New rule that mandated specific rest periods to correlate with number of pitches didn't have adverse affect many thought it would

Surprises are nice, especially when the problem you’re expecting to confront never quite materializes.

We’re looking at you, pitch-count rule.

The 2017 baseball season in New York was greeted with a new rule that limited the number of pitches for high school athletes. At all levels, a specific amount of rest accompanied the number of pitches thrown and really, it’s difficult to argue against that because at the core of it all is the health of the athletes.

So now that the 2017 is done, how did it go?

“I was anticipating more issues,” said Jason Bunting, baseball coach at Greece Athena and the Section V coordinator. “Change is never easy for some people but honestly, we had no real issues.”

Bunting is not alone, either. A survey of high school coaches in Ontario County revealed much the same sentiment. Yes, some coaching strategies changed and yes, there were some difficult stretches that tested the depth of a pitching staff. 

But by and large, everyone came through the season unscathed.

None of the area coaches we polled felt the new rule cost them any games, although several did say they had to pull pitchers from a game because of the count even though he was pitching a solid game.

The concern, of course, heading into the season with the new rule in place was management. Coaches found themselves having to coach two or three games ahead of the one they were playing to make sure they had the arms they wanted be available for the opponents they were preparing to play.

That’s nothing they haven’t done before, but the intensity of that focus became more urgent.

And to that point, if the new rule were going to adversely affect any season, 2017 was it.

Remember all that rain we had in April and May? Remember when there were legit concerns about teams being able to fit in all their scheduled games? Remember when some teams had four games in a week?

If anything is going to test the management skills of a baseball coach in the Northeast, it’s Mother Nature. So for teams to get through a weather mess like the one we had this season, and still not have much of a complaint about a rule that limits the number of pitches, it’s a solid indicator that perhaps the rule isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Bunting confirmed as much, admitting he was one of the coaches who was a bit wary of it all before the season began. But upon reflection, he said he pretty much coached the way he always has.

“I didn’t to anything differently than I have in the last 20 years,” he said. “The rule didn’t come into play at all, not once.”

Of course, Bunting and a couple of area coaches have the luxury of coaching at larger schools where the player pool offers more arms from which to choose. So what about the smaller schools? 

“No uproar,” said Bunting. “And that really surprised me.”

Area coaches at smaller schools didn’t voice many concerns, either. Outside of having to be more stringent about the actual counting and having to almost micro-manage the arms on the roster to ensure the ideal matchups for opponents, the season adapted to the new rule rather seamlessly.

So don’t expect much to change about the rule for 2018. If anything, a run-rule may be adopted that could end games after five innings when a team is leading by 10 or more runs. That could help save arms in games with lopsided scores, although area teams have been known to informally enact their own mercy rule when scores get out of hand.

So when it comes down to it, much of the concern about the new pitch-count rule should be brushed aside. It appears it’s here to stay.

Chavez is sports editor at the Daily Messenger. Contact me at rchavez@messengerpostmedia.com or follow me @MPN_bchavez