(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Erik Dorst)
With the spike in arm, shoulder, and elbow injuries in the past decade, innings and pitch counts have been scrutinized more than ever. In fact, the Little League World Series, with the help of Dr. James Andrews, developed a new set of rules regarding the amount of pitches a kid can throw in a single game and how many days of rest are required afterwards. Beforehand, coaches used to let the same kid throw the whole game no matter how many pitches were required.
The World Baseball Classic has also adopted a similar set of rules, not necessarily with pitch limits, but the number of rest days required after a certain number of pitches are thrown by a particular pitcher in one game. That being said, it’s time that the NCAA at least considers the notion of adopting a similar system in order to preserve the arms of pitchers, whose shelf life in the majors has been diminished due to injuries often related to overuse.
These days, kids can begin playing on travel teams as early as four or five years old. That means top pitchers from that early age can be pitching almost year round, except for the one week at the end of the year which includes Christmas and New Years.
College pitchers typically average seven days of rest in between starts which is why the ace of a college staff is often dubbed “The Friday Night Guy”. The issue isn’t the amount of rest between starts, but the amount of pitches guys are throwing. According to Baseball America, Trevor Bauer caught the brunt of this issue head-on for instances during his collegiate career. Bauer averaged 129 pitches per start his junior year at UCLA, with 11 outings of 120-plus pitches, eight where he topped 130 pitches and one where he threw 140 (Baseball America).
They even mentioned Matt Harvey once had a start in college where he threw 157 pitches in 2010. After a stellar rookie campaign in 2013, Harvey has struggled with injuries, including Tommy John surgery, and seems to be on his way out of New York. This is not to say the main reason behind the spike in arm injuries are solely these acute-stress outings, but success stories are starting to equal the number of players plagued with arm injuries.
One solution is to set a maximum pitch limit that one pitcher can throw in a game. 120 seems reasonable since 100 is usually the benchmark and college coaches are going to want their guy to get a couple extra outs. This new rule would provide an additional benefit in teaching college pitchers to be more efficient with their pitches, a key to success in the majors.
Prohibiting college coaches from bringing the same pitcher back after a rain delay of longer than 45 minutes could be another addition. While these standards are primarily experimental, the NCAA needs to do something to help young pitchers and experiment with different ideas that can one day help to reduce the Tommy John epidemic that is plaguing pitchers today.