By ADAM SHINDER
For the Express
With an eye on player safety, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Executive Committee recently voted to approve new pitch count restrictions and regulations for high school baseball that will go into effect across the state this spring.
The new rules, which set a cap for the number of pitches a player can throw in a day and provided mandated rest periods, were in the works for a long time — and not only in New York — according to Section II baseball coordinator Mike DeMagistris.
“The National Federation (of State High School Associations) mandated that every state had a pitch count rule starting spring 2017,” said DeMagistris, who is also the varsity baseball coach and athletic director at Gloversville High School. “They’ve been looking at this for months, and we finally approved it Jan. 11 in the state baseball committee, then the executive committee approved it Friday.”
The new rules cap the maximum number of pitches a player can throw in a day at 105 during the regular season — which increases to a maximum of 125 in the postseason. It also imposes maximum pitch counts of 85 at the freshman and junior varsity level and 75 at the modified level.
The regulations also mandate minimum rest periods after throwing certain pitch totals: One night for 30 or fewer pitches, two nights for 31-65 pitches, three nights for 66-95 pitches and four nights for 96-105. During the postseason, those limits change to one night for fewer than 40 pitches, two nights for 41-71, three nights for 72-102 and four nights for 103-125.
“It’s definitely a safety rule,” DeMagistris said. “I believe that most schools are already charting pitches and putting guys on a number of days’ rest. I think it’s a pretty good rule. You’re really gonna have to pay attention to who you’re playing, what’s coming up next, because you want to know who’s available.”
Teams will record pitch counts on an official form during every game, and after each half-inning the pitch counts will be confirmed by both teams. Any discrepancies will be resolved based on the home team’s pitch count chart. Both head coaches will be required to sign the pitch count form at the end of each game.
Schools are also required to make game charts available to other schools prior to any game to show the availability of pitchers for that given day.
“(This) action by the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee is a giant step forward in doing our part to protect and support our student athlete baseball players”, NYSPHSAA baseball coordinator Ed Dopp said in a press release detailing the new regulations. “We will continue to monitor and adjust the pitch count rules in an attempt to always improve opportunities for our student athletes and address safety as best we can.”
Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips, the state’s all-time wins leader, said the new rules will likely have their biggest immediate impact at the small-school level, where teams don’t have the same depth of quality pitching as larger programs.
“We’re so young this year that I don’t think the rule’s gonna have much effect on us, because we’re gonna try to use seven or eight pitchers and go a couple innings every day with them,” Phillip said. “But, I think the rule’s gonna hurt the little schools, especially if you get a bunch of rainouts. I think you’re gonna have lousy baseball games, and they’re gonna go on longer because you have to check with each other between innings and you could have a fight over how many pitchers each pitcher threw.”
Phillips said he’s probably relied on a star pitcher a bit too much at times over his 40-plus years on the bench, citing Dustin Baker in 2007 and Jesse Heroth in 2016, but said in both situations it was the pitchers who convinced him to send them back to the mound — and in both seasons, it ended with a state championship for the Hilltoppers.
“Last year, in sectionals and regionals, Jesse had about six days rest between starts, and as long as you spread it out, I think it’s OK,” he said. “I think most coaches know their pitchers. At times I probably used Jesse too much, I used Dustin Baker too much, but like Jesse said, ‘Coach, this is once in my lifetime. This is my dream.’”
The new rules will force coaches to adapt quickly, and as is commonplace in the spring season, inclement weather could throw a further wrench into how teams manage pitchers, but DeMagistris said the state committee will work on making changes after the year if the need is apparent.
“Next year, maybe the state can look at starting pitchers and catchers a week early, so you can develop them, because the season’s short enough as it is now,” he said. “It’ll be tweaked. We’re gonna look at it. Some of the smaller schools, we’re gonna have to watch and keep an eye on it.”