Every pitch counts

Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer   
Changes in state rules will limit how often pitchers can be used in a game or week.Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer Changes in state rules will limit how often pitchers can be used in a game or week.

BY JIM SCHILTZ
Gazette Sportswriter

Duanesburg baseball coach Chris Wyanski is heading into the season with plenty of pitchers, but for Section II’s other small-school teams that do not have that luxury, he has a suggestion.

“I’m lucky,” the Western Athletic Conference chairman said. “I’ve got eight or nine pitchers, and I’ll be set for the next couple of years. For teams that aren’t as fortunate, the whole preseason I’d have almost my whole team start throwing.”

Wyanski’s recommendation stems from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s new rules that limit the number of pitches a player can deliver in a day and mandates rest between pitching appearances.

“If a team doesn’t have depth, it’s going to catch up with them,” Niskayuna senior pitcher Jake Phillips said. “Teams are going to have to resort to non-pitchers who haven’t been on the mound.”

That’s a concern, Wyanski said, for Section II’s small-school teams more so than the larger ones. The rules apply to modified, freshman, junior varsity and varsity athletes, though the pitch counts differ for each level.

“We’ll get in a situation where a team without many pitchers will have a guy on the mound who has never been there because they have to complete innings,” Wyanski said. “With no mercy rule in baseball, a team could be down 27-3 and still have to pitch and get outs.”

Under the new rules approved by the NYSPHSAA’s executive committee in January, at the varsity level a pitcher can throw a maximum of 105 pitches in a regular-
season game. If they throw between 96 and 105 pitches, that athlete must have four nights’ rest before they can take the mound again. A pitch count between 66 and 95 pitches mandates three nights’ rest, a pitch total between 31 and 65 requires two nights’ rest, and a pitch count from one to 30 means one night of rest.

The pitch counts increase for postseason contests, moving up to 125 pitches at most for varsity athletes.

“At the lower levels and at smaller schools, it could be a problem,” Guilderland coach Doug LaVallee said. “It comes down to us developing more pitching in youth leagues in the communities.”

And at the high school level, Shenendehowa coach Greg Christodulu suggested.

“The state could allow pitchers and catchers to come in a week earlier so coaches can see who can pitch and who can’t,” Christodulu said. “We’re all for the pitching numbers. This would give coachess time to develop players to expand pitching staffs.”

The Suburban Council has more pitching depth than any other league in Section II, with Niskayuna and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, for example, both showing 11 pitchers on their varsity rosters. Guilderland also lists 11. Columbia, Shaker and Schenectady have nine. That’s enough for participants of Section II’s biggest league — in terms of the number of schools in it and the size of those schools — to handle the new rules.

“It’s not going to make a difference for the varsity teams,” Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Rob Duell said. “I think at the younger levels you might get into games where it’s 18-16 with a lot of walks. They could feel it there.”

The pitching rules, long discussed and approved in the name of safety, are the first of their kind to be enacted by the NYSPHSAA.

“With the snow, I don’t see anyone getting out there for a while, and the [Section II postseason] seeding meeting is May 15,” Wyanski said. “Teams have to get 20 games in. Even some of the big schools may be in trouble.”

Some small-school teams are certain to feel the crunch.

“For a small school, you may see them forfeit games because they don’t have arms, or have games that don’t get finished,” Columbia coach Chris Dedrick, the Suburban Council chairman, said. “It’s the first year. After this year, they [NYSPHSAA] will take a look at it and maybe make some adjustments.”

The coaches will have to continually adjust as the season unfolds.

“It’s going to change the way coaches manage, for sure,” Mekeel Christian Academy coach Guy DeAngelis said. “You really have to plan out your rotation.”

Mekeel is one of those small schools with few arms.

“We’ve got 12 players with no junior varsity or modified team,” DeAngelis said. “We have three starting pitchers and three others we can work in, so do we have enough pitching? No. What we have to do is develop some kids who aren’t normally pitchers.”

DeAngelis said Mekeel — a Class D team and member of the WAC — will complete its full schedule one way or another.

“Any rule change forces a coach to find a different way to win, and forces kids to figure it out and step up,” DeAngelis said. “We’re taking it as a challenge. That’s what we preach. Change a problem into a challenge.”

Niskayuna coach Chris Bianchi said his team will not have to change much in terms of pitching staff usage. He said Niskayuna’s varsity teams have for years followed pitch count and rest perameters similar to those approved by the NYSPHSAA.

“My gut feeling is it’s not going to impact us as much as some might think. We are very careful to chart every pitch and monitor rest days,” said Bianchi, who before this season served as Niskayuna’s varsity pitching coach for six years. “If a kid isn’t available, he doesn’t become available because a game is close.”

Christodulu has adhered to that credo since taking over at Shenendehowa in 2013.

“The most pitches any of our guys threw last year was 103 by Ian [Anderson] in the state semifinals against West Islip,” Christodulu said. “We always keep a pitch count and give the guys their proper rest. The health of our players is the most important thing.”

Players are pondering the pitch count, too.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Mohonasen senior hurler Ryan Lanaro said. “I’ve got to throw more strikes than I did before.”

NYSPHSAA PITCH COUNT RULES
Maximum # Pitches/# Nights Rest
Varsity
96-105/4; 66-95/3; 31-65/2; 1-30/1
Junior Varsity and Freshman
76-85/4; 46-75/3; 31-45/2; 1-30/1
Modified
61-75/4; 41-60/3; 21-40/2; 1-20/1
Varsity Postseason
Maximum # Pitches/# Nights Rest
103-125/4; 72-102/3; 41-71/2; 1-40/1
1. If a pitch is thrown on a balk call, the pitch will NOT count for the purposes of this rule.
2. A pitcher at any level who reaches the pitch count limit in the middle of an at-bat will be allowed to finish that hitter.
3. Schools will have the responsibility to maintain all pitching charts. They will also be required to make any game chart available to any school prior to any game to show availability of pitchers for that given day.
4. During games, each team will record pitch counts on the official NYSPHSAA pitch count form, this should not include warm-ups or pick off attempts. After each half inning, the pitch counts will be confirmed by both teams. Any discrepancy will be resolved based on the records of the home team pitch count chart.
5. At game’s conclusion, the NYSPHSAA pitch count form will be signed by both head coaches or designated representative.
6. Any violation of this rule will be considered in the same light as a school using an ineligible player. The game will be forfeited.
7. As per the NYSPHSAA handbook any additional penalties may be imposed at the school or section level.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 395-3143, jims@dailygazette.com or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.