Amateur baseball pitch count expectations: Laughably unrealistic, blatantly hypocritical, and pushed religiously by a generation of travel baseball parents loyal to a youth sports culture only concerned with winning and playing time.
I’d like to begin this article by painting a scenario in which you are the head coach of a 14u AA baseball team.
It’s the fifth inning of the fifth game of the weekend and your 14u team is playing for a AA championship. Your starting pitcher eclipsed the 85 pitch mark against the last hitter and the game has reached a pivotal point in determining who takes home the championship and is forever enshrined in plastic trophy galore.
“He can get us out of this jam,” you think. “But what other options do I have?”
“Well, I have my ace who threw 80 pitches on Friday but said he can give me one more inning,” you think to yourself. “But what about my number 2? He threw earlier today, but it was only 35 pitches…?”
Your assistant coach, one of the dads who’s mostly in the dugout to do GameChanger and chase foul balls, offers his unsolicited advice: “I think you need to take him out, he’s at uhh…” he pauses, mouth open, staring at his iPad. “88 pitches. Definitely needs to come out. I mean, I know we’re out of pitching and all but.. I guess you could try Blaze or Easton, they haven’t thrown yet.”
Easton is your left fielder and hasn’t pitched in a game since 10u. Blaze threw a couple times in mop up duty for you last year, but like Easton, he probably hasn’t thrown a single bullpen in the last calendar year. Not to mention, he has spent the entire game to this point as the starting catcher.
Now, as the team’s manager, you may make the right call here and it could be the reason why your team wins the game. Conversely, you may make the wrong move, and it could be the reason your team loses the game. There’s only one thing that’s guaranteed here: that no matter what move you make, you will be categorically abusing one or more of your athletes, and putting their arm(s) at risk.
The reality of this situation is that there is no combination of your players that is not in some way in violation of what is considered to be safe practice when it comes to arm health.
Don’t believe me? Let’s review some of the no-no’s when it comes to arm health:
-Pitching over the recommended single game pitch count limit
-Pitching before allowing your arm sufficient recovery time
-Pitching twice in the same day
-Pitching, and then playing the field as a position player the same day or the next day. Especially infield or catcher.
-Pitching without a proper ramp up period- aka primary position players pitching in game having not thrown a single bullpen.
-throwing a significant amount of pitches while out of season (ie fall or winter).
The truth of the matter is that with an 11 or 12 man roster, there is no way to always adhere to pitch count guidelines if your team plays tournament baseball. Competitive baseball and tournament baseball are basically synonymous here in the Midwest, so as a result, infractions occur regularly with nearly all teams.
Now, allow me to state the obvious: There are certainly examples that are worse than others. This Summer, I watched a pitcher throw 140 pitches in his first outing of the year. It was unacceptable. Make no mistake about it, coaches that make egregious mistakes like that deserve to be called out.
The issue I have here is with people using minor infractions as a reason to speak condescendingly to amateur, inexperienced coaches about their decisions when managing a team.
Sometimes, the most outspoken people on the subject are instructors. While they’re not wrong in their opinion, many of them are simply ignorant to the nuisances of the circumstances that exist in youth baseball. The rhetoric on this particular topic from instructors often lacks context and is often little more than virtue signaling.
However, when it comes to the issues that amateur baseball has when it comes pitch counts, nobody holds more blame than the people sitting in the stands.
Ah yes, the parents. Parents are typically the most outspoken when it comes to pitching infractions. The irony, of course, is that they are largely responsible for building a youth sports culture that is only loyal to winning and seeing their son receive maximum playing time. These loyalties are paradoxical to the concept of pitch counts, and their contradictions are obvious.
The only scenario in which we can realistically eliminate these issues involve creating 16 man rosters and severely limiting the number of players that participate as both a pitcher and position player. And if there’s only one truth in this article, it’s that no parent is going to be on board with implementing this for a 14u baseball team.
Parents want their son to play shortstop in the championship game after throwing 90 pitches in the game before. Parents want to win. If their kid isn’t playing much, or the team isn’t winning much, what happens? They find a new team.
Does this make them terrible people or bad parents? Of course not. It makes them human. They are human, just like their coach. They are flawed and don’t always see the bigger picture. They make mistakes.
So next time you witness a coach violate the general pitching guidelines at an amateur baseball game, ask yourself the following questions before becoming outspoken and self-righteous:
-Is this a clear and egregious violation?
-Does he have alternative solutions that represent a safer choice?
-Does this coach’s only priority seem to be winning?
If the answer is no to these 3 questions (and it will be more often than you might think), try this instead: sit back, relax, and watch your son play the game he loves. You can always find reasons to be upset, but one day you’ll look up, and it will be over. That day will arrive a lot sooner than you’re expecting… Your time is best spent enjoying the ride.