Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nolan Ryan, where are you?

It wasn’t that long ago when your typical pitcher threw 9 innings almost every time out and the closer was a term that had yet to be invented. In the big leagues, the complete game is becoming exceedingly rare, presumably because pitchers are being paid ludicrous sums of money, and if they are derailed by injury, their ball club is out a player and a boat load of money.

As with most things that happen in the big leagues, we start to see a trickle down effect to all other levels of baseball whenever Major League teams start doing something different. How long after the designated hitter was implemented was it before college and high schools adopted the rule? Let’s keep in mind too, that the DH was meant to be a vessel for aging stars to stay in the league a few more years to help drive revenue and fan support…

How about the recent addition of helmets to base coaches? This rule stemmed from a coach being killed by a line drive during a game. The ball hit him in the neck, so I’m not sure what the little cap on the top of our head is really doing to protect us. It was obviously a window dressing answer to a frequently debated topic so that Major League Baseball could say they addressed a safety issue, and the bleeding hearts would be satisfied that action was taken. These bleeding hearts are the same people that outlawed breaking up double plays in amateur baseball and require warnings to be issued anytime a ball is thrown too far inside. The real fruits of these labors, by the way, are that players actually get upset when they are taken out by a slide or knocked back by a pitch. We haven’t made them safer, we’ve made them a bunch of pansies that don’t like aggressive competition.

I’m getting off track… The point of this blog post is to talk about pitch counts, and how we use pitchers in the college game. I find it hard to imagine that 15 years ago, an 18 year old athlete could routinely throw 130 pitches and 7-9 innings every time out, but now, even with advances in training and recovery, we can only ask a guy to throw 100 pitches and we get worried after he hits the 5th or 6th innings. We actually have pitchers come in to ask how many pitches they’ve thrown, as if knowing that number will somehow have an effect on their game. We have guys that don’t want to participate in team drills or fundamentals because they threw a bullpen that day or pitched a couple days before. That’s probably a reason why PFP’s (pitcher’s fielding practice) kill so many teams at our level. 18-20 year old guys are actually convinced that they cannot participate in the days following an outing or pen.

“Alright coach, what’s your theory?” I’m glad you asked. Guys need to throw more often. They need to throw longer. They need to learn the difference between being sore and being injured. I’m not saying we should be overusing young arms and forcing guys to put themselves in danger. What I’m saying is that we need to stop being so prissy and that we shouldn’t be “careful” unless there is a good reason, such as a prior injury, or other such circumstance. Young players need to understand that they are not Major Leaguers, and standards that apply to multi-millionaires probably don’t transfer down very well to teenagers. I find it laughable that we actually get nervous when a guy gets near 85 or 90 pitches. It isn’t their fault either, it’s ours as coaches. We should be teaching players to expect a little more than what the television says is acceptable for 27 year old millionaires who have a lot more to lose.

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