The DP/Flex rule is probably one of the least understood rules in the ASA book. It loosely resembles the designated hitter rule in American League baseball, but is much more powerful from a substitution point-of-view. Full understanding of how the Designated Player, or DP, and the Flex player work together in a line up gives a Softball coach many tactical options with which to cope to a game while it changes. To know this rule, ASA Rule 4 Section3, is to love it – trust me!
Unlike the designated hitter in baseball, the DP in Softball can bat for any position player, not just the pitcher. If the DP is used, the FLEX player has to be used. The FLEX player plays defense but does not bat because the DP bats for her, and therefore the FLEX is listed as the tenth player in the lineup, as shown at right. Because the DP does not play defense, she is the tenth player on defense, so we will designate her position on the field as “F10”, as shown at right. Using the DP/FLEX, we have 10 players in the lineup.
The FLEX can substitute for the DP. In such a case, the FLEX bats in the DP’s place in the batting order but remains as a defensive player, and the DP is removed from the lineup. When this occurs, our team is down to 9 players in the lineup. The DP can re-enter once, but only in her original place in the lineup, which bumps the FLEX out of the batting lineup and back to tenth in the batting order (i.e. she does not bat). When the DP re-enters, we are back to 10 players in the lineup.
The DP can substitute for the FLEX. In this case, the DP plays in the FLEX’s defensive position, and the FLEX is removed from the lineup, meaning we are down to 9 players in the lineup. The FLEX player can re-enter once, either returning to her FLEX position in the lineup (back up to 10 in the lineup), or as a substitute for the DP (stay at 9 in the lineup).
The real beauty of the DP/FLEX combination is when considering the defensive side of play. Using the DP/FLEX, we have 10 players in the lineup. Each occupies a defensive position, with the DP occupying the phantom “F10” position. As with a 9-player lineup, players can swap defensive positions in the field without paying a substitution penalty, and that applies to the DP as well. In our example above, the FLEX is playing right field.
If, say, our third baseman Felicia takes a line-drive off the shin and has to leave the game temporarily to “shake it off” (and rub some dirt in it!), we can put our DP, Cathy, at third base. This is a defensive swap only – Felicia is still in the lineup and can still bat, she just occupies the “F10” position and while Cathy, still our DP, occupies the “F5” position. As long as Cathy does not swap positions with Josie, our FLEX player playing right field, then we can keep the same 10 players in the lineup.
With this information and the article on Courtesy Runners (linked below), I hope a coach that is reading along is starting to understand the great flexibility that Softball substitution rules allow. If you happen to be from a smaller league, properly using substitutions, Courtesy Runners, and the DP/FLEX can be a great equalizer that can give any team a chance to win.