Pitchers get hit by line drives and screaming one-hoppers. Batters get hit by wild inside pitches.
The key to big improvements in pitcher/batter reaction times does not lie in extending the pitching distances. It lies in improving the player's reaction time. A 5 year old student of the martial arts can be trained to have very quick reactions from an attack coming from as little as 2' away. They react to the attack because they have had experience defending/deflecting the attack. They are experienced at it from being placed in the exact same situation hundreds of times at their practice sessions with their instructors.
A batter and pitcher can also be trained to have very quick reactions to an attack from a softball coming from 35' to 46' away. However, they are seldom put in that EXACT same situation in their practice sessions. They do not have the experience dealing with that exact situation, therefore, they do not react well, they react too late or they do not react at all.
The pitcher is the closest fielder to the batter, the closest in the line of fire. They stand directly in line with the center of the playing field. Therefore, they have the least amount of reaction time to a ball hit back at them. When the ball is hit, at that instant, the pitcher is also the only fielder that is NOT in a down, set and ready defensive posture/stance. The other fielders are already in their defensive stance, down, set and ready. The pitcher has just finished throwing the pitch and, at the moment the ball is hit, probably still has a little forward momentum/travel going on, still a little off balance and is standing up. I think it is safe to say the pitcher has everything going against them as far as defense is concerned.
These are all contributing factors to pitchers being hit. Despite these things going against them, there is one simple fact that cannot be denied; if they reacted in time, they would not have gotten hit or at least might have deflected the ball a little and not gotten hit so hard.
The key word here is REACT. You train your infielders to react to a line drive or a fast one hopper. They don't have to decide what to do; they just react and defend themselves because they have been through that exact same situation hundreds of times at practice. Drilling your pitcher while she is in a down, set and ready position, like a 3rd baseman, is good and will surely help a little. However, this is NOT a realistic game situation for a pitcher that will have to defend themselves at the very end of their pitch. How often do you have your pitchers practice receiving line drives and fast one hoppers WHILE SHE IS PITCHING? She is not going to be set and ready for one back at her when she is pitching. She is going to be forced to defend herself while she is standing up, off balance and maybe even still moving forward. More than likely she will be moving when she will have to defend herself from the ball.
I have heard numerous responses to the safety issues regarding the recent pitching distance change from 35' to 40'.
In pitching, the ball travel time is measured from the point of release (usually around 4' in front of the pitcher's rubber) to the point where it will/might be hit by the batter (usually around 1 foot in front of home plate). So, the distance that matters, the ball travel distance, is normally around 5' less than the regulation distance. This can be easily calculated if you know the ball speed and distance. The same formula is applied to calculate ball travel time from a pitch thrown to the batter, or a hit ball coming towards the pitcher (the pitcher is now 4' closer to the batter).
The batters and the pitchers at the 12under level now have an extra 5' of ball travel time to react to a wild inside pitch, a screaming line drive or one hopper coming at their body.
Let's do the math and see just how much more time they will have to react at different ball speeds.
At 30mph a ball will travel:
158,400 ft per hour (5,280 x 30)
2,640 ft per minute (158,400 divided by 60)
44 ft per second (2,640 divided by 60) At 35' (30 divided by 44) the batter has .681 seconds to react.
At 40' (35 divided by 44) they will have .795 seconds.
A difference of .114 seconds more at 40'
At 35mph, using the same equations:
51.3ft per second
At 35' - .584 seconds
At 40' - .682 seconds
A difference of .098 seconds more at 40'
58.6' per second
At 35' - .512 seconds
At 40' - .597 seconds
A difference of .077 seconds at 40'
73.3' per second
At 35' - .409 seconds
At 40' - .477 seconds
A difference of .068 seconds
At 60mph 88.0' per second
At 35' - .341 seconds
At 40' - .397 seconds
A difference of .056 seconds at 40'
At 70mph 102.7 ft per second
At 35' - .292 seconds
At 40' - .341 seconds
A difference of .049 seconds at 40' --------------------------------------
I am going to carry this out to 80mph.
I have seen girls that have just turned 13, have a bat swing speed of75mph.
117.3 ' per second
At 35' - .256 seconds
At 40' - .298 seconds.
A difference of .042 seconds at 40'
So, a ball coming at a pitcher/batter, between 30mph and 80mph, will have an additional .042 seconds to .114 seconds with the extra 5' of ball travel time. If the thought of that extra 5' made you feel very comfortable for your pitcher's/batter's safety, I hope you realize how little added time it actually gives them.
Anything that gives even THAT slight amount of extra time WILL help and prevent some injuries. The ASA has done about all it could do to help make the game safer and still keep the game as nearly the same as it was. I applaud them for that but it is only the first and a very small step towards a noticeable improvement/reduction in these types of injuries.
If you think moving the pitching distance back 5' will make a tremendous amount of difference for a pitcher/batter that does not react well now, it probably won't. The ones that get hit the hardest and hurt the worst are not the ones that did not have time to react, that is not the case. They are the players that failed to react AT ALL!
I see coaches practice their pitcher's defense skills by hitting line drives to them while the pitcher is in a down, set and ready position, like they were playing 3rd base. That is good and it helps but it is not nearly enough. The fact remains that this is NOT a realistic game situation for a pitcher that has to react in self-defense of a hard hit ball.
A pitcher must be trained to react to a hit ball at the end of their pitch, while they are off balance and standing, just like when the balls are hit back to them in a real game. If a coach thinks training their pitchers to defend themselves, like they were a 3rd baseman, is doing everything they can to help prevent injuries, they are sadly mistaken. The overwhelming vast majority of the responsibility to keep pitchers safe falls onto the shoulders of the parents, coaches and instructors of softball players, exactly where it was before any pitching distance rule changes were made.
You cannot point at a rule, rulebook or any softball organization and simply say; "You must make it safe for my pitcher to play the game". If you do not do everything to teach the player to react to the self-defense situation they will encounter during the game, you have yourself to blame.
FORCE THEM TO REACT AT PRACTICE AND THEY WILL REACT IN THE GAME. You must change their response from a decision to a reaction. The worst hit players I have seen are the ones that do not react at all. Their eyes open up real wide, their mouth drops open, then they get their nose broken, having never made an effort to defend themselves or get out of the way. I urge all coaches to make sure you practice your pitcher's/batter's self-defense EXACTLY like they will have to defend themselves during a game.
Here are a few ideas to help train your pitcher in a realistic self-defense game situation.
1. Have them pitch at practice, have them pitch the ball to their catcher. Stand just outside the batter's box and fire a woofle ball back at them with a tennis racquet, just as fast as a hit ball would be and at the same exact time it would be hit by the batter. Make it a random thing, just like the game. Don't fire one back with every pitch. Instead, make it a surprise attack just like the game. Chest, waist, knees and one-hoppers. Swing the racquet sidearm so the ball comes back from the same level as a hit ball would come.
2. Stand about ten feet in front and just to the side of the pitcher and throw a woofle ball back at them sidearm to duplicate the same thing. Again, make this random.
3. Set up a pitching machine just to the outside of the batter's box, one that can fire woofle balls. Do the exact same thing. Leave the lock downs loose for the left/right and up/down adjustments so you can fire them at their chest, waist, knees, one hoppers etc.
4. This drill will not exactly duplicate the game situation but it is great for developing hand to eye coordination for pitchers that must defend themselves while they are in motion. Have your pitcher doing a jogging motion on a single person trampoline. Fire the woofle balls at them as they are jogging and in motion. Make them defend themselves while they are moving, just like they will have to do in a real game situation. (This is also a great drill for ALL the infielders to help develop quick eyes and hands for defense AND self-defense.)
The numbers above are the exact same amounts of time a batter has to react to a wild inside pitch coming at them at the same speeds. Now, for the batters, here is what I do to prepare them for wild inside pitches during the game.
When I throw batting practice, I throw from a bucket of balls. The bucket is to my side, sitting on a chair. Mixed in with the softballs are 2 softball-sized woofle balls. When I grab another ball I secret it into my glove so the batter does not know what type of ball is coming. At random, I will pull out a woofle ball and intentionally throw right at the batter. I make it a big surprise and I force them to react and deal with the self-defense situation. I place them in the exact same situation they will face in the game.
I do this as a test to make sure they react as taught and to make sure they react PERIOD. I also do it to give them experience dealing with a wild inside pitch. I urge every parent/coach/instructor to duplicate the exact same self-defense situations, in practice, that their players will encounter when it happens in their games. You might be very surprised at how badly some of your players react. You might get very worried to see how many of your players do not react AT ALL.
Experience dealing with the exact same self-defense situation in practice is the ONLY thing that will give the player the experience necessary to develop the quick and appropriate self-defense reactions needed when it happens in the game. Teaching the players to react is the ONLY answer for a big reduction in these types of injuries.
Although the numbers above illustrate the 12under distances and times, the same training can be applied to every level of play.