The change in pitching rule 10.2.1.2 for the 2020-2021 Rule Book (stride foot not being able to step back once it is initially set) has ramifications for rule 10.11 – Discontinuing a Pitch/Stepping off the Pitcher’s Plate. The wording in the current rules make it technically impossible to properly discontinue a pitch. (Note: all references in this article to “plate” are for the pitcher’s plate.)
Let’s take it one step at a time (no pun intended):
• The current rules 10.3 and 10.11.1 state that the pitch officially begins and cannot be legallyl discontinued once the hands have separated after coming together.
• Rule 10.2.1.2 states that once the pitcher initially sets the toe of her stride foot, she may not step back any farther to increase the distance behind the plate.
• Rule 10.5.1 states that the pitcher must take only one step/stride forward toward home plate with her stride foot during the step/stride phase of the pitch
• Rule 10.5.3 states that the pivot foot must stay in contact with the plate during the step/stride
• Rule 10.11.2 states that in order to legally remove herself from the pitching position, the pitcher must step backward off the plate.
• The Effect for violating any of the rules above – illegal pitch.
The two possible scenarios for the pitcher’s feet to be legally in the pitching position are:
1 Pivot foot in contact with plate and stride foot on the plate (“in contact” with the plate is interpreted as on the plate)
2 Pivot foot in contact with plate and stride foot behind the plate
In scenario 1, it is an illegal pitch if the pitcher steps backward with either foot before she separates her hands. In scenario 2, it is an illegal pitch if her pivot foot loses contact with the plate or the stride foot moves back before the hands separate. So, by rule is seems to be technically impossible to properly discontinue a pitch.
We have contacted both Vickie Van Kleeck (NCAA Softball Rules Editor) and Craig Hyde (NCAA National Coordinator for Softball Umpires) regarding this situation; and we have submitted a Rule Proposal to either change the wording of the rules or create a Case Book play to clarify this.
In the meantime, Craig has offered this guidance:
Umpires must adjust our timing for calling the illegal pitch. If the hands have not yet come together, we should wait to see if the hands do come together at that time.
• If the hands come together, it is as an indication that the pitcher will be starting her windup phase, then we call an illegal pitch.
• If the hands do not come together and the pitcher gives any indication that she wants to discontinue the pitch, we should step from behind the plate and call “dead ball” or “time.” She has indicated to us, by her actions, that she wants to legally discontinue the pitch
If the hands are together when the pitcher makes any movement, wait because the pitcher might be trying to discontinue the pitch when she moves the stride foot back.
• If this action is immediately followed by the pitcher removing her pivot foot from the plate and/or doing anything else to indicate she is discontinuing the pitch (e.g. holding up her hands to indicate to the umpire she wants time-out), then we should step from behind the plate and call “dead ball” or “time.” She has indicated to us, by her actions, that she wants to legally discontinue the pitch.
• If she steps back with her stride foot and continues the pitch – then it is illegal. The umpire should signal and verbal when she separates her hands and continues the pitch.
Basically, if the pitcher wants to legally discontinue the pitch, she will still need to step back with either the stride or pivot foot before separating her hands.