As local baseball teams officially kicked off their first day of spring practice on March 13, high school coaches around the section began the annual process of team building and player evaluation that has become synonymous with their job.
But this year, coaches will have an added responsibility as they look to run their squads in accordance with new pitch count rules handed down by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, NYSPHSAA.
In January, the NYSPHSAA announced plans to institute pitch limits and mandated rest days for high school hurlers that will go into effect this spring. The rules set forth under the new guidelines are aimed at preventing arm injuries among the state’s developing ballplayers and are part of a nationwide effort to protect pitchers. Only two states—Connecticut and Massachusetts—do not currently have usage rules on the books.
Under the newly adopted rules, varsity hurlers can now throw a maximum of 105 pitches in a regular season contest, and those who throw between 96 and 105 must have four nights of rest before taking the mound again. Pitchers who throw between 66 and 95 are entitled to three days off; 31-65 entitles pitchers to two days off; and players who throw between one and 30 pitchers are eligible to pitch the following day.
Those pitch counts will increase for the playoffs, as pitchers will be allowed to throw up to 125 pitches in the postseason. Any team found to be in violation of the new rules will be handed a forfeit loss.
For some programs, the new rules are simply affirmations of previous coaching policies and shouldn’t affect much in the day-to-day running of the team.
Mamaroneck head coach Mike Chiapparelli, whose Class AA Tigers have become one of the flagship ballclubs of Section I, said that tracking pitch counts has been a part of his philosophy for years. Chiapparelli also points out that the wording of the rule—specifically its mention of “rest nights”—means that coaches will only have to keep pitchers out of action for three days if they reach the 105 pitch mark.
“I don’t think it’s really going to change anything for us; we always tried to keep the kids under 100 anyway, and we generally have three or four pitchers,” he said. “We’ve kept pitch counts for the last 15 years, and unless it’s a special circumstance, we don’t bring pitchers back on three-day’s rest.”
Smaller schools, however, may be forced to work in the preseason to bolster the pitching staff by taking a look at position players on the mound.
Jerry DeFabbia, the third-year head coach of Class C contender Tuckahoe, said that he made it clear to his team on the first day of the preseason that even those players without a wealth of experience on the mound would be asked to pitch in this year.
“We made it a point of emphasis to let them know that we would have a lot of different guys throwing bullpens before the start of the season,” DeFabbia said. “Even if it just means coming in for small bites, getting three outs, it is going to be all hands on deck for us.”
According to Chiapparelli, the new rule is most likely to affect teams that have historically relied on the performance of two pitchers and are used to setting their schedule up in such a way as to minimize the need for additional starters. Because area teams are starting their season one week later than most of the other sections in the state, teams will be forced to play condensed schedules, which could necessitate the development of new pitchers.
“What’s going to happen this year is basically that Section I has 43 days to play 20 games,” he said. “So teams that have generally scheduled two games a week and relied on two pitchers, they’re going to be in trouble.”
Harrison coach Marco DiRuocco, whose Huskies will contend with a stretch that will see them play four games in five days from April 28 to May 2, agreed that pitching depth will be increasingly important this year, even if he doesn’t know how much of an effect that the new rule will have on his lineups.
“Anytime there’s a change like this, you have to adapt and adjust,” he said. “And we play a lot of games in a small amount of time, so you have to imagine that having capable relievers is going to be extremely important.”
With additional rules being placed on players on the modified and JV levels, DiRuocco said the result could be added pitching depth across the section in the coming years.
“If you look at it in a positive way, you’re going to need more pitchers down on the lower levels,” he said. “So you’re going to be having more guys who are throwing from the mound on modified, freshman and JV, and that means more pitchers are going to be developed.”
As far as the short-term effects go, he added, pitchers will be expected to work more economically and throw fewer pitches than in years past.
“Guys are going to need to be sharp, have clean innings, and practice good mechanics,” DiRuocco said. ”It’s all going to come down to having good fundamentals and being efficient on the mound.”