Softball Swing vs Baseball Swing
Truths and Myths
Should batting be taught the same way for the softball swing vs baseball swing? This question is a popular topic among coaches and parents. To root out the facts, we must dive into the details.
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Myth #1 – Softball Swing is Not Powerful
The critical power element of the modern softball swing and baseball swing is hip rotation. The circular turning of the hips, utilizing the large muscles of the core, slings the bat around quickly. Core rotation speeds the barrel faster than the arms and hands and can do alone. Women tend to match men’s strength more closely in the lower body than in the upper body. Therefore, the rotational power between softball vs. baseball hitters is relatively equivalent.
Timing and coordination are also crucial for a slugger in either sport. One interesting point, “Women can be considered to be the supreme sex in sports reliant on rhythmic use of muscular coordination” (https://www.livestrong.com/article/509536-muscular-strength-in-women-compared-to-men/).
Softball coaches, there is increased offensive production at your fingertips! Take a moment to re-evaluate the mental concepts you are conveying to your athletes. More verbal cues, such as “drive the ball hard,” “do damage to the ball”, “aim just over the fenceline”, helps establish fastpitch softball hitters’ intentions. College softball home runs are on the increase – don’t limit instruction just making contact and protecting.
Myth #2 – The Time the Hitter Has for Reacting to the Pitch is Different
At comparable play levels (e.g., college baseball and college fastpitch), the softball vs baseball reaction time is similar between the sports. For example, a hitter facing a baseball pitcher throwing 91 mph from 60 feet has .45 seconds to react. A hitter facing a fastpitch pitcher throwing 65 mph from 43 feet has the same .45 seconds to react.
Myth #3 – Softball Swing Should be Downward
The myth that softball hitters should bring hands down to the ball derives from two misconceptions:
Misconception #1 – A Pitched Softball Flies On an Upward Plane
There is no mound in softball, and the ball is released from below mid-thigh. Many erroneously believe these facts cause the softball to travel up as it reaches the batter. Therefore some coaches teach swinging down to match the plane of the upward traveling pitch.
In the case of a well-spun rise ball thrown at over 60 mph to the upper part of the zone, we grant that the ball is traveling upward. But for all other pitches, including the fastball, the ball is traveling downward. The pitched softball’s slight downward angle as it crosses the plate is due to the heavier softball, more surface area of the ball, downward spin of the fastball, and slower pitching speed than baseball. For high school and up fastpitch pitchers, the ball’s downward angle as it arrives at the plate is typically between 4 and 7 degrees (see image below). For baseball, the downward angle is 7 to 12 degrees.
Photo Credit: http://www.pitchsoftball.com/AllPitchesHaveanArc.html
Misconception #2 – Softball Players Should Swing Down to Increase the Rate of Groundballs
A second reason softball players are often encouraged to swing down comes from the belief the hitter is more productive if they try to hit ground balls. Since the base paths are shorter in softball, the concept is to get the ball on the ground and beat it out. Make the defense perform two catches and an accurate throw. Put the ball in play on the ground. The logic of this softball swing strategy is anything can happen.
A crucial concept is that swinging down on a pitched ball reduces the consistency of contact. The distance the barrel is in the ball’s path (margin of error) determines contact consistency. Swinging down at the ball leaves a small contact window, an inch or two. The dropping ball and the downward swing path are in two different planes reducing the potential intersection distance.
To most effectively train and prepare the softball swing for High School and College, encourage all hitters to swing just slightly up to match the trajectory of the slightly dropping ball. A slightly positive attack angle produces the highest percentage of line drives, the best power and distance, and the highest batting average. It is what the best hitters do in both sports.
Truth #1 – A Baseball is Harder to Hit Than a Softball
Whether a baseball or softball is harder to hit is a close call. A baseball is smaller and travels faster. But two other truths make it less clear cut:
- Big barrel baseball bats (in amateur play) have more surface area than fastpitch bats, increasing contact frequency.
- Softballs are bigger, causing them to move more (increased Magnus effect) than a baseball.
That said, a baseball is harder to hit.
Truth #2 – Leverage is More Important in the Softball Swing
Leverage is gaining a mechanical advantage for how to move an object. Hitters use increased leverage to amplify the effectiveness of the contact between bat and ball. Augmented leverage means there is less dampening effect at bat-ball collision. In a palm up, palm down position, arms, and hands tight to the body create increased leverage during the bat-ball collision. A casting swing or a swing where the hands roll over too early, before full extension, results in more “cushioning” at contact.
In Major League Baseball, with heavy bats swung at very high bat speeds, leverage of arms and hands has relatively little importance. Home runs have been hit with one hand on the bat. “Contact happens so quickly (about 1/1000 of a second) the handle does not have time react.” (The Physics of Baseball, by Robert Adair – click the link to shop for this baseball book classic).
But at youth and amateur levels of fastpitch softball, with heavier balls, lighter bats, and lower bat speed, leverage is a concern. There are slow-motion videos of youth softball bats recoiling six inches or more at contact.
The slower the bat speed, the lighter the bat, the heavier the ball, the faster the pitch, and the less strength in the forearms and wrists, the more critical leverage of arms and hands becomes.
Truth #3 – Softball Swing has Different Timing Mechanisms
Different approaches and mechanisms to time pitches are primarily due to baseball and fast-pitch softball pitchers’ different pitching motions.
Truth #4 – Softball Swing Must Compensate for the Riseball
Even with the backspin put on the ball by baseball pitchers, a baseball never rises – this is a baseball “myth.” The ball is released on a downward trajectory using an overhand pitching motion from a raised mound. It is perceived to rise but really doesn’t. See this article https://www.livescience.com/4093-busting-baseball-myths… and many other scientific articles. Bottom line is that the Magnus force of the spinning action is not enough to conquer both gravity and downward trajectory given to the ball, even on a pitch up in the zone. The curveball illusion is similar where the ball appears to drop rapidly but actually is a gradual and steady curve. These facts are important for hitters to understand to maximize the productivity of their swing path.
But a softball can be made to rise if thrown correctly. The larger surface area of the softball creates a higher degree of the Magnus Effect. Also, the pitch is released at an upward angle. A well-spun fast pitch rise ball thrown at least at 60 mph lifts as it crosses the plate. The rising trajectory forces the softball hitter to hit an incoming pitch having an upward plane rather than a downward plane. The necessity to adjust the softball swing when a rise ball is recognized may be the most significant difference between baseball and softball swing.
Softball coaches and players, see our articles (click the links) Fundamentals of Hitting the Rise Ball and Rise Ball Hitting Drills for detailed guidance (swing paths, good vs. poor rise ball spins, plate approach) on beating a rise ball pitcher.
Truth #5 – Early Pitch Recognition is Easier in Softball
At release, the hitter more easily recognizes the type of pitch in softball than baseball.
Reasons for this include:
With deliberate practice, this truth can be used to the softball hitter’s advantage. We provide pitch recognition drills, when and how to look for a pitch and a template for planning each at-bat in our two-book hitting series Building the High-Level Swing Series (click to learn more).
Truth #6 – Both the Softball Swing and Baseball Swing are Aggressive Moves
As scientists continue to uncover, the mind and body have an amazing ability to adapt and accomplish the desired goal. If the intention is to drive the ball hard, the hitter’s body moves to accomplish that goal.
Shifting a hitter’s primary goal from merely making some contact, or any contact, to hitting the ball hard can dramatically change the hitter’s movements. Training hitters to move fast, swing with intent, and hit the ball as hard as possible cleans up many different movement patterns and inefficiencies.
To enhance game time success, fastpitch softball and baseball hitters should deliberately practice their mental approach during lessons, team practices, and games. See our Mental Approach to Hitting Blog (click the link) for a comprehensive discussion of increasing batting average by improving a hitter’s mental approach during game at-bats.
Truth #7 – Ace Softball Pitchers Usually on the Mound
The movement of the fastpitch delivery is more natural than baseball. A baseball pitcher puts more stress on the arm than a softball pitcher. As a result, a softball team’s ace can pitch many more innings than the best pitcher on a baseball team. Having the ace on the mound is why earned run averages (ERA) are lower and strikeouts slightly higher in softball.
Truth #8 – Switch Hitting is Less Effective in the Softball Swing
Vision is improved when batting from the opposite side from the handedness of the pitcher. Improved vision allows movement pitches to be more natural to hit when breaking into the hitter, rather than away.
The benefits of switch-hitting are less in fastpitch softball than baseball. The benefits are less because fastpitch pitchers can throw a very useful screwball.
Yes, right-handed baseball pitchers can make a ball sink away from the lefty hitter, and a few baseball pitchers can throw a screwball.
But a well-thrown fastpitch screwball is spun rapidly and on a more vertical axis. The ball spinning like a top, along with the larger ball, results in a dramatic break going away from lefties. The fastpitch screwball is a popular and effective weapon against switch hitters.
Truth #9 – Slapping is More Effective in the Softball Swing
Running bunts and slap hits from the left side of the plate are incredibly productive in softball. From the left side, the slapper is already two steps closer to the plate, has a running start, a 60-foot compared to 90-foot basepath (in baseball), and a heavier ball (click here for our free article including a video demo and describing the five fastpitch slapping skills).
Softball Swing Conclusion
Now for the short answer – ninety-nine percent of hitting fundamentals taught to softball and baseball players should be the same.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become powerful and productive hitters.
Enjoy the quest!