LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES PITCH COUNTS STILL TERRIBLE IN 2009

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

When legendary Dr. James Andrews and his second-in-command, Dr. Glen Fleisig, made pitch-count recommendations to USA Baseball which were then made to, among others, Little League Baseball, they recommended 75 pitches per game and 100 pitches per week for 11-12 year-olds.  When Little League ran their pilot program in 2005 and 2006, they finished the program by allowing these same-aged pitchers to throw 85 pitches per game and, with four days rest, throw another 85 for a total of 170 in six days. 

In 2007, when the Little League pitch count became mandatory, Little League, without telling anyone, changed the days of rest from the pilot program’s four days to just three days.  Worse, for the Williamsport Tournament, Little League required only two days of rest (seriously) with one game in between.  Thus, 12-year-old Johnnie could legally (and Little League-sanctioned) throw up to 170 pitches in only four days and up to 225 pitches in only seven days.  Remember that the following numbers are always measured against the doctors’ recommendations to Little League of 75 pitches per game and 100 pitches per week. 

THE 2009 LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES (“LLWS”) 

While there are a number of Little League pitchers who threw astronomical amounts of pitches in four days, the first pitcher to focus on is Raymundo Berrones of Mexico.  Berrones threw 85 pitches on 8/22, 87 pitches on 8/26 and pitched poorly on 8/30, throwing 57 pitches to get only four outs in a consolation game (had he pitched well he no doubt would have reached the 255+ mark). 

In any event, Berrones threw 229 pitches in nine days, a staggering number for a kid who should only be throwing in the neighborhood of 100 in seven days (according to the doctors).  To compare, in the same time frame, good major league pitchers like Matt Garza (Tampa Bay – 198) and Chad Billingsley (LA Dodgers – 193) threw less.  Indeed, top pitchers like Chris Carpenter (St. Louis – 200), Mark Buerhle (White Sox – 201) and A.J. Burnett (Yankees – 202) didn’t throw as many during the same period. 

You had to go to stud pitchers like Tim Lincecum (S.F. Giants – a staggering 248) and C.C. Sabathia (Yankees – 231) to find pitchers who threw more than the Little Leaguer in the same time frame. 

IT’S WORSE THIS YEAR FOR FOUR DAYS 

The bigger problem in 2009 came for pitches thrown in four days.  For example, Trae Cropp, pitching for the Midwest, threw 86 pitches on 8/21 and, on TWO days rest, threw a staggering 90 pitches on 8/24 for a total of 176 in four days (remember, the 85 limit can be raised because you are allowed to finish the batter you throw your 85th pitch to).  Other staggering totals:  Marcelo Martinez of Mexico (173 in four days); William Mansfield of the Northwest team (162 in four days); and Jose Martinez of the Latin American team (156 in four days). 

To compare, the major league pitchers who threw as many or more pitches than these Little League kids threw in this time frame include …, include…, include…, well, NOBODY.  Nobody in major league baseball would throw a pitcher today on two days rest (shades of Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series).  The pitching coach and/or manager would certainly be fired if they tried to do it on a regular basis. 

And remember, the absurd numbers of the kids above is perfectly legal under Little League rules and has nothing to do with kids pitching in any other league. 

No matter what anybody tells you, this is a big, big problem. 

WHAT CAN REALLY BE DONE? 

Well, here’s what can really be done:  Steve Keener, President of Little League, is on the record as saying that, if Dr. James Andrews came to Keener and said the 255 in seven or 170 in four is too much, Keener and Little League would “take a look at it.”  Dr.  Andrews is clearly concerned with these big pitch numbers for young kids.  In fact, Dr. Andrews is starting his own “Council of Champions” to deal with this and other youth sports issues. 

Dr. Andrews, who should be considered a national hero for getting Little League to institute the original pitch-count rule, can now improve the rule by convincing Little League to go BACK to the way it was during the pitch-count pilot program – that is, four days of rest between starts.  If nothing else, that would put kids on a par with professional pitchers who routinely throw with four days of rest. 

Little League, an entity which should also be highly commended for instituting the original pitch-count rule, has gone the wrong way by watering down the days of rest so as to make pitch counts unrecognizable compared to the original doctors’ recommendations (today’s 255 pitches in seven days in no way resembles the 100 pitches in seven days originally recommended by the doctors and USA Baseball). 

If Steve Keener will listen to Dr. Andrews, who is now on the Little League Board of Directors, then hopefully Dr. Andrews will speak to Steve Keener and tell him this is simply too much and too dangerous for young arms. 

With the recent attempts by some doctors to “change the conversation” on curve ball use (see Kallas Remarks, 7/31/09) to focus more on overuse, how can anyone in good conscience allow children to continue to throw more than major leaguers?  It simply makes no sense.     

Here’s hoping that Dr. James Andrews will step up to the plate again and inform Steve Keener and the powers-that-be at Little League International that their pitch count is just too high and is hurting young kids’ arms. 

If he does, hopefully Little League won’t throw him a curve ball (pun intended).  We’ll see what (if anything) happens for 2010.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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