [the number permitted under Little League's 2010 rules for a 17-18 year old pitcher].
In fact, Wolforth argues, he doesn't "worry much about total pitch count" for a pitcher, as long as he is well-conditioned and physically prepared, but focuses instead on monitoring pitch per inning and makes the decision about whether to remove the pitcher on those numbers.
Three signs that pitcher is tired
As long as a pitcher stays between 12 and 18 pitches per inning, Wolforth believes the pitcher's "got the game as long as he wants it", provided he doesn't show any of the following three signs of fatigue:
Average radar velocity drops 3-5%. For example, Wolforth says, a pitcher averaging 80 mph in the first inning and 76-77 mph in the fifth has "had enough. Go get him." [Note: this is proper use of radar gun; pitcher not "throwing to the gun"]
Consistently elevated fastball: Even if pitch velocity isn't down, if the pitcher throws 3 to 5 fastballs in a row 4-6 inches above where it was when he was fresh, he needs to be monitored closely. Wolforth rejects the "lost his release point" philosophy. To him, it is "either a fatigue issue, a preparation-mechanical-conditioning issue or a focus-concentration issue. ... As a general rule," says Wolforth, "if a young pitcher unintentionally elevates his fastball for two consecutive hitters, I'll go talk to him. If he doesn't make an adjustment on hitter #3, he's had enough."
- Missing locations high or low. Wolforth believes that "the scatter pattern of wild high and in[side] to the arm side and wild low and out[side] to the glove side is almost always a sign of significant fatigue and mechanical inefficiency. If this pattern is not corrected quickly - certainly within two hitters, the pitcher - veteran or rookie - is finished for the day.
To those who say that an elevated fastball or wildness describe one of their pitchers in the first inning when he is presumably fresh, Wolforth says the pitcher needs to work a lot more on his mechanics: "If a young man throws like #2 and #3 when he is fresh, he will have real trouble getting 3 outs in 15 pitches." In other words, he says, pitch counts aren't the problem, "'pitching' is." As a pitcher becomes more effective and efficient, in other words, throws more strikes, his pitch count will automatically come down.
1. Ron Wolforth, Observational fatigue & new guidelines (accessed May 27, 2010).
Created May 27, 2010