The Evolution of Softball Pitchers
The game of softball is continually changing and evolving. Technology has made its way into our sport and has left what appears to be a permanent mark. College teams are using video technology to analyze every inch of the game, from a hitter’s swing to pitching form and movement on the pitches. Video is being taught, learned, and applied by teams all across the country. The game is changing and evolving every day, and it makes you question what the sport of softball will look like in ten years.
Softball pitching today is very different than it once was in the past. Ten years ago, it was not uncommon for college teams to ride one ace pitcher throughout the majority of the season. These pitchers were able to hold their own and shut down the opposing offense through all seven innings of play. Fast forward to today, and college teams are carrying three to five pitchers of the same caliber on their staff. It is common for teams to use one pitcher to get through the order one or two times, before bringing in a second pitcher to close it out.
This rotation or pitch by committee strategy in the college game is beginning to filter down into the high school and club ball levels as well. Pitchers can’t seem to go a full seven innings anymore. Is it because they don’t have enough tools in their toolbox? Are the hitters getting too good? Is it because coaches have the technological ability to study pitchers and prepare their hitters for weeks in advance? Are coaches keeping their pitchers on too short of a leash?
Another change and challenge softball pitchers are facing is that coaches want them to focus solely on pitching. It is becoming more common for softball pitchers to not hit on their college teams. With that being said, many pitchers have the ability to contribute to both sides of the game, but the majority do not. Most pitchers at the college level will play as the Flex player, which means another player will hit for them in the batting lineup. This strategy is beginning to filter down into the high school and club ball levels as well.
Is high school and club ball too soon for softball pitchers to specialize in pitching? Most of the time, it’s a decision made by the coaches with no say from the pitcher. High school and club ball teams on average will carry two pitchers on their staff; some may even take three. When teams only have two to three pitchers, coaches may feel it will best benefit the team for the pitcher who is not throwing to sit the bench and rest. This frees up a spot in the field for another position player and the pitcher or pitchers sitting on the bench can mentally and physically prepare for the next game, or when they are called upon.
Pitcher specialization is not necessary until college, and the college coach should make that choice. Many college players pitched for their high school and club teams growing up, who were recruited to play in college as a position player and/or hitter. These pitchers won’t see any mound time in college and will fulfill a new role on the team. Some of the greatest pitchers of the past were also great fielders and hitters. It can be easy as a high school or club ball coach to fall for the stereotype that pitchers can and should only contribute to their team for their capabilities in the circle.
The role of a softball pitcher has changed and evolved over the years. If you are a softball pitcher reading this article, not all of your offensive hopes should be lost. If you can hit, you will play, and it’s important that you have open communication with your coaches on your wants, needs, and expectations. There are plenty of college softball pitchers who contribute to both sides of the game and are successful at doing both. These pitchers put in more work than anyone else, but if you want it bad enough, no amount of work is too much work.
For the coaches who are reading this article, let your pitchers earn their spot. This could mean on the mound, in the field, and up to bat. Just because they are a pitcher doesn’t mean that is the only place they belong. Also don’t be so quick to pull a struggling pitcher. It’s important to let your pitchers work through jams and not feel as though you need to save the day by sending in a reliever. Pitchers are competitive and driven to succeed by nature. This proves to be true in all elements of the game and in life. Just because the game is changing doesn’t mean you have to conform. Some of the greatest overall players our sport has ever seen have been pitchers.