Flashback to 2010. The average fastball at the MLB level was 91.6 MPH and the ball was put into play very often. But now, 10 years later, fastballs are faster than they have ever been, averaging 93.3 MPH, almost 2 full clicks higher than a decade ago. This change has resulted in a game that only has the ball put in play every 4 minutes which, in part, makes for an uneventful viewing experience. To counter this, the MLB is experimenting on moving the mound back one foot. If this comes to fruition, how will this affect the mound at the youth level?
At the MLB level, the three true outcomes are rising at a truly astonishing rate. In 2021, the Three True Outcomes Percentage (TTO%) is 36.7%, up by 7.5% from 2011. As a quick refresher, the three true outcomes are plays that do not include the fielders to try and make an out. These are walks, strikeouts, and home runs. The reason for the worry is that games with such little action are, frankly, boring to watch — and the root cause for this is the increase in pitcher velocities.
Mixed with tunnelling — where a fastball and offspeed pitch come out of the same slot — the high fastball has become overpowered in today’s brand of baseball. With the fad of launch angle, hitters are swinging upward more than ever before trying to lift the ball in the air where they can hit the gaps or clear the wall. This is a response to the added difficulty of hitting as batters would rather take their chances on hitting one big fly instead of the difficult task of stringing together a series of singles before three outs are recorded. This negative feedback loop should in theory cause the TTO% to continue to rise, so the MLB is looking at righting the course.
In the experimental Atlantic League, the MLB is going to move back the pitcher’s rubber by one foot to see the results of the batters. This will only occur in the second half of the season so they can compare the data for in-game performance as well as for injuries. However, the MLB biomechanics correspondents concluded that in their tests, there was no additional arm strain from moving the mound. If all goes well, the new distance should change the perceived velocity of the pitch by about 1.5 MPH, giving the batters that much more time to make contact and improve offence.
So if the experiment goes well in the Atlantic League, what does this mean for the PBLO and youth leagues as a whole? Don Campbell, the President of the PBLO, said that he was not sure about moving the mound at this time but would look into it more if it indeed came to be at the Major League level. There would be lots of differing opinions to be found about what should be done at the youth level, so Campbell said he would see what the standard would become for developing players.
While we can look at the analytics all we want — and we probably do too much — the opinions of the players mean a lot. Carson Lumley of the 18U London Badgers is a right-handed pitcher whose fastball tops at 94 MPH. “I personally don’t like the idea of moving the mound back,” Lumley said when asked about the potential change. “I think that a while ago baseball was a game where hitting over powered pitching and now we’ve been seeing pitchers dominate… I think that just like pitchers did, hitters just need to get better; it’s part of the game.”
As time goes on, there is a natural evolution of sports as sport science improves as well as training — a combination that has the ability to imbalance the game. We are at a turning point where that appears to be the case, at least at the professional level. As most youth players do not throw mid-90s fastballs, it seems that this change might be necessary only at the upper levels of the sport. It would also lessen the burden of remodeling the mound for all diamonds, a cost that I doubt most cities would be pleased about.
While we still need to wait and see what the Atlantic League experiment brings, it will be exciting to keep up to date on the findings and the discourse on how differing generations react to the drastic change. Lumley concluded with, “I don’t see why mounds should be moved back at the MLB level. However, if mounds are moved back in the mlb I think they should be in youth baseball as well.”