York Revolution fans, on Tuesday, will witness a change more than a century in the making
- The Atlantic League has moved back the pitching mound to 61 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
- The first game at PeoplesBank Park with the new distance is Tuesday.
- The change is being tried in an attempt to produce more scoring.
Since 1893, the professional pitching mound could be found in the same place — 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
Tuesday night, the York Revolution fans at PeoplesBank Park will get to witness a change.
As part of the Atlantic League's partnership with Major League Baseball, the Revs and the other seven teams in the Atlantic League have agreed to play the second half of the season with the pitching mound 12 inches farther from home plate — at 61 feet, 6 inches.
The change went into effect in the Atlantic League last Wednesday, but the Revs' game Tuesday night against Lancaster will be the first game in York since the change was made.
The Atlantic League has tested several potential rules experiments for MLB since 2019, most notably the automated ball-strike system (perhaps better known as the robot umpire) that allows software to determine which pitches are called balls or strikes.
The goal of the mound change is to increase the amount of balls put in play by hitters. MLB says the change would result in the 2020 major-league average fastball of 93.3 mph becoming the equivalent of a 91.6 mph pitch to a hitter, which should give batters a better chance to make contact.
“They know that fans want to see the ball put in play more and they think that giving a batter a half second longer to look at a pitch might improve his chances of putting that ball in play,” York Revolution director of communications Doug Eppler said. “The flip side to that, if you're a pitcher that's got a lot of motion on your pitch, now you've got 12 extra inches to trick somebody with that motion. I think there are definitely a lot of positives to the change, particularly if it has the effect they want. If this is going to make the game more exciting for fans that just adds to the durability of the product, which is obviously everybody's primary concern.”
Like what you're reading?:Not a subscriber? Click here for full access to The York Dispatch.
Mound unlikely to move again anytime soon: Unless the rule is changed before the start of the 2022 season, the mound won’t be moving again at PeoplesBank Park.
Eppler said any leagues that rent the field for tournaments or events will be alerted that the mound is farther from the plate than any field they've played on previously.
The main reason for that decision is because of the involved process for moving the mound. Chris Carbaugh, the Revs' director of grounds and field operations, and his crew, put in a lot of work to move the mound, while also achieving the exact slope needed. Additionally, the ABS system needed to be recalibrated to ensure that the ball-strike system works correctly.
Carbaugh added that the grounds crew made changes to the mound and grass around that area, but there are more adjustments they can make if the leagues agree that the change will become permanent next season.
Injury concerns: This is the second time the Atlantic League has been involved with possibly moving the mound. In 2019, along with the ABS system, the mound was supposed to be moved back two feet. Pitchers were upset with the announcement and it was never implemented.
A 2019 study by the American Sports Medicine Institute found that from 60 feet, 6 inches, 62 feet, 6 inches and 63 feet, 8 inches there was no increased risk of injury for the college pitchers used in the experiment.
Eppler said the decrease in distance between the 2019 and 2021 versions of the change was less about appeasing the pitchers' concerns and more about making the slightest adjustment to receive the desired result.
“I think MLB probably didn't want to go any farther than they absolutely had to and I think upon further reflection, they said: ‘We don't need the full 24 inches, we can achieve similar results with 12,’” Eppler said. “Maybe that does sound a little more reassuring to pitchers than 24 inches, but I think obviously the goal was to make the minimal change for the maximum improvement or the maximum benefit of the sport.”
Nicely had strong effort from new distance: Eppler added that most Atlantic League teams have moved their bullpen mounds to 61 feet, 6 inches for some time now and that has allowed pitchers to adjust slowly to the new distance. He added that when the rule went into effect in Lancaster last week, Eppler was on hand to see York starting pitcher Austin Nicely have a strong performance.
Nicely went eight innings, allowed just one unearned run and struck out four batters. It was the furthest into a game Nicely had pitched all season and Eppler said he reported no issues after his first start with the new mound distance.
“Twelve inches sounds like a lot because it's the first major change in a long time, but on the other hand, it's only 12 inches,” Eppler said. “Given where a catcher will line up behind the plate, it might not be making any difference at all to a pitcher and his results. I think the fact that so far, we haven't heard any pitchers saying this is too radical and it's altered my game or it's hurting my performance, I think no news is good news.”
Reach Rob Rose at email@example.com.