Pitch-count math can get pretty complex
This was a question that would occasionally come up during a high school baseball game.
"You keep track of pitches?"
At times it was almost asked with a bit of disbelief. But even if the prep equivalent of Mark Buehrle was pitching, it's not as if tracking balls, strikes and foul balls was anywhere near as daunting as keeping all the numbers of a football or basketball game.
For those of us who are math-challenged, the tougher part is making sure the number of pitches adds up each inning and after the game. It often turns out to be a useful story addition if a pitcher threw only 70 pitches in a complete game or 210 in a 12-inning American Legion tournament game.
And no, the latter is not an exaggeration, but was something I witnessed nearly 20 years ago. So with that in mind, the ways a pitch count can add up starts to come under greater scrutiny with the Class 3A and 4A postseason starting next week.
Pitching makes baseball unique compared to other high school sports when it comes to the playoffs. One quality pitcher can put an average team in position to beat an above-average one, but a deep tournament run usually requires more than one quality arm.
There is also a dilemma for coaches and pitchers on teams trying to reach the state finals in Joliet. Other than the dangers of concussions, one of the most debated topics in sports -- particularly on the youth side -- is how much is too much for a high school pitcher.
Are 80 stressful pitches in a 2-1 sectional final as tough on the arm as 100 in an 8-3 regional opener? How many innings has he already pitched this year? Does he go from pitching to another demanding throwing position such as catcher or shortstop?
The variables don't end there. One pitcher isn't planning to continue playing after high school and goes with the proverbial "I was staying out there until my arm fell off." Another pitcher is a potential high draft pick who isn't willing to risk his future for the present.
It's not like playing through a sprained ankle or a bruised knee. Trying to pitch with some elbow soreness could lead to a trip to the operating table for "Tommy John" surgery, which isn't as alarming as it may have been two or three decades ago, but still carries with it a lengthy recovery period and plenty of uncertainty.
In the IHSA state finals, the only pitching regulation is a nine-inning limit in one day unless the game is tied after 7 innings, and then the pitcher can stay in the game until he comes out for a reliever or until it ends. And hitting the inning limit is less likely to be an issue than in the two-class tourney era when semifinals and the third-place and championship games were played the same day.
There are no mandates on pitch counts. Nor are there any for inning amounts prior to the state finals.
Should there be, especially with the IHSA now putting safety limits on football practices? It's not a question answered as simply as it might seem.
Some would say Mark Prior's promising career was derailed in part by high pitch counts. But Justin Verlander continues to pile up wins, strikeouts and honors while routinely hitting 120 to 130 pitches a start.
Every pitcher is different. So is the effect of their pitch counts.
• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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