We Have A Problem!

All of you know, I love hitting! I have spent a lot of time teaching, coaching and studying the craft. Over the course of a very long career in and around college softball I have had the opportunity to see many of the greatest hitters this sport has ever seen. It’s been my “pleasure” to coach against Jessica Mendoza, Stacey Nuveman, Veronica Nelson, and Kellie Kretschman. In recent years I have watched Jocelyn Alo lay claim to the title of the greatest hitter ever. So you know I love hitting!!

Which is why it pains me to tell you that I think we have a serious problem in the college game right now. That problem is a strike zone/umpire/television rating “conspiracy” that over the last 10 or 12 years has continually put the pitchers at a real disadvantage. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we need to go back to my early days of coaching when every game seemed to be 1 – 0 in extra innings but what we have going on now is crazy!

I am not saying this is only an umpire problem because, even though umpires keep telling me there was no directive from the higher ups to shrink the strike zone, I believe there has been a push to increase the offense. Whether that was a formal directive or just a suggestion or even just implied, no one can tell me that umpires really want to work 30 run games where they are the center of the discussion like we are having here. So the idea that rule book strike zone gets to be ignored so the an umpire can create their own, as long as it’s consistent zone, is going to have to do some real convincing if they want me to buy it.

To be perfectly clear, I do think the vast majority of the umpires I see are very consistent. I hate hearing so many people argue that as long as the umpire is consistent then it is up to the pitcher to adjust. Yes, consistency is very important but why can’t we call the real (rule book) strike zone consistently and then ask the hitters to adjust to it as well. What we have now is a system where the scales have tilted very heavily in favor of the hitters and it’s not good for the game.

Yes, there is a strike zone in the rule book. I know it seems kind of quaint to talk about it now because it hasn’t really been enforced for many years but that rule book strike zone includes an area above the belt. It also includes the corners of the plate when it talks about any part of the ball over any part of the plate. Next time you see the rule book strike zone enforced in a college game please let me know. And why is that so important? When a great hitter with all the advantages I list later gets to hit with a smaller strike zone their job just got a whole lot easier.

And I am very frustrated that no one seems to want to talk about it. It’s Saturday February 17th, so 10 days into the 2024 season and I just got done watching Georgia defeat Florida State by a score of 20-10. Watching this game prompted me to do a quick scan of the scores on ESPN for the first two weekends and I found the following: UGA 20 – Florida State 10, UCF 21 – Wisconsin 9, LSU 13 – Northwestern 12, UCLA 14 – Florida State 10, Northwestern 19 – GA Tech 6, Minnesota 12 – GA Tech 11, Kentucky 12 – North Carolina 10, Missouri 20 – Liberty 2, Stanford 15 – GA Tech 7 and LSU 12 – GA Tech 8. And those are just the games with 20 or more runs being scored. That’s not taking into account the usual mismatch scenarios we often see where one great team scores a bunch of runs in a game like Texas defeating San Diego by a combined score of 35 – 1 in two games. Or the random occurrence where a team you know has good pitchers just has a bad day like when Texas beats UCLA 16 – 0.

So why is this a problem, you ask? You said you love hitting! Well, I also love pitchers and we have created a situation now where schools that we all know are really good with proven track records of high level success. That all have really talented pitchers. That have well established, in some cases Hall of Fame pitching genius coaches, have almost no chance to be successful. Are we suggesting that UCLA, Northwestern and Florida State have suddenly lost their ability to coach pitching and that none of the pitchers they recruited are as good now as they were when they were the top prospects coming into college? I’m pretty sure we all know the answer to that.

So I have heard all the explanations over and over about why this is happening. Yes, hitters are bigger and stronger. There is more technology to help hitters prepare better for the elite pitchers they see. Coaching of hitters has become a very high priority and schools are investing tremendously to give their hitters an edge. Yes, the equipment is really good and a hitter can miss hit a ball slightly and still hit it pretty darn hard. And, yes, offense sells tickets and rating points which is what really drives this discussion.

Why would you want to be a pitcher in todays game when you are increasingly dealt a hand where you can not be successful? You already know we don’t have enough pitchers to support all the travel teams we have playing. Why would anyone sign up for all the work it takes to be a great pitcher when it’s clearly more fun to be a hitter these days?

That is a problem!

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?