“Does it make sense that the ace pitcher stays in the dugout for the most important game of the tournament?”
A metropolitan high school baseball coach said this after watching the semifinal game of the 77th Golden Lion National High School Baseball Tournament and Weekend League Wangjungwang Game between Busan High and Gangneung High at Mokdong Baseball Stadium in Seoul on March 25.
Busan High was without its ace, Sung Young-tak, a junior, on the mound that day. This is because he threw more pitches (105) than the limit for one game in the round of 16 against Seadoo on March 22. According to the tournament rules, a pitcher who throws more than 91 pitches cannot take the mound for at least four days. Busan Go ended up playing the quarterfinals and semifinals without its ace. 안전놀이터
Lee was not alone. The Dong-A Ilbo baseball team surveyed 53 school leaders who participated in the Golden Lion Games. Of the 31 respondents, 20, nearly two-thirds, said that the pitch count limit should be abolished.
Of course, this doesn’t mean going back to the old days. “These days, no coach is going to have you throw 150 pitches a day like they used to,” said one metropolitan area team manager, “and even a 15- to 20-pitch increase in the current standard would give us some breathing room on the mound.”
Lee Soo-min (28, formerly of Samsung) was one of the most influential players in introducing the pitch count limit to high school baseball. As a junior at Daegu Sangwon High School, Lee threw 178 pitches in nine and two-thirds innings against North Korea in the 2013 Golden Lion Round of 16. When Lee gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly to Song Woo-hyun (27, formerly of Kiwoom) and was the losing pitcher, there was talk that it was a good thing. Lee had averaged 139 pitches in seven games that year.
The Korea Baseball Softball Association (KBSA) eventually decided to limit the maximum number of pitches in a high school baseball game to 130 in 2014. The Golden Lions were the first national tournament to adopt the rule. In 2018, they switched to the current system, which limits the maximum number of pitches to 105, with mandatory rest days based on the number of pitches thrown.
The problem is that the system is so heavily weighted toward “pitcher protection” that it doesn’t reflect reality. As one Chungcheong team manager explains, “The problem is that teams have different pitching staffs and the same rules apply to them all. In tournaments, if you lose one game, you’re out, so if you put your ace pitcher in the early games, you’ll end up with a freshman or sophomore on the mound after the semifinals.” “I would like to see the pitch count limit lifted from the semifinals, just like there are no cold games in the quarterfinals,” said another coach. “At nationals, teams that are scheduled first have plenty of rest days, while teams that are scheduled last are forced to play at a disadvantage,” said another.
High school baseball coaches also agreed that since the introduction of weekend leagues (2011), players have been forced to study during the week and play on the weekends, and have been denied the right to rest. Of the 24 coaches surveyed, 77.4% (24) said that “students today have too much academic pressure. There was also a strong sense that players were too busy to work on fundamentals. Another 77.4% said, “Today’s students have very poor fundamentals. None of the on-field coaches strongly agreed with the statement, “Private academies help players develop their skills.