Saturday, August 26, 2006

Good News (WITH ADDENDUM)

Little League Baseball has just announced a momentous decision -- to limit the number of pitches that kids can throw in games and over the course of the week.

Young pitchers have been ruining their arms for years because of overuse. The reason is simple. Teams playing in tournaments -- not just Little League, but also other community leagues and travel ball -- are always trying to advance to the next level. In almost every game, a team faces the possibility of elimination. So managers and coaches use their best one or two pitchers over and over again.

Many pitchers throw in excess of 100 pitches a game and work with two days of rest. Think about that. Roger Clemens, the most physical pitcher of our time, usually leaves the game after 90 or 100 pitches -- and then he gets four days of rest. If Houston Astros Manager Phil Garner ever told the Rocket that he had to pitch on two days of rest, Garner would find himself upside-down in the trash bin. And yet Little Leaguers -- whose bodies are still developing -- have been working on just a couple days of rest. Absurd.

Little League CEO Steve Keener, the American Sports Medicine Institute, and other partners deserve a big cheer for this move.

Still, there are detractors.

One criticism is that there simply are not enough good pitchers to go around. The answer is simple: Get more kids a chance to take the mound. Only when you think that it's essential to win all the time, with a manchild power pitcher, can you resist giving more kids a chance.

Another criticism is that tracking the pitch counts will be too hard and that all kinds of disputes will arise. I agree that Little League -- and all youth sports, for that matter -- has gotten too rule-bound and bureaucratic. But you mean to tell me that the official scorer cannot have a clicker in his hand as he or she watches the game? Or that the scorer can't mark the book for each at bat and then report the counts every inning to both managers? Or that a volunteer cannot track pitch counts on a white board for all to see? Please.

A third criticism is that teams will work the pitch count to drive the best pitchers out of games. That might happen, although I'm not sure how many kids have the bat control of a Bobby Abreu. But the result could be very positive in two ways. First, it could encourage youngsters to pitch to put the ball in play rather than pitch for strikeouts. It's much more efficient to get grounders and pop flies than strikeouts. That could make games move faster and involve the rest of the team in games. How much fun is it for a left fielder or second baseman to stand around in a 14-K game? Second, even if the rule does enable some teams to work the count and get the aces out of the game, so what? The teams should be developing four or five pitchers, not just two or three.

This decision is very good news for every kid who plays Little League. Other organizations should follow suit, not just to protect young athletes' health and wellbeing but to involve all kids in a more well-rounded game.


ADDENDUM: Brent Musberger, in his broadcast of the U.S. championship game between Georgia and Oregon, effusively praised Little League's decision to establish pitch counts. Orel Hershiser and Joe Morgan, former major league stars doing the color commentary, agreed. But then Musberger said something about how these limits probably would have to be loosened for the Little League World Series and its qualifying tournaments. Hold it! Why is that, Brent? If the rule is ever essential, it's in those tournaments where the coaches and parents push their kids hard to get "to the next level." If this pitch-count rule does not apply to the tournaments, it is a fraud. It's the tournaments where the kids get pushed beyond their limit and damaged. Readers: Write to Steve Keener at Little League International, 539 U.S. Route 15 Hwy, PO Box 3485, Williamsport, PA 17701-0485. Tell him congratulations for the pitch-count rule, and then demand that the rule be applied to all tournaments.

19 Comments:

Blogger Baseball Fan said...

I am glad that LL FINALLY decided to do something. Next year they need to ban "CURVE BALLS". I know it is still controversial, but limiting curve balls would decrease the #of strikeouts and allow kids to put the ball in play for a more exciting game and even out the teams better. It would save the kids from having early Tommy John surgery too! I wished the pitch count limit of 85 was decided before the ALL-Stars this summer. We were 2 games away from going to Williamsport in the SE and who knows, the pitch count limit might have helped us win the close game instead of losing! Anyway Kudos to LL officials! How will they penalize teams that break the rules-forfeit a game?

11:50 AM  
Blogger CarrieM said...

Just want to say that it is not that hard to keep track of pitch counts. We did it last year and you either have one of the dugout dads/moms hold a clicker and/or the scorekeeper just keeps a tally at the top of the book.

Ideally, the coach on the bucket in the dugout calling pitches also holds the clicker so he is aware of where his pitcher is at. Of course, you'd have to trust that he would pull the plug when the limit was reached...:)

12:08 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

I emailed Charlie asking him why LL officials will not do anything about the inequity of the International teams like Japan. In your book, you mentioned that Japan has one league per 430,000 population. The demographics of Japan is similar to US and they love BASEBALL with professional Baseball leagues too. In the US, there is one league per 20,000 population. Now, you don't have to have PhD. in Math to figure out that Japan has an unfair advantage by having more good players to chose from on the team. That is why they have dominated Asia and the LLWS the past decade. They will likely win Sunday also! Maybe when they beat GA, the LL officials will reconsider the unfairness. It took a long time for them to figure out why Taiwan kept winning! Please respond. Thanks, concerned Baseball Fan!

12:08 PM  
Blogger Charlie Euchner said...

Baseballfan: You'll have to ask the folks in Williamsport about the geographic/population inequities. I asked Little League CEO Steve Keener and PR man Lance Van Auken and they both said that LL makes exceptions to take into accoujnt the different numbers of kids who actually play ball within a community. In a community like St. Petersburg, where there are lots of old people, the 20,000 population area doesn;t make much sense. In a place like Moscow, where baseball players are few and dispersed, it doesn't make sense either. It's a judgment call -- one which many critics say Littloe League gets wrong on a regular basis, especially overseas.

12:29 PM  
Blogger epken said...

The officials have already said there will be modifications to the tournament rule. I wouldn't get to upset yet, they really have to think this out. Wait to see what they do. My guess is one rule would allow pitchers to finish an inning despite the count. Or at least finish the batter their facing despite the count. Another rule might be over 20 pitches you can't pitch the next game. Under the regular season proposal a pitcher could pitch again. They have to limit it so you can't pitch in the next game. Or a team like Illinois this year or a team with two studs could just pitch the same two every game. The rule is if a player pitches 21 - 40 pitches in a day, one (1) calendar day of rest must beobserved. So under this rule Ferry and Hearne (Illinois' two studs) probably would have been able to stay under 40 for three innings, thus they could have pitched every game 3 innings apiece. Do you guys, the fans of the pitch count want that? They pitched every other game as it was, under the current regular season rules they would have just pitched 3-3 the entire tournament. And if your in a district tournament and you stay in the winners bracket you have days off also. So as you can see there's a lot to be thought out. If they really want to make this work they have to force teams to use their third or fourth pitchers. The pitch count is a smoke screen for little league. I can't wait to see the tournament rules come out in the fall, you'll all be sorry.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

I think any excemptions for tournaments would be a FRAUD! That is when there is most abuse! I should know because we lost our chance to go to Williamsport because our pitcher had a high pitch count of 113 when he was finally lifted after wild pitches and walks. Now, I am not sure how epken thinks that 2 stud pitchers could pitch 3-3 innings with less than 40 pitches each and play the next day. The new rules said one calender day of rest, so they would be able to pitch every other day at the most, right? Please explain to me.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Charlie Euchner said...

Here is the information about number of piotches and rest from the Little League news release:

• If a player pitches 61 or more pitches in a day, three (3) calendar days of rest must be observed.
• If a player pitches 41 - 60 pitches in a day, two (2) calendar days of rest must be observed.
• If a player pitches 21 - 40 pitches in a day, one (1) calendar day of rest must beobserved.
• If a player pitches 1-20 pitches in a day, no calendar day of rest is required before pitching again.

Clearly, a picther would have to throw 20 or fewer pitches in a day to be allowed to pitch the next day. That's two innings -- three if the pitcher is working very efficiently. That sounds good to me. Let's just hope it applies to tournament play.

6:25 PM  
Blogger epken said...

Not really. If a player pitches 1-20 pitches in a day, no calendar day of rest is required before pitching again. I'll stick with the Illinois example because that's where I'm from. Kids like Hearne or Ferry could easily get two innings out of 20 pitches. Unless you started taking a lot. So if you had three pitchers you could just ride them throughout the tournament. 2-2-2. Or what I see as the real problem is, in our state, in District, Section and depending on your draw in state, when you win, you usually get a day off. The day off being the key. Somtimes you get two days off depending on the district. So the winners bracket teams would have a tremendous advantage and could probably use two. If a player pitches 21 - 40 pitches in a day, one (1) calendar day of rest must beobserved or If a player pitches 41 - 60 pitches in a day, two (2) calendar days of rest must be observed. So the winners could keep coming back with the two studs. I'm not saying they should losen the rules, not at all. But if they really want to develop more pitching they should stick to the principle that they have now, and not let kids pitch consecutive games. I'm in favor of pitching in consecutive games only if you pitch in 20 pitches or under, but that's it. If you want to develop more pitching now that you have the pitch counts don't let kids pitch in consecutive games. Otherwise, even if kids go over 40 or 60 pitches in a game you'll just have managers going with their top two every game and trying to sneak in a guy in between them. That's my ultimate point. LL really needs to think about this.

6:40 PM  
Blogger epken said...

Sorry Charlie, I was responding to baseballfan and I didn't see your post until after I posted. So I didn't mean to repeat the new rules. If they keep the principle of not pitching in consecutive games it will save pitchers arms in Little League. Currently you can pitch one inning and come back the next day or game. 20-under is close to that principle. I hate to sound like a broken record, but they really need to keep the principle of not pitching in consecutive games. It makes the tournament more exciting and fair. If we can do that along with saving arms then we've accomplished alot with this new rule. Will have to wait and see.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

I understand what epken is saying now. LL did NOT stipulate whether the one day off also includes non-consecutive games with 21-40 pitches. It should because in many tournaments, ie. IL and NC where I am from, the winner gets a day off and and the losers bracket plays every day. If you had 2 aces, you could pitch them 3/3 if you win every other day. It would only be impossible at Williamsport with 2 consecutive pool games. I think LL needs not only help protect kids' arms but also allow the development of more pitchers. Hawaii had 4 ace pitchers and Japan has 3 aces this year. GA only has 2 aces, and guess what, they have used those 2 pitchers primarily (other than the game they lost to Lemont with their 3rd pitcher). Hey epken, don't you think Japan has an unfair advantage over other teams with so few leagues per country? Unfortunately, LL won't think about that until Japan beats US/GA tomorrow(I hope not, but Matsumoto looks as good or better than Kyle Carter, and their defense is tougher than US.) Should be a great game, and just as I had predicted would end up playing at the end ( I predicted GA would win US on the first day of Regional play in FL when they hit 4/5 homers in first at bat in first game). I am not a scout like Lester's Dad, but I have seen enough games for the past 4 summers of LL and All-Stars! It has been a great experience watching my son play and interacting with other kids.

8:03 PM  
Blogger epken said...

Even being a Little League president and coach for 15 years I don't know that much about the foreign teams. What LL does with the foreign teams really doesn't bother me. As long as they keep it seperate. Check out this link: Http://www.unpage.org/japan/jn-dir2006.htm
I don't know if you've been on unpage.org but it's a great site. Check out the site, it really doesn't look like it's that easy for Japan. Plus the Asia tournament is tough. The really issue is what's the makeup of the foreign teams. i.e. What kind of population are they taking from, how many teams in their program etc. LL should make sure it's the same as it is in the U.S.Don't let it bother you. I didn't get to see the U.S. flag presentation today, but in previous years the flag said United States World Champion. If a team from our league ever made it that's far, that's all we would be concerned with. I think Ga. has a great chance. I've been a little surprised with the Japan showboating this year. But who am I to talk, the Illinois coach made us all look like jerks.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

Epken, I have been on Unpage for a long time, and it is a wonderful site. Too bad LL doesn't recognize it. Japan has 12 districts but I can't tell how many teams are in each league. We have 8 teams in each league for a total of 2 leagues. Unfortuanetely, we don't mix and match the 2 leagues for a super ALL-Stars team. I am not on the LL Board locally(they don't want outspoken people). Needless to say, the losing league in our district is usually one of the 2 leagues and some very good players never get a chance to use their talent. If Japan has more than 10 teams per league, then they would have more kids to pick ALL-Stars from and hence an unfair advantage. Yes, it should concern you because it is national pride at stake. Remember how much we hated Japanese cars in the 80's because of unfair business tactics(until they built the cars in the US and now it is ok to buy Japanese cars). I don't like the Japanese showmanship this year(Tiger-like mannerism after homeruns) because it should be little kids hugging and clapping not the Tiger Woods elbow display. Yes, GA has a chance. I am glad it will be over soon so I can get on and forget about LL 2006 since I am one of the parents who wished they could have made it to Williamsport. We were so close yet never played GA so I feel good and bad that our Southeast has a chance. Would have been ,could have been, should have been is a broken record and I will move on. My son has already moved on to school football and try a new travel ball team.

7:45 AM  
Blogger epken said...

Travel Ball? Don't give up on LL. My problem with the pitch count is it won't apply to travel ball. In my league we don't allow anyone 12-under to play in another league. That's hardcore I know. I do have another suggestion for LL. I know they would never adopt our policy of keeping kids out of the league who travel, but one thing they could do is say: If you play in another league (travel or whatever) your not allowed to pitch. How about that...

12:14 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

Unfortunately, my son aged out of LL. We had a great time and wouldn't trade it for travel ball or anything. That is why today's game is so sad for us. We almost made it to Williamsport. Our league is also pretty hard core about playing AAU (not allowed during season). We did form an AAU team last fall and played 6 tournaments for practice. Couldn't this spring. I would like to propose dividing our 2 leagues into a 9-10 year old league and a 11-12 year old league. That way the ALL-Stars could have a better selection for both age groups. Currently all the kids play together from 9-12. This is becoming less commmon but our LL is stubborn and unwilling to change. Does your league play all the ages too?

12:39 PM  
Blogger epken said...

Our League is very unique. Were one of the oldest, if not the oldest in Illinois. 56 years next year. In that time we've been a part of Little League. We also chartered with Pony League when it started. So, at 13-14 we play Pony. Then at 15-16 we play Senior League. We used to play Colt at 15-16, but it's just high powered travel teams, so when I became president 7 years ago, I moved us into the Senior League. This year they won district (for the first time) and section, losing in state. It was very exciting for them. Our 9 & 10 also went to state, and after winning 4 11-12 titles in a row we lost to a very good Ridge Beverly team, who lost to Lemont 5-4 in state. Our league is T-ball 5-7, Minor 7-9, Little League 10-12. Only the top 10s play in our major division, the rest play in our minor-major division 9-12. We only have 325 kids, but still seperate the talent at the little league level. Our league has done that forever. Most leagues can't do that becaue it's hard to start what is considered a "B" league. I agree 9s playing with 12s in silly, espeacailly with this age change thing.

1:12 PM  
Blogger East Bay Baseball said...

Williamsport is doing a great job of selling something that isn't what it's cracked up to be.

The aim seems to be to protect aces from being overused during the regular season, but this rule actually allows them to throw more pitches in a week!

1. These pitching rules are significantly less restrictive (!) than those used in the pilot program -- in which our league participated. Basically, one rest day was eliminated at each hurdle: 0 rest days (vs. 1 rest day in pilot program) for 1-20 pitches ... 3 rest days (vs. 4 rest days) for 61-plus pitches.

2. Aces will be allowed to throw more pitches during a week than they were under the old 6 innings in a Sunday-Saturday week: 170 pitches a week with two 85-pitch outings (or 180 pitches if he or she goes 60 pitches three times a week). There's no way that pitcher, if he or she is any good, would approach that amount of pitches with the 6-innings-a-week restriction.

Comments on our league's pitch count experiment:

-- People complained that counting pitches was burdensome, but it generally wasn't a big deal. The big issue was making sure a log was carried from game to game for everyone to see who wasn't eligible.

-- It did create more managerial manuevering: taking a pitcher out when a threshold was reached, most notably 20 pitches.

-- Most complaints dealt around scheduling. Teams with more days off generally had greater options in pitching that those with fewer days off.

-- We did endure the law of unintended consequences, though. The approach most managers previously took in our league, where two games a week were the norm, was to go a combination of 3-3 or 2-2-2 and 3-3 or 2-2-2 in each game. Under the LL pilot pitch count rules, these pitchers were usually "burned" for 2 or 3 rest days, so ambitious teams would try to go 6, so only one pitcher was "burned."

The goal of saving our aces' arms can only be achieved if LL's participatory goal is acted upon: developing more pitchers. This is a basic equation: taking the burden off pitchers 1-2 and spreading it over pitchers 1-5 or 1-7.

Our league's board wanted to find a way to force teams to develop pitchers 3-4-5-6-7, so it adopted the LL pilot program. Did it work? It's hard to judge from one year to the next, from one corps of pitchers to another (and from one corps of batters they faced to another). It seemed to work but the key was these long rest periods between outings -- unfortunately, they've watered down in the '07 rules.

2:02 AM  
Blogger CarrieM said...

Hey EastBay,
Great comments. When your board went with the Pilot Program last year (which kept some of our district leagues from interlocking with each other due to the "administration" of pitch counts), what did you do to help develop pitchers 3-7? My concern is that our local leagues don't have the personnel to effectively coach/teach/develop pitchers. That's why most coaches' sons are pitchers--we have enough trouble getting umps and snack shack help and groundskeepers, etc. Can anyone comment on coaching their coaches?

9:40 AM  
Blogger epken said...

I couldn't agree more with the comments. While Little League studied this, they clearly didn't think the rules portion out. They need to attach an inning limit along with the pitch count. Just like they need to say you can't get pitch consecutive games in tournament. Our League plays games on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. With each team playing twice a week. Let me give you an example. We have a couple of kids next year (who turn 13 in May). There pretty good. They can pitch 85 on Monday (which could be a complete game 6 innings for them) and if they play on Saturday, pitch another 85 complete game. It doesn't end there folks, let's say the next week they play Thursday-Saturday, which happens alot. Now I can pitch him them on Thursday. Sure I couldn't pitch him on Saturday, but he's ready to go again on Monday. That means I could have pitched them in COMPLETE GAMES three games in a row. How does that develop more pitching? And if you don't think leagues or people will manipulate schedules to make sure the studs can pitch more you guys are wrong. I know where not going to use the pitch count next year, unless they attach innings to it. For all you fans of it, (including the nice man who runs this blog) that's what you need to write Keener about. The pitch count wasn't neccessary in regular season, but it probably was in tournament.

10:17 AM  
Blogger East Bay Baseball said...

Carriem,
Did our league's pilot program work? What did you do to help develop pitchers 3-7?
Probably the most important was adopting the pilot program itself. It showed we were committed. We're a small league (5 teams in '06 Majors) but very competitive (district and sectional titles the last three years at Jrs., 12s and 11s -- our first in 51 years!) with an experienced managerial corps in '06. So they at least listened (mostly) to what we had to say about what we felt was best.
Beyond that, it's hard to develop a systematic, league-wide pitching program. LL baseball isn't like many youth soccer clubs/leagues that have a coaching director/technical director to direct and enforce technical philosophies.
Bottom line was all teams except one (the regular-season and playoff champion) worked with a stable of about 6 pitchers, up from two or three the year before.
The rest days definitely forced managers to be more flexible -- ie to have more pitchers ready to go -- because they never knew who or how many pitchers would be unavailable on a given day. (It's not like the days of 6 innings a week and 12 12-year-old innings a week when a team might run into restrictions only in a third game if it had -- a rare instance -- a third game that week.)
Other factors were at play, though:
1. Bad weather in No. Calif. cost us six full weeks (two weeks of preaseason and four weeks of regular-season), so pitchers began the season out of shape. We had to work with lots of kids just to get going.
2. The year before, the quality of hitting was much higher, so comparable pitchers who got crushed in '05 survived in '06.

2:51 PM  

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