Health Column: Little leaguers may experience 'Big' league changes

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By Greg Sonnenfeld
Blount Memorial Hospital

This year, Little League Baseball changes its long-standing policy regarding pitching rules. For decades, pitchers could pitch a certain number of innings in a given "calendar week." While well intentioned, this rule didn’t quite solve the problem they were hoping it would. Now, though, little league pitchers will be able to pitch only a certain number of pitches in a given time period, based on age.

The new guidelines are based on a two-year pilot study done by Little League Baseball. Previously, coaches remarked that they would have difficulty finding enough pitchers to produce quality games, and many feared that the quality of the game would suffer. What researchers found, however, was that by using more pitchers, coaches were able to help other players develop when they previously would never have had a chance to pitch. Additionally, coaches found their best pitchers were stronger and more consistent at the end of the season.

The study showed that it was best to limit pitches based on the age of a player. For example:

  • Age 17-18 - no more than 105 pitches per day
  • Age 13-16 - no more than 95 pitches per day
  • Age 11-12 - no more than 85 pitches per day
  • Age 10 and under - no more than 75 pitches per day

The pitch count limits not only the number of pitches in a single outing, but designates a required amount of rest time following an outing. For example, pitchers age 16 and younger must adhere to the following rest requirements:

If a player pitches 61 pitches or more in a day, three calendar days of rest must be observed.

If a player pitches 41-60 pitches in a day, two calendar days of rest must be observed.

If a player pitches 21-40 pitches in a day, one calendar day of rest must be observed.

If a player pitches 1-25 pitches in a day, no calendar days of rest must be observed.

Pitchers age 17-18 and younger must adhere to the following rest requirements:

If a player pitches 76 pitches or more in a day, three calendar days of rest must be observed.

If a player pitches 51-75 pitches in a day, two calendar days of rest must be observed.

If a player pitches 26-50 pitches in a day, one calendar day of rest must be observed.

If a player pitches 1-25 pitches in a day, no calendar days of rest must be observed.

Because the old rules only regulated the number of innings in a calendar week, a 12-year-old player could pitch six innings
on a Saturday and again on Monday or Tuesday, throwing 100-150 pitches each outing. That’s 300 pitches on three to four days of rest. The new regulations would allow no more than 170 pitches in that same time span.

Little League Baseball also is concerned about breaking pitches. Breaking pitches cause torque on the elbow, and anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in the number of injuries related to throwing breaking pitches at a young age. The best advice is to stay away from breaking pitches until age 14, and then only a curveball with limited usage.

Greg Sonnenfeld is a certified athletic trainer with Blount Memorial Sports Medicine and the Blount Memorial Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at Springbrook.

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