With the blizzard of a month ago some wondered if it would ever get here. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, here we are again. Just with virtually every year, when April school vacation time comes around so does the high school baseball and softball seasons. Regardless of how harsh or how tame the winter, despite the hand wringing and worry, teams manage to get outside almost always on schedule.
Baseball is constant yet this season brings significant change to the high school ranks. The Maine Principals’ Association has adopted National Federation of High Schools’ guidelines for pitch counts for the 2017 season. At the varsity level, pitchers will be limited to a maximum of 110 pitches per day. If the hurler reaches the 110 pitch limit during an at bat he may complete the at bat.
If a pitcher exceeds 95 pitches in an outing they will need four days rest before returning to the mound. 66-95 pitches thrown requires three days rest, 40-65 two days, while 21-39 pitches require just a days rest. A varsity pitcher can throw up to twenty pitches per day and still be eligible to pitch the next day. Junior varsity pitchers can throw a maximum of 90 pitches per day with lower thresholds accompanying various days of rest.
With the obvious concern for protecting young developing arms, the new pitch count rules give coaches a number of variables to consider. In prior years the most rest a pitcher would ever need by rule is three days. That fourth day could prove huge. Class A North primarily plays a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. Unless a team was backed up due to weather, they could generally get by on a two man rotation. Teams need to have at least three reliable starters this year as well as a solid reliever or two. In addition, regional titlist teams which played on Tuesday could count on throwing their ace in the state championship game on Saturday. This throws that benefit out the window unless the pitcher throws 95 or fewer pitches in the regional final.
Will teams with a lead possibly look ahead and gamble by pulling a pitcher early? Little League and its affiliate programs have employed pitch counts for several years. Many coaches have used this strategy, some with various degrees of success.
Offensively, we may see teams work the count more, especially late in the ballgame when an ace may be reaching the end of their pitch limit.
With the amount of pitching depth needed in today’s game, could we see more cooperative teams formed in the smaller schools?
These are just a few questions which remain to be answered not only this season but in years to come.
Time for some predictions as teams will be out in full force this week. Here are who I believe will win Northern Maine Championships when the weather gets warm in June:
Class A: Bangor Rams
Class B: Hermon Hawks
Class C: George Stevens Academy Eagles
Class D: Fort Fairfield Tigers