Pitch Count Rules WILL Create More Opportunity for Girls and Women in High School and College Baseball

Years ago, GPB reached out to decision makers regarding the ambiguous guidelines which differed state by state as arbitrarily decided upon by a given State Athletic Association. Considering the strategic importance a given coach at the local level must have to secure his career, without unlimited opportunity to utilize the tools at his disposal, the responsibility for competitive success would be on him.

Beginning Fall, 2016, BOTH High School and (NCAA) College and University-grade Baseball will require all outings be guided by specific pitch counts. From my conversations in the past, what these entities were looking for were scientific proof that the connection between number of pitches thrown and injury is connected.

My lay-person’s understanding is: it isn’t only about the number of pitches thrown, having a direct connection to the negative affect on tissue, but that, with an excess in pitching, the hurler becomes fatigued and no longer uses the appropriate mechanical systems, the alignment of joints and limbs, in a productive manner, allowing opposed motion, which may cause serious injury.

Intuitively, excessive impact does have a direct impact, on the tissue, including the evolution of a slack elbow, when it has not been sufficiently developed to secure that joint upon release of the ball.

The shoulder, an entirely different matter, also, seems to be impacted by excess.

With the epidemic numbers in “Tommy John” surgery, among younger players, Collegiate,  as well as seasoned professionals, there is no doubt that feedback from the Medical community has weighed heavily among the republican leaders and decision makers within the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): but I am merely speculating.

We know that Major League Baseball began a new, multi-year study in 2015 to find solutions to their own epidemic of pitching injuries, most importantly, entering each Spring training period, let alone throughout the regular season.

To usher in a new era for girls and women who aspire to play baseball at the highest levels, Fox television’s, Pitch, featuring a woman hardball pitcher introduces us to the Screwball as the archetypical pitch a woman might resort to in challenging the men of the MLB: because of the physiological limitations of a woman to throw a Fastball?

[It will no doubt come out that the fictional player, who’s last name is Baker, by name and pitch choice, are modeled to a great degree on Chelsea Baker, who has been written into the history book of Baseball as a successful Knuckleball pitcher, challenging boys to girls to men.]

Specialization in pitching at the MLB level may trickle down as far as High School, now that brute force is no longer an option for the amateur baseball coach and manager.

These changes will no doubt impact Middle School and corresponding Travel Ball programs, in preparing more players for High school and beyond.

To succeed, a coach will have to rely on Sabermetrics to prepare for a given week of baseball outings.

The new paradigm and matrix will require more players to add pitching to their tool belts, no longer specializing in a given fielding position or on their hitting potential: no doubt, school districts and leagues, limited in budget and allowing for a varied pool of schools, flattening out opportunity to field a viable team, will not be able to add more roster positions to add pitching candidates.

Ultimately, only the well-rounded, skilled player, who can step in as a pitcher on moments notice, will stand out during annual tryouts.

This is where the girls and women come in…

The spectrum of pitch type and speed will become a strategic advantage for the intelligent coach. It will be impossible to increase the number of Fastball pitchers among the less-developed roster players, those who the coach of yesterday would have used as fodder to prevent girls from joining their team.

Also, the dilemma in specializing position players, who will be considered for College recruiting opportunities, will limit opportunity for those boys who do not add pitching to their tool belt.

If the position player does not spend time developing pitching skill it is likely the number of injuries due to fatigue and incorrect mechanics will increase the number of Tommy John surgeries, not reduce them, also, among the skilled pitchers.

We have all seen the career catcher-pitcher player, who may be utilized within a tournament in both positions. Or, the shortstop-pitcher who requires multiple arm sockets. As one of my son’s pitching coaches has put it: “Pitching is a highly refined and specialized motion; throwing from shortstop requires getting it to First Base no matter what…” – I’m paraphrasing, of course…

Both combo-players are susceptible to inadequate rest between outings – not only as pitcher.

Critics of Pitch Count for pitchers argue that it is an art not a science in determining a given pitcher’s capacity to throw more. If you rely on the fatigue method or theory, they may be correct: at lease, about when the elbow drops during the motion, after significant number of baseballs have been hurled.

Yet, as I understand it, it IS a science based on actual thousands of medical cases, requiring surgery, from young to mature player, with significant downtime to recover and become able to pitch again. Tommy John surgery, as a standard, as prescribed by one of the most distinguished surgeons in the USA, requires a total of 15 months from the knife to the next start on the mound, with an unfathomable series of progressive steps leading to a promising recovery.

That is only one type of injury a pitcher may be faced with at any time in his or her career.

There is no doubt a cause and effect.

Consider that the opportunity for a girl to extend her Softball beyond High School is marginal. If a girl has the Baseball skill of Pitching in her repertoire, but it does not interfere with her Softball fielding or batting potential, she can become a major asset to a given high school or college baseball team.

Marti Sementelli is a good example of a player who pitched for her college baseball team (an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or NAIA school) then switched to an Outfield position on the Women’s Softball team. In the off season, Marti pitches for two different amateur, advanced level women’s baseball teams, even after graduating. Her skill and intelligence on the mound is matched by no other.

More current, Kelsie Whitmore, who, most notably, recently signed with a men’s professional baseball team, the Sonoma Stompers, considered by some as the best woman playing baseball in the USA today, will enter as a Freshman in Fall 2016 at California State University, Northridge, as a burgeoning Softball player. As a fielder, her exceptional skills are transferable between both sports; her intelligence at the plate will also provide added benefit from any coach who concurs with the overall opinion of her skills.

All it will take is flexibility in the rules governing the two divided sports, Baseball and Softball, as designated by the NFHS, NCAA and NAIA (who I have not yet read about or heard from on changes to their pitching rules,) to allow for cross-pollination.

If all potential players, boys and girls; men and women, were evaluated for BOTH sports, at the same time, based on the needs and requirements to play each, given sport, opportunity would become exceptional, dialed in.

Finally, if brute force is no longer the answer to winning games, and the pitching specialist  asked to throw in excess is no longer an option, other factors will be considered more highly than ever before.

Academic prowess; maturity; activities outside of sports, most importantly community service and outreach; leadership skills, all, will become highly coveted among Athletic Directors, as baseball as a specialty for a given student will become marginalized, as the well-rounded citizen re-emerges in the American Society, Baseball becoming a rite of passage to affect grit, bolstering a more diverse and complete life experience.

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