Study: Traditional 'Pitch Counts' Aren't Doing Enough to Help High School Pitchers

By not accounting for bullpen and warm-up activity, typical pitch counts can drastically undercount the amount of pitches high school hurlers throw on game day.

Too many pitches can be bad news for a young pitcher's arm and shoulder health.

That's why pitch counts have become a trusted way to guard against overthrowing.

However, a new study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine finds traditional "pitch counts" may be less helpful than we once thought. Why? Because throws during the pitcher's bullpen and warm-up activity account for 42.4% of their total pitches—yet these throws are totally unaccounted for in most cases.

Researchers compiled this data by counting all pitches thrown off a mound for 34 different teams during the 2017 varsity high school baseball season. The teams were all located in north central Florida. The Florida High School Athletic Association limits 17- and 18-year-old players to 105 pitches a day, yet the researchers found the average pitcher greatly exceeded this number when accounting for bullpen and warm-up pitches.

The average pitcher threw about 69 pitches during game action, well below the FHSAA limit. But they also threw an additional 50 pitches during their warm-up and bullpen activity, swelling the average total pitches thrown to more than 119. While the pitches thrown outside of live action might not be delivered with the same intensity as in-game pitches, they still bring a boatload of additional volume and need to be accounted for.

"Players may be considered in the 'safe' zone of pitches thrown in a game based on the recommended guidelines when, in reality, the unaccounted workload and number of pitches accrued during bullpen and warm-up activities would push the overall pitching workload considerably higher," the study's authors write. "In addition, there is potential for variability in the volume of pitches thrown in a bullpen session prior to live-game competition, affecting the workload of a pitcher. Therefore, quantification of the pitches accumulated during warm-up, bullpen and live-game activities would provide a more accurate assessment of the workload volume per pitcher outing and could have potential effects for offseason and in-season monitoring and training."

Another recent study found that high school pitcher injuries increase as pitch counts rise, and most injuries occur just four weeks into the season. The researchers believe this is largely due to many players not properly preparing during their offseason for the workload they'll face in-season.

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