Pitchers have been dominant in the title games for the Little League regional championships.
In the seven title games in the U.S. so far, five teams have won with shutouts. Not just any old shutout, either. Dominant shutouts, with devastating pitching. Pitchers have regularly clocked near 80 miles and hour and displayed hard curveballs.
Remember, withy the smaller fields used for Little League -- the bases are 60 feet apart, compared with 90 feet for regulation fields; pitching mounds are 46 feet from the plate, compared with 60 feet, six inches on standard fields -- hitters have much less time to react. An 80-.m.p.h. pitch gives a Little League batter as much/little time to react as a 104-m.p.h. pitch gives a major league batter.
In his prime, Nolan Ryan occasionally hit over 100 m.p.h. Billy Wagner of the Mets sometimes hits 100, when he's really smoking.
Every year, a handful of power pitchers dominate the Little League World Series. Last year, the star of the Early Show was Kalen Pimentel, the California ace who struck out all 18 batters he faced in the team's opener against Kentucky. Other dominant pitchers included Alaka'i Aglipay and Vonn Fe'ao of Hawaii, Dante Bichette Jr., of Florida, Trae Santos of Guam, Takuya Sakamoto and Yusuke Taira of Japan, Jace Conrad (Louisiana), Sorick Liberia and Jurickson Profar of Curacao, and Keith Terry of Pennsylvania.
But this year, the pitchers might be even more dominant. Starting this year, Little League changed the cutoff date for eligibility in this tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds. From 1947 through 2005, players who were 12 on July 31 were eligible for LLWS competition. This year, players who were 12 on April 30 are eligible to play.
That means that there are going to be a lot more 13-year-olds in the tournament. Older pitchers probably have the advantage over older hitters.
Just by looking at the final regional championship games with shutouts, we can start to look for the dominant players in this year's Little League World Series.
Pitchers and hitters face a new challenge in the LLWS this year. Little League pushed the fences back 20 feet -- from 205 to 225. Balls hit for home runs last year could be fly balls this year. That creates an incentive for pitchers to let the hitters put the bat on the ball. If they can get hitters to put more balls in play, the best pitchers can keep their pitch counts low -- and be available to help their teams with a few extra innings.
The question is: Will the pitchers and their managers have the gumption to get away from the power game? Or will they want to keep smoking the ball past hitters?
A region-by-region rundown of the title game shootouts shows some of the pitchers to watch in the 60th Little League World Series:
SOUTHWEST -- South Lake Charles (Louisiana) 1, D'lberville (Mississippi) 0. Nick Zaunbrecher struck out eight batters to bring a Cajun team to Williamsport for the second straight year.
NEW ENGLAND -- Portsmouth (New Hampshire) 3, Glastonbury (Connecticut), 0. Jordan Bean struck out 13 batters and allowed only three hits en route to the win.
MIDWEST -- Columbia (Missouri) 2, Davis County (Iowa) 0. Ryan Phillips struck out 14 hitters, at one point fanning eight straight batters, in his second dominant game against Iowa. In their first meeting, Phillips pitched a five-inning no hitter.
SOUTHEAST -- Columbus (Georgia) 5, Dunedin (Florida) 0. Kyle Carter struck out 14 batters in his five-hit shutout.
GREAT LAKES -- Lemont (Illinois) 3, New Castle (Indiana) 0. David Hearne fanned 11 batters and allowed just two hits.