Coaches Corner: Pitch Counts



Pitch Counts: A Survey of college coaches and pro scouts

Compiled by: Austin Alexander – September 5, 2007

dp_logo1.pngA burning question that begins at a young age and becomes a divisive topic at the prep level has been asked and addressed by a number of college coaches and scouts in the Carolinas. What do they think about pitch counts at each level of the game?

We apologize in advance that names, schools and organizations could not be attached to the responses, Diamond Prospects had to protect their identities to avoid violations, either at the collegiate or professional level.

This article is long, we’ll go ahead and forewarn you, but equally as informative, enjoy the read.

A Junior College Head Coach said:

As for the pitch counts, that is a way to achieve parity between teams and players. I don’t think it is the pitch count but the number of pitches thrown at maximum effort over consecutive days that leads to problems. The only way to build arm strength is to throw. People today have a tendency to believe that means from the mound and it does not mean that at all.

I understand throwing a baseball is not a natural act, but kids today do not throw enough to develop their arms and they are not taught the correct way to throw at an early age. If they are not throwing bullpens or in a game situation they do not throw and this is what leads to the development of problems and injuries. A person can throw every day, but not at max effort from the mound.

And each kid is different in his development physically, so why put each kid on the same number of pitches? Some kids recover quick and some kids take longer to recover, it is an individual thing that you have to learn about each kid. But kids need to throw and throw with the correct fundamentals everyday. The problem today is everyone is caught up in velocity and not the proper fundamentals of throwing. If we teach a kid the proper fundamentals, he can throw longer with less stress on the arm and with the proper fundamentals, he will eventually gain velocity as he develops physically.

If you want to run fast, go run. If you want to get big muscles, go lift weights. If you want to learn to swim, go swim. If you want to learn to throw, go throw!

A Division I Pitching Coach said:

Pitch counting has become a crutch for criticism in baseball in the 21st century. Every arm has a certain point where his stuff lessens, delivery wavers and arm fatigues, it varies from pitcher to pitcher though.

The media and parents tend to be the most guilty of pointing to the pitch count in supporting whatever point they are looking to make. Though I seldom have guys eclipse the 120-pitch mark, I concern myself far more with recovery time and preparation than how many pitches he throws. And why do we just count the pitches during the game? I guess that is a different discussion.

Conditioning an arm is the exact same thing as training for a marathon. You can sit on the couch all week watching television and hope to complete a 26-mile trek on Friday night. Your body is sure to break down. The same goes for the kid who sits around playing video games or kicking a soccer ball, his arm is just not going to be conditioned well enough to withstand the rigors of a baseball game or season.

A Division I Head Coach said:

Pitch counts are something to be considered at all times throughout a player’s career. However, I do believe there is more to protecting a young man than just a pitch count. I am going to start by saying players do not do nearly enough throwing and conditioning between appearances. It is evolving in such a way where players are thinking they need to only rest between times on the mound as opposed to working through it.

There is a difference between being sore and being hurt. Injuries need to be treated immediately and seriously. Soreness needs to be worked through in the proper way in order to develop more and more endurance in their arm and in their bodies. It seems pitch counts are getting lower and lower each year for the idea of protecting a young man. We need to focus more on daily routines and developing arm and body strength as oppose to just dropping pitch counts for the sake of protecting a young man.

In terms of during a game, his pitch count is only one of many factors that should be taken into account. The example I will use is as follows:

We were in the conference tournament and our #1 started opening day. He went through six strong innings only using 99 pitches. His innings were simple and and free of stress because he was not allowing many baserunners. Had this been a regular season game he would have easily been able to extend to 120-130 due to the lack of stress he was going through during the game. However, we knew we were going to need him again so we pulled him knowing he was going to get short rest before his next appearance.

A week later we opened up in a regional and this young man was starting the opening round again. This time his innings were not free of stress and he was constantly needing to work out of jams. The stress of each individual pitch was grinding on him as he needed every ounce of energy he had on each and every pitch. By the time he was through four innings, he was only at 76 pitches but was completely out of gas and now susceptible to injury.

So there we are, one week apart where the same young man could have easily been up to 120-130 without any risk of injury and now needing to be done before 80.

Pitch counts are only one factor, a significant factor yes, but only one factor.

As for young players through little league and up to varsity baseball, there need to be a set limit of what a young man should be asked to do each and every time out. But keep in mind there are multiple factors into determining what those factors should be for each individual player.

A Division II head coach said:

I think an arm is going to go when it wants to go. I took care of myself in college, band, tubing all of the things we preach today and my shoulder blew up. I think pitch counts may help and may eliminate some injuries, but not all of them. I think the most important thing that can help a pitcher is having a guy who knows what pitching is really about.

A Division I Head Coach said:

I am all for pitch counts from Little League on up. I believe overusing a pitcher causes fatigue which leads to mechanical breakdown, which can lead to injury. I don’t think breaking balls need to be thrown in little league, strictly change-up and fastball. If that happened, I think young kids would learn a lot quicker exactly how to pitch and how taking a little bit off here and there leads to getting outs.

An American League Scout said:

Pitch counts are great in my book. There is no telling how many injuries were caused in college or pro ball by overwork back when he was a little leaguer or youth/high schooler. It’s not like kids get MRI’s when they are twelve or thirteen or even seldom when they are in high school when they experience soreness. There could have been small tears, maybe minute damage, not enough to cause a kid to stop pitching, but maybe enough to finally break down when max stress gets put on the arm in high school or pro ball.

A Division II Head Coach said:

Pitch counts and other pitching rules are probably necessary given the lack of experience and knowledge available to coaches at lower levels. Most coaches high school and below are simply not in a position to have the experience or knowledge base needed to make the most intelligent decision for the athlete because coaching is not their job. Their coaching position is part-time and not their profession, as a result, they can’t possibly know everything they would need to know.

ALSO-It seems that it is very difficult to determine a pitcher’s physical situation simply by watching him pitch. Here, pitch counts can provide a guideline to let the coach know that he’s nearing a point where a change needs to be made.

A Junior College Pitching Coach said:

Pitch counts are important especially in the early stages of their career but I think we should concentrate more on proper throwing mechanics and no breaking pitches until they are physically ready which will vary from kid to kid but usually around the tenth or eleventh grade. Fastballs and change-ups and work to develop their arms which takes time and patience.

A Division I Assistant Coach said:

Pitch counts are definitely important but more than pitch counts, the issue to me is the high school/legion coach that wants to throw his best guy Monday, Wednesday and Friday because he needs to win to get in the playoffs, for example. Too many 15-18 year old arms are abused in this way. 95 percent of coaches do a great job taking care of their pitchers, but once in a while, you’ll see this happen to a kid and it makes you cringe. While neither is ideal, I’d rather see a guy throw a few too many pitches in a start than to be used 2-3 times in a five day period.

A National league Scout said:

Not just pitch counts but warm up, between innings pitches and innings deliveries. Pitch counts have a blind eye to warm up which, sometimes in high school, means right off the bus, then later on a side mound if good enough or actually on the game field, and then between innings pitches which you can easily total.

When realistically counting, it is easy to (50) a warm-up, (35-50) a side mound or game field game prep warm-up and (5-8) warm-up between (7 or 9 inning games), and then whatever you allow as the so-called game pitch count.

Any and all arm movement constitutes work, cross body landing failure to correct kills arms, positions like infield/catcher which require different arm swings and slots hurt pitching arms when not on the mound, just plain abuse by summer, fall, high school and college coaches at all college levels.

Give the ball to kids in high school and they give it back at the end of the game, no matter what happens.

Football assistants who are high school baseball coaches in the name of $3,000-5,000 more income to the coach as fast as they can to get to spring football is a formula for failure.

This spring example in Georgia at Troop Co. High School: The top pitcher, a sophomore LHP, let’s say maybe 16 years old, is also the quarterback in football. Not only is he required to make football workouts, he had to do the lifting during baseball season. At 83-86 MPH as a freshman in 2006, it was a natural to look to 2007 for this kid. It did not happen, he was lifting for football now, a quarterback remember, he tore a ligament in his landing leg. They actually brought him back at the end of the high school season, and in the summer, I heard he was back up to 78-81. You make the call on this one!

Things that must stop, the current college win-at-all-cost use of pitching as a two-win a week guy as a starter and possibly a closer. High school kids being started on Friday’s and Mondays, high school kids being started on Monday’s and Fridays, high school early season may see a week day and then another start on the Saturday’s in early season. Showcases and high school coordination.

Lastly it is evident when the state of SC coaches convention go on, and sessions are poorly attended to hardly anyone. Coaches attend paid for by their schools, and they use the weekend to socialize instead of going to gain insight which might help them.  This has happened since I came South in 1994, and I have observed it every year. A lot of this is due to the football mentality in our game. I have gone to the State High School Coaches Football gathering and sessions are packed. This is due to where their interest lies. Smaller schools who have maybe two arms, if that, throw those poor kids to death.

A Division II Pitching Coach said:

Pitch counts. This is a somewhat touchy subject. I believe pitch counts are a good tool to go by but I don’t believe they are the holy grail. A well-known doctor once told me that one pitch with the wrong mechanics can blow an elbow. So, therefore, does pitch count matter if a kid throws his fifteenth pitch with bad mechanics and blows out, or strains, his elbow.

Then again, if it is caused by bad mechanics, pitch count is essential in the fact that when a pitcher’s pitch count climbs and he starts to fatigue, his mechanics begin to suffer and has a greater chance of arm injury. I believe pitch counting is always going to be a part of the game and that arm injuries are always going to be a part of the game. I don’t believe that the two are always directly correlated like many would like you to believe.

I believe even with flawless mechanics the arm only has so many pitches it can throw before it tells you one way or another to shut it down. The only thing we can do as coaches to limit arm injuries is to prepare and build our athletes through throwing, lifting, conditioning, mechanical work and arm care routines. We must get our athletes ready to do the unnatural activity that is throwing the baseball.

So to answer the question, I believe that pitch counts are good at the little league level, but not as much at the professional level. Professional players have professional pitching coaches watching their every move (or should be) if their mechanics start to suffer, then they will be pulled. In little league you have a car salesman presiding over a young man’s future.

A National League Scout said:

I think that pitch counts are valid to a certain degree but, ultimately, are only part of the puzzle. Pitch counts should be implemented on younger players more than older players, because it sets limits for the inexperienced and selfish coaches. I think that more injuries can be prevented through proper mechanics and preparation between mound time, than by a pitch counts alone.

A Division I pitching coach said:

As far as pitch count numbers go, I still refuse to buy in to it. I think kids are under-thrown, not over-thrown. Growing up, we threw everyday, all day. We threw baseballs, rocks, softballs, footballs, whatever was around we threw and we threw it as hard as we could.

I remember being eleven or twelve and going to camp at SMC and playing all day and then having three games at night that week and pitching two of them. Our arms didn’t hurt because we played all day so they were used to it. We didn’t sit on our tails and play video games. That is the number one cause of arm injuries today! Parents need to get off little league coaches and high school coaches and pitching coaches and send their kids outside for some EXCERCISE!

A Division II Assistant Coach said:

I think pitch counts in little league are good because I think some coaches take advantage of a really good arm at that level. I think at the high school and college levels it can be overrated. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to pulling a pitcher…I think his effort level is important, is he a max-effort guy or mechanically does it work easy…How many pitches has he thrown in the last two or three innings…what is his endurance level…what type of pitcher is he, power or finesse, etc. So I think at the higher levels we need to consider other factors.

A National League Scout said:

Pitch counts are, to some degree, important. Throwing off the mound or and inclined surface and fatigue seems to be two of the major factors in arm problems. How often do you hear about a position player having Tommy John surgery. Wear and tear on a throwing arm will take place over time and with each individual, the time table for injury will differ.

Throwing motion and the natural development of the body play a role. One hundred throws for me may have a completely different effect on my arm than 100 throws you take. It is also how we do the throws, what have we done to help make those throws. As a kid, even growing up in New England, I threw what seemed to be year round. Most of it was on flat ground however. I rarely threw a “pen” but often played catch, threw rocks or snow balls.

You throw and throw and your body will get use to it on flat ground. I do not believe the body ever truly gets used to throwing on an inclined/declined surface. They are never the same until you get to the Major Leagues and the only mounds that probably are identical are the home bullpen and game mound. Each ballpark has a slight variation in the design or slope and size of a mound. Look around at the high school fields, not only are they not the same but most have landing areas with holes that already exist.

I believe kids need to throw and throw a lot to build arm strength. Long toss is a major player in arm strength. Pitchers need to do flat ground work to work on their delivery on a regular basis. With endurance, a player can hold off fatigue and thus be able to repeat his delivery and mechanics and hold at bay injury to some degree. The more the endurance, the more pitches one should be allowed to throw. 

Finally, I have said this a number of times. Each individual has been given by God a certain number of pitches before an injury will occur. Whether you retire from baseball before that happens is up to you. Some of the worst deliveries have never had surgery while some of the prettiest have had chronic arm problems. Go figure!

A Division II assistant coach said:

I am a big advocate for pitch counts for younger kids. The older the kid gets, the less I feel like it matters. I do feel like younger kids’ arms can be negatively effected by high pitch counts.

Some of baseball’s finest people have weighted in for DP’s readers. We hope you enjoyed the candid responses from those that we surveyed.

Note: A very special DP thank you goes out to the coaches and scouts who took the time to provide our readers with very valuable insight.