Monday, August 14, 2006

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With only one berth in the Little League World Series left to be settled -- Staten Island, N.Y., plays Livingston, N.J., tonight for the Mid-Atlantic regional championship -- one fact stares out from the qualifying tournaments so far.

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.

5 Comments:

Blogger Section1Guy said...

Don't go by what the guns on ESPN say...they're always jacked up or not working properly.

The Carter kid does NOT throw 81 mph. Florida not only had 5 hits, they had some solid hits. That's not happening against 81 mph. That gun was full of crap.

In the Bristol region, they had Bean from NH throwing 71 which is correct for him (we gunned him personally) but his curveball was registering at 71 also. So the ESPN guns are obviously fooled around with or malfunctioning.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Charles,

Continually excellent coverage here. Thanks.

You make a great point about the pitching performances in many of the regional title games. But what I'm struck by is the volume of home runs that have been hit in the regionals. Haven't done any comparison with previous years, but it seems to me that there are many more hit this year. Perhaps it's because of the older (13 year old) kids playing this year with the age change?

I've been tracking the Mid-Atlantic region because that's where my local league team was playing, and I counted roughly 32 homers hit by 21 different players up to tonight's final game (NY and NJ). Zero hit by our team, unfortunately. To me the homers are the biggest story of the tournament. Now I'll be wondering if we should be practicing home run derby more often!

1:08 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

We lost in Semi-finals of the Southeast, I saw Kyle Carter pitch. The radar on ESPN said 81 but his coach said he has been clocked at 76. That is pretty darn fast and splitting hairs. I wish LL would BAN curve balls and limit pitch count so that the teams would not overuse dominant pitchers. Let the kids hit the ball since the fence is moving back to 225ft. I do think the power of hitters and pitchers is up this year due to the age change, because we had 5 returning players that were big boys! What bothers me the most, is that some regions are weaker than others and yet only one can go to Williamsport. I bet the top 3 teams in Southeast could beat some of the 16 teams in Williamsport. Can you imagine limiting basketball to 16 teams instead of 64 starting. No, it is not sour grapes, but I know that some of the teams going to Williamsport lost at least one game like we did but we are watching at home now! Disappointed in North Carolina

3:31 PM  
Blogger Charlie Euchner said...

In a later blog, I'm going to talk about the next logical step for Little League -- and all youth baseball -- which is to have a two-track system. Let the bigger and better kids play on bigger fields, and let the less intense players play on 60-foot bases. Along with this change has to be a reevaluation of the 20,000 population catchment area for leagues and all-star teams. And, finally, we need to do somethign to give the games back to the kids. More in a few days . . .

5:06 PM  
Blogger Section1Guy said...

I didn't think there was an array of homeruns in Bristol at all. It's the same every single year. People are buying into this 13 year old thing.

Teams were not better, the kids weren't bigger. It certainly didn't help Cap City LL.

As for 76 and 81...topping at 76 is a major difference from throwing 76 mph.

The ace from Maryland through 74-75 and topped at 78 this week up in Bristol. He was the best pitcher I've seen up there in 5 years. He was basically untouchable.

Carter is around 72-74 probably which is incredible, but he did give up 5 hits, which doesnt happen when you are throwing 76-81.

10:07 PM  

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