Strikeouts, home runs trending up in softball



By Chandler Howard

College softball is not the defense-oriented sport it once was.

Recent national softball statistics have shown a rise in offensive numbers as well as a rise in strikeouts. Whether it be the improvement in technology or the increased strength training, one thing is certain: more pitches are either being sent out of the park or smacking into the catcher’s mitt.

Statistical archives of Division-I softball from 1999 to 2009 show a definite increase in big-hitting ability. The average number of home runs per game has jumped from .31 to .57, though the number was .61 in 2007.

Few modern statistics look similar to their 1999 counterparts. Batting average has hardly increased at all from .263 to .265. Scoring has only moved from 3.76 to 3.98 runs per game.

UK head coach Rachel Lawson, a former University of Massachusetts softball player, has witnessed many of these changes firsthand.

“Many of the fields I played at had no fences, so a home run was around 220 feet,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. “After teams began investing more money into their facilities and putting emphasis on softball, they put up 200-foot fences, which are obviously easier to hit over.

“Another big change has been the use of composite bats. That is a new technology we didn’t have when I played. We need to get a better handle on the batting technology and get those home run numbers under control. These girls are already bigger, stronger and faster.”

In sharp contrast to that, strikeouts are up as well. Through a seven-inning game in 1999, a pitcher tossed 4.45 Ks. That number has now jumped to 5.27 per game.

UK proves to be no exception to the increase of power numbers. In fact, some of its statistics are even more staggering. Though the Cats’ softball statistics are only archived since 2002, the trends are still visible.

UK hit only 20 home runs in 2002. That number has been steadily increasing recently and jumped to 39 last season. The Cats are an extreme example of the national number of home runs.

The most notable change for UK has been the number of strikeouts. UK pitchers recorded 103 in 2002, an average of 1.84 per game. Last season UK fanned 315 batters, an average of 5.53 per game. Though the rise can be attributed to UK’s talented pitchers, the number has been climbing since 2002.

“Any time Chanda Bell goes onto the field she can earn anywhere from eight to 13 or 14 strikeouts per game,” Lawson said. “Her and Amber (Matousek) have done a great job for us. But any time a pitcher can provide half of the outs like they can, it is an absolute game-changer.”