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Pitching

The new state standards limit the amount of pitches an athlete can toss in a given day, while allotting a certain period of rest time for each increment of pitches. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

With elbow injuries running through all levels of baseball at an almost epidemic-like rate, baseball coaches in New York will now have state mandated standards to adhere to in handling their young pitchers. Although a step in the right direction, some coaches don’t think the new rules go far enough.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association unveiled its first stab at guidelines coaches and their pitchers need to follow last December. The regulations include pitch counts — there’s now a cap of 105 in a single day at the varsity level — and nights of rest needed for various pitch-count tiers, before a pitcher can return to the mound.

File photo by Bill Landon

“Action by the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee is a giant step forward in doing our part to protect and support our student-athlete baseball players,” state baseball coordinator Ed Dopp said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor and adjust the pitch-count rules in an attempt to always improve opportunities for our student-athletes and address safety as best we can.”

Pitch counts are also in place for junior varsity and middle school pitchers. Junior varsity players cannot exceed 85 in an outing.

Four nights of rest are mandatory for varsity players throwing between 96 and 105 pitches. Three nights are required for those throwing between 66 and 95 pitches; two for 31 to 65 pitches; and one for up to 30 pitches. The limits change in the postseason, where the maximum pitches allowed at the varsity level jumps to 125.

“These pitch-count rules are a Band-Aid on a problem that is 2 feet wide,” Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci said. “What makes these doctors think that it’s alright for a young kid to throw three days in a row, while it’s under a certain amount of pitches, but Mariano Rivera, who is a trained professional, can’t do it? Big leaguers don’t pitch on the third or fourth day.”

Petrucci also pointed out the fatigue pitchers endure when throwing a particularly strenuous frame, say 30 pitches in one inning, noting the rules don’t take that into account. He also had a problem with the fact that freshmen and seniors, all adhere to the same rules.

“You can bring up an eighth-grader and he can throw 105 pitches on varsity — it doesn’t make much sense,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said. “It should be about development.”

File photo by Bill Landon

Another imperfection is pitching on any mound other than in a high school game is not taken into consideration — when a student-athlete practices, warms-up, if he takes part in an outside league, travel team or showcases.

“One of the biggest criticisms is the amount of outside baseball that kids play,” Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said. “It’s difficult to keep track of, but it’s about communication. I’ve encouraged kids to ask their travel coaches to communicate with me. It’s going to be a necessity.”

Centereach head coach Mike Herrschaft said the speed at which a pitcher throws should also be taken into consideration.

“There’s a correlation between how fast they throw and the rest they need,” he said. “If I had a kid throwing in the 70s and everything’s healthy I might feel comfortable with them throwing 105 pitches and going on the sixth day, where if I had a kid throwing 90 mph, I’m never comfortable with them pitching on the sixth day.”

For some schools, especially those in the lower leagues, the pitchers are typically the best player on the team and play multiple positions when they’re not on the mound. This too can wear out an arm, and isn’t measured in the first round of rules.

“I never let my pitcher catch or my catcher pitch,” Herrschaft said. “Those have been my standards, especially more recently with the increase in Tommy John surgery and concerns.”

For schools like Kings Park, they need to have athletes play multiple positions. But most coaches try to limit their throwing in one way or another, or give those players more rest.

“To totally get them out of the lineup I think it’s impossible,” head coach Mike Luzim said. “It would negatively impact the normal day-to-day lineups and getting a team prepared to win.”

File photo by Bill Landon

Other new rules include if any pitcher at any level reached the count limit in the middle of an at-bat, he will be allowed to finish that hitter; both teams are required to track pitches on the official NYSPHSAA form and confirm after each inning; and at the game’s conclusion, a pitch count form will be signed by both team’s coaches or designated representatives, and a record will be used to determine which pitchers are available for future games.

“There’s room for manipulation,” Klee said. “It should be put in a database where everyone can see it.”

An app called GameChanger is one that tracks this, and other stats, and is used by many coaches across Long Island, like Klee and Luzim.

“Virginia and Kentucky both mandate that high school teams use GC for this very reason,” Game Changer representative David Kennedy said. “We would love it if New York did the same. It would streamline the process and allow each team to oversee pitch counts for players.”

Luzim said it could eliminate discrepancies that could make a difference throughout the season.

“Right now, everything goes by the home book, so if there were a number that was off by one or two pitches it goes back to the home book, and what if the home book is off by one pitch? And that’s a 95 instead of a 94? That could change the number of days and that could lead to problems or arguments,” he said. “I think there will be a million different scenarios that come up this year that will have to be looked at.”

Other tricky scenarios include a game postponed due to darkness and doubleheaders. Currently, when it comes to doubleheaders, a hurler competing in the first game cannot pitch in the second.

“It would be reasonable to have a kid close the end of the first game and then maybe pitch a couple of innings in the second game,” Rosen said.

File photo by Bill Landon

Klee disagreed.

“I think that if they throw once that day they shouldn’t come back — it’s dangerous,” he said. “I would be an advocate for making it even stricter, meaning less pitches and more rest.”

He also doesn’t like the wording of a “nights” rest, which was changed from a days rest. To him, there’s a loophole there that could count the night after the game as all the rest that’s needed.

Luzim said he’d like to see a cap on the amount of pitches per week.

“You can still end up throwing in a kid who pitches 95 pitches, right below the last level, and they could come back on the Thursday game and throw 105 pitches on that Thursday,” he said, “Then, they could really come back on that following Monday. So they could really end up throwing over 300 pitches in one week.”

For now, the coaches are just happy to see New York is trying to regulate the game to protect players.

“I get that they’re trying to address the problem, but we need to address the problem with more substantive thinking,” Petrucci said. “I think people today don’t trust the coaches. We’ve been doing this quite a while. Us coaches care about these kids, and we’re going to continue to push for their safety.”

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Nick Fanti turns down Marist College scholarship after agreeing to terms with Philadelphia Phillies

Nick Fanti hurls a pitch during the Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Alex Petroski

Hauppauge graduate and star left-handed pitcher Nick Fanti, who was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of the 2015 MLB Draft, agreed to terms on a contract with the club this week. He chose to forgo an opportunity to play at Marist College on a baseball scholarship, and will instead begin his minor league career with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, Philadelphia’s rookie-ball affiliate.

Fanti said the decision was very tough on him, but he’s confident he made the right one.

“I really felt at home at Marist and comfortable with the coaches and players that I was going there with, but in the end, I followed my heart and made a decision that I wanted to make,” he said.

Hauppauge head coach Josh Gutes was thrilled with his former player’s decision.

“Since he was a little kid, all he’s wanted to do was play baseball for a living, and now he’s going to get the opportunity to do so,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision at first, because of Nick’s loyalty to Marist, but he had the chance to pursue his dream and he’s going to do everything he can to make that dream come true.”

Fanti had an outstanding senior season for the Eagles. He went 7-1, with a 0.67 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP and 87 strikeouts over 52 innings. He also threw two consecutive no-hitters. Fanti won the 2015 Carl Yastrzemski award as Suffolk County’s best player, and started on the mound for the Suffolk County team in the Grand Slam Challenge, Long Island’s annual Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“I would have probably fainted from excitement,” Fanti said about the thought of his 10-year-old self receiving the news that one day he’d be a professional baseball player. “I can remember being told by teachers to stop writing and drawing about baseball during projects because that’s all I ever thought about, and still think about.”

Fanti grew up in a family of lifelong New York Yankees fans, though his Dad, Nick Fanti Sr., said in an interview in June, following draft day, that wearing a Phillies uniform one day wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Fanti Sr. said. “He’s going to make it anywhere he goes.”

The Phillies organization declined requests for comment, pending Fanti’s signing becoming official this week.

Fanti said on Twitter Monday night that he was “ready for this challenge” of taking on professional competition, which is obviously a step up from the high school competition that he’s used to, and the college competition that he bypassed.

Being selected in the MLB Draft, especially in the 31st round or later is far from a guarantee that an opportunity will present itself for a young player in the Big Leagues. However, New York Mets legends Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez were both selected far later in their respective drafts than Fanti. Left-handed pitcher Kenny Rogers had stints with both the Mets and Yankees, and he was selected in the 39th round.

Some other notable 31st round picks include pitchers Scott Erickson [1990] and Pedro Feliciano [1995], who both played for the Mets and Yankees in their careers. Erickson went in the 31st round in his fourth time being in the MLB draft. Sean Gillmartin, a southpaw currently on the Mets’ roster, was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft, although he was again drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft.

A few Major League all-stars also got their start in the Gulf Coast League over the last decade. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen each played full seasons in the GCL.

After the Grand Slam Challenge game in June, before he had made his decision, Fanti said how different it would be playing alongside strangers as opposed to his teammates from Hauppauge, who became his best friends. Fanti will have no trouble making friends in the Phillies organization if he pitches for them anywhere near the way he did in high school.