The Little League World Series is coming round in a few months or so (at least I think so, I was reminded of this by the occasional “Earn Your Stripes” Frosted Flakes ads that seem to be popping up at the WWL’s web site now and then as a reminder; I remember ads likea good little consumer.) With that ABC/ESPN promoted spectacle in mind, an NYT article on a new regulated pitch count for Little League is timely, as qualifying for Williamsport isn’t all that far away Little League International has now restricted counts at the younger levels to 75 pitches, and 85 at the higher levels, in order to preserve the throwing arms of pitchers that are still growing.
The old rules restricted pitchers to six innings (the length of a routine game) in one week or in one game. The new guidelines are adjusted by age, limiting 9- and 10-year-old players to 75 pitches a game regardless of the number of innings, while 11- and 12-year-olds are held to 85 pitches. The scale increases to 105 pitches for the oldest pitchers in Little League.
Also, there are now rest requirements between outings so that most players are prohibited from pitching for three days after throwing more than 61 pitches or two days after throwing 41 to 60 pitches. A two-year Little League pitch-count pilot program, and the advice of noted sports medicine specialists, helped Little League arrive at the parameters of the new regulations.
Useful as a general rule, but the problem is, as usual, that Little League games aren’t the only ones the older players get involved in. Like every other sport that feeds a talent pipeline, there are travel and AAU-style teams, and they’re not affected by these regulations. However, managers are taking them into account, but the whims, are of course, left to the parents:
Little League said it hoped its new rules would put pressure on travel teams, but that could be difficult because the weekend tournaments are not governed by a single organizing body. In the end, limiting the number of pitches thrown in a given week or season is likely to be left up to parents.
Hopefully it turns out well enough. We’ve had enough sports parent horror stories, and get more of them on a daily basis, to see the possibilities in this, and it will change the actual kids we see pitching in the LLWS, since there will have to be more than the usual two starters that seem to rotate for each team that makes it to the Series. It may actually even out more of the games; a mandated rule for health that would accidentally bring parity (not like rotating new kids in to the teams, plus the fact that each region usually has a champion from a different city or state each year doesn’t hurt either.)
I’m still wondering why these kids even throw curves. I have a few co-workers with kids in Little League — many of them have coaches that won’t let the kids throw anything other than fastballs and change-ups for arm reasons, but every year I see some 12-year old with a curve or a knuckler (which probably isn’t as harmful, but still).
Pitching Change Intended to Save Young Pitchers Arms [New York Times]