Pitcher’s Reaction Time

Anyone reading this knows that Pitchers DO NOT have enough time to react to a well hit batted ball in Modified. How much time do they have? In this section I will define the actual reaction time for a ball hit at the “presumed” 98 MPH limit. Obviously, batted ball exit speeds will vary. There are several variables that will either increase or decrease the Batted Ball Exit Speed and subsequent reaction time:

  • Type and condition of ball
  • Speed of the Pitch
  • Swing Speed
  • Bat
  • Does the batter make solid contact
  • Does the batter hit the ball in the “sweet spot” of the bat
  • Air resistance*
  • Others

*Air resistance will slow the ball up as it travels (deceleration). The documented amount of deceleration (pitchers distance) is about 9%.

HISTORY:

USSSA and ASA have stated that a safe amount of time for a player to react to a batted ball = .42 seconds.

As bats became hotter and hotter, ASA realized something had to be done. They started to test the batted ball exit speed at the Sports Science Laboratory (SSL) at Washington State University.

SSL would shoot a 375/44 ball through an air canon at a pre determined speed towards a stationary bat, and measure the resulting exit speed. The decision was made that bats should allow a max batted ball exit speed of 98 MPH.

I knew something was not right despite the bat restrictions. So, I contacted the Sports Science Lab at WSU and talked to Jeff Kensrud. I asked him the speed they used for the ball though the air canon. The answer…110 MPH.

Next question…. I asked was how they came up with 110 MPH. The answer was, since the bat is stationary in their test, they use the average combined pitch speed plus swing speed. The average pitch speed (55 MPH) + average swing speed (65 MPH) = 110 MPH

Next question…..who did you use to come up those numbers? NCAA women was the answer.

I asked another follow up question. Did you do any testing with men? The answer was yes but the combined pitch speed and swing was still 110 MPH.

I asked how was that possible? Men should have a faster swing speed than 65 MPH? The answer, “Pitch speed 25 MPH + swing speed of 85 MPH = 110 MPH”. They simulated Men’s Slow Pitch. He had never heard of Modified.

I then calculated, that one would need to be 55 feet away from the batted ball with an exit speed of 98 MPH (9 % deceleration) to have .42 seconds reaction time.

THE PUZZLE WAS COMING TOGETHER. NO TESTING WAS DONE FOR MODIFIED. WHAT IS THE SITUATION TODAY?

In 2013, ASA, in order to compete with USSSA, reduced the velocity of the ball through the air canon from 110 to 105 MPH. Thus allowing the Bats to have more “pop” yet still not produce a batted ball exit speed greater than 98 MPH in the laboratory. This was done so the ASA could better compete with USSSA. These newer bats were initially only for Slow Pitch and were banned in Modified. But starting in 2014 they were allowed in Modified. This means “Approved” bats are allowed to produce batted ball exits speeds of 98 MPH in the Lab with a combined Pitch Speed and swing speed of only 105 MPH. Anyone who knows the game of Modified probably knows a few guys who can swing over 100 MPH. Add in the pitch speed and you can see why we have an issue.

I spoke and wrote to ASA officials, but I could not get ASA or anyone to do any testing for Modified. “Perhaps in the future”, I was told. So I took it upon myself to do some of my own testing.

STEP 1 – DETERMINING MODIFIED PITCH AND SWING SPEED:

I used a radar gun to measure 10 Man Modified pitching speed (non-sling). The fastest I recorded was 58 MPH (at the plate). Range of 38 – 58 MPH, average was 45 MPH (at the plate – the point of impact). I also tested Men and their swing speed. Range 65 – 105, average 85 MPH. Therefore if you use these results, the speed of the ball through the air canon testing at the Sports Science Lab should be increased from 105 MPH to at least 130 MPH (24 percent increase). Does this result in an 24% increase in batted ball exit speed? No, according to Dr Russell at Penn State. Formal testing would have to be done to determine that information. But suffice it to say, the batted ball exit speed would be over 98 MPH. 

STEP 2 – HOW FAR AWAY IS A PITCHER IN MODIFIED FROM A BATTED BALL?

This can be determined within a foot or so. The distance from the front of the rubber to the back of Home plate is 46 feet. Lets assume the batter is straddling home plate. A batted ball hit up the middle will be struck about 6 – 8 inches in front of the plate. Therefore, the pitcher starts 44 feet away from a batted ball. But what about the pitchers stride? Unlike slow pitch where the pitcher has time to actually move back a step or two, in Modified, there is no time to step back.  The average stride is 5 feet towards home plate.

The pitcher is approximately 39 feet away from a batted ball in Men’s Modified.

STEP 3 – CALCULATE HOW MUCH TIME A PITCHER HAS AT 39 FEET WITH A BATTED BALL EXIT SPEED OF 98 MPH?  

(the newer bats and faster swing speeds of men would produce greater batted ball exit speeds and less reaction time than depicted below – so the results below are conservative).

  • With no deceleration in batted ball speed……………     .271 seconds (35.5% less than the .42 seconds)
  • With 9% deceleration in batted ball speed………..      .298 seconds (29% less than the .42 seconds)

STEP 4 – WHAT BATTED BALL SPEED WOULD GIVE A PITCHER .42 SECONDS TO REACT AT A DISTANCE OF 39 FEET?

  • With no deceleration in batted ball speed……………     63 MPH
  • With 9% deceleration in batted ball speed………..      69.5 MPH

STEP 5 – IF INTERESTED IN ADDRESSING THIS SITUATION, WHAT CAN BE DONE?

As a league or a tournament, you need to decide what your goal is? This is not an easy task. Hitters love the hardest ball and hottest bats. For every pitcher there is at least 10 hitters. So is the Goal:

  1. Continue offense as is
  2. Reduce Offense and increase Defense
  3. Safety
  4. Combination of 2 and 3

If the answer is #1 – keeping the offense as is, then do nothing.

If you want to increase the safety aspect and/or reduce the offense and bring up the defensive element, you have a few options as shown below (not in rank order).

  1. Use a softer ball such as the Clincher F12 or Clincher Gold F12G.
  2. Limit the bats to single wall one piece aluminum
  3. Go to wood bats only
  4. Have the league provide the bats for each game
  5. Perform Bat Testing via Compression Tester
  6. Go to the .5 BBCOR (- 3 drop) NCAA Baseball bats (yes you heard me right) Try one!!
  7. Combination of a ball change and a bat change.
  8. Have pitchers and infielders use protective equipment

If you want my opinions on the effectiveness of the above options, feel free to contact me. 

Sal Guerriero

sal@10manmodified.com