Softball teams still feeling out added pitching distance

A short distance adjustment could go a long way toward making fast-pitch softball more exciting.

At least that's what the sport's national governing board was hoping when it decided this season to move the pitcher's plate back three feet.

The rule change, which the organization said it made to "create better balance between the offense and defense" has drawn praise from both hitters and — surprisingly — pitchers.

It's easy to see the benefit for hitters.

"You have more time to see the ball and figure out just what pitch it is coming at you," said junior Cassidy Taylor, who led Lafayette in home runs last season, while hitting .398.

More time to see the ball is pivotal in a sport where split seconds can mean the difference between a home run over the fence in center field and a called third strike.

Lexington Catholic Coach Bob Griggs said he's seen a definite difference in hitting this season, his 17th coaching softball.

"One yard doesn't seem that much longer, but it does seem to make a difference," Griggs said. "Just in my experience, I've seen less strikeouts. ... You get more hitting in the game, which makes it more exciting for the fans. It keeps you from having too many dominant pitchers."

The new distance was tested in Florida the past four seasons and in Oregon last season.

Coaches there were supportive of the change, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations softball rules committee.

"Game statistics gathered from experimentation show that nearly every offensive statistic had a slight increase," the group said in its release announcing the change, which it said was debated for more than a decade. "Based on these statistics, the new pitching distance appears to create better balance between the offense and defense."

Even before it was implemented, the change was seen as mostly positive by coaches in Kentucky, said Darren Bilberry, an assistant commissioner overseeing softball for the KHSAA.

"This was all about making the pitchers less dominant and making (the sport) more team oriented, creating more offense and making the game more exciting," he said.

At this point in the season, Kentucky has no way to see if the added distance has added up to more offense or fewer strikeouts.

The KHSAA doesn't keep that kind of statistical data during the regular season.

Most teams do keep that information and the ones that advance to the state softball tournament are required to provide it.

At that point, comparisons with past seasons will be easier.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there may be a slight increase in offense this season, at least in the 11th Region, where the Lexington teams are located.

Four weeks into last season, there were 5.20 runs a game on average.

This season, there have been 1,154 runs scored in 200 games, which comes to 5.77 runs a game.

The pitcher's perspective

It seems like the state's pitchers would be stomping on their newly relocated pitchers' plate in protest of any rule designed to make them less effective.

But that isn't necessarily the case. Just ask Taylor, who not only is a top hitter for the No. 11 Generals, but also a top pitcher.

She said once she got over the mental hurdle of the added distance, she saw the benefits of it, especially when hurling off-speed pitches.

"It gives the ball more time to break," she said. "Before, it had to be a fast break or it didn't break at all. I'm able to put a lot more movement on my (pitches) this year."

Vernon Bibb, director of Louisville's Blue Chip FastPitch and a pitching instructor for more than 35 years, said he was happy to see the new rule.

It will give pitchers more time to get accustomed to the distance that they will see at the college level, he said.

It also will keep the game from being dominated by girls who throw mainly fastballs.

But even that was changing, he noted.

"In the older days — back five, six, seven years ago — you could throw a 62 mph fastball and beat just about anybody you play," he said. "These days, a 62 mph fastball for these hitters looks like a piece of meat to a hungry wolf."

The new distance will be great, especially for pitchers with more than one pitch in their arsenal.

"It benefits a pitcher, not a thrower, but a pitcher," Bibb said. "There's a major difference. ... You get a lot more break on the ball and it's tougher for hitters to hit that."