Prior to the 2007 baseball season, Little League Baseball made one of the most significant and fundamental changes to its rules in history when it adopted the pitch count criteria for determining pitchers' eligibility.
Before 2007, pitching regulations in Little League, and amateur baseball in general, limited players in the number of innings pitched, but not in the number of pitches thrown. It was not uncommon to see 11 or 12 year-old players throw in excess of 100 pitches in a game while still maintaining their eligibility to pitch based on an innings requirement.
Research studies showed overwhelming evidence that arm injuries occurred in young players when they continued to pitch after fatigue set in. Thus, Little League Baseball did away with its traditional six innings per week maximum requirement and now bases whether or not a player is allowed to pitch on the number of pitches thrown in the previous game.
How Pitch Counts Work
In the first season under the new rule, pitchers were solely prohibited from exceeding a maximum number of pitches thrown in one game, provided they had met specific rest requirements of up to three days before taking the mound again.
However, this meant a pitcher could conceivably throw 85 pitches on a Tuesday, then throw 85 again on a Saturday, and come back and throw 85 more the following Wednesday, or 255 pitches in an eight-day span. Therefore, in 2008, Little League reviewed its initial guidelines and decided, in the interest of safety, to make the rules even more stringent. Thus, now 11-12 year-old pitchers who throw more than 40 pitches in a game must not only observe at least two days rest, but may not pitch in the next game their team plays, regardless of the length of the rest period.
Now the home team, in addition to being responsible for keeping the official book for the game, as though that's not enough to manage, must also keep the official pitch-count. From experience, it takes a lot of concentration to keep an accurate pitch-count by itself, separate from the book, so a good recommendation is to have someone else, rather than the main book person do this task. One pitch can make a huge difference in the eligibility of a pitcher for future games so it's very important errors are avoided.
Several methods are used to track pitches thrown at the local level. Little League has provided downloadable sheets that volunteers can use to notate each pitch thrown during a game. Many coaches use manual tally counters to keep tabs on their pitcher.
Another device available is a wristwatch that doubles as a digital pitch-counter (www.pitchcountwatch.com) and allows coaches to track their player's pitches as well as their opponent's, which is also the responsibility of the home team. This device also beeps at you when you reach the critical 20 or 40 pitches, which is a nice feature. Of course there's also a modification to the typical scorebook, but most would agree that there's so much going on, when scoring a game that trying to track more data could be problematic.
What's New for 2008
Two more important rule changes in 2008 were introduced in support of the pitch-count. First, it's common to see in the early years that pitchers tend to also be good catchers, the result being that after a pitcher has thrown a lot of pitches, they'd end up moving to the catching position, possibly requiring many more throws to be made on a tired arm. The rule allows catchers to become a pitcher but not visa versa.
Second, until now, when a coach decided to walk a batter, they simply told the umpire that he wanted to walk the batter and the batter was sent to first, without any pitches being thrown, that would count toward the cumulative pitch-count. Now, when a batter is intentionally walked, the pitcher must throw 4 balls before the batter takes first base. These rules may have been difficult for coaches and managers to deal with in the first year, however, in the long run it will result in more pitchers and catchers being developed - also a good thing.
Little League Baseball prides itself in being a pioneer of safety innovations. Making a change to one of the most deep-seated and long-standing rules in its existence was likely a formidable undertaking. But in this case, in the interest of safety, and after further review, they got it right.