Whether the batting swing should be taught the same way for both baseball and softball is a debateable topic. Contributing to the controversy are many misconceptions by coaches and parents which, unfortunately, can end up limiting the potential of youth players. But to really root out the truths and myths, though, we must dive into the details. Here goes.
Myth #1 – Females Aren’t Physically Able to Hit for Power
With female sports at such a high level around the world today, you may wonder how anyone could hold this opinion.
But to prove this subtle belief is still alive all you need to do is watch the typical 12-year old softball game where rarely does a ball get driven hard or reach the fence. Instead, there is ground ball after ground ball. The value of just making contact is encouraged to the extreme, while driving the ball for power (and higher batting average), allowing for the possibility of a few more strikeouts, is rarely emphasized.
Softball coaches could create more offensive production for their teams by re-evaluating the mental concepts they are conveying to their athletes. More verbal ques such as “drive the ball hard” would go along way.
Physically, the key power element is hip rotation, the circular turning of the hips, utilizing the large muscles of the core. And since women tend to match the strength of men more closely in lower body muscles, than in upper body muscles, rotational power between softball and baseball hitters are fairly equivalent.
In addition, timing and coordination are also important for a slugger in either sport. One interesting point has been made, “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/).
So, YES females can be sluggers!
Myth #2 – The Time the Hitter Has for Reacting to the Pitch is Different Between Baseball and Softball
At comparable levels of play (e.g. college baseball and college fast pitch), reaction times are similar between baseball and fast pitch softball. As an example, a hitter facing a baseball pitcher throwing 91 mph from 60 feet has .45 seconds to react. A hitter facing a fast pitch pitcher throwing 65 mph from 43 feet has the same .45 seconds to react.
Myth #3 – Softball Hitters Should Swing Down
This myth comes from a variety of misconceptions. First, as some casual observers profess, there is no mound in softball, the ball is released from below mid-thigh and then travels up as it reaches the batter. So, logically per this reasoning, the hitter should swing down, to match the plane of the upward traveling pitch, to have the best chance for contact.
In the case of a well spun rise ball thrown to the upper part of the zone, the ball is traveling upward. But for all other pitches a softball hitter will face the ball is traveling downward. Softball hitters should swing slightly up, just the same as baseball hitters, except possibly when a rise ball is recognized.
The slight downward angle of the pitched ball as it crosses the plate is due to a heavier ball, more surface area of the ball, downward spin of the fastball, and slower pitching speed. For high school and up fast pitch pitchers throwing a sixty-mph fastball, the downward angle of the ball as it arrives at the plate is typically between 4 and 7 degrees (see image below).
A second reason softball players, especially at the younger ages, are often encouraged to swing down comes from the belief the hitter will be 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. Anything can happen when the ball is put in play is the logic.
Here is my argument against this strategy. Line drives are the key to increasing batting average regardless of the level of play. A line drive is three times more likely to be a base hit than a ground ball or fly ball. Asking the hitter to swing down, or stay on top of the ball, with the intent to create more ground balls, dramatically reduces the chances of line drives.
Also, a crucial concept to understand is that swinging down on a pitched ball reduces the consistency of contact. Contact consistency is greatly determined by the distance the barrel is in the path of the ball (margin of error). Swinging down leaves a window for contact of an inch or two. The dropping ball and the downward swing path are in two different planes reducing the potential intersection distance.
Instead, to most effectively train and prepare softball (and baseball) hitters for High School and College, they should be encouraged to swing just slightly up to match the plane of the slightly dropping ball. This will produce the greatest 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
True, because a baseball is smaller and traveling faster. This is somewhat, but not completely, offset by the wider bats typically swung in baseball.
Truth #2 – Leverage is More Important in Softball
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.
For example, a casting swing or a swing where the hands roll over too early, before full extension, results in more “cushioning” at contact. Seen in slow motion the barrel rebounds rearward from the force of the ball.
Arms and hands tight to body, in a palm up, palm down position, creates increased leverage during bat-ball collision.
In Major League Baseball, with heavy bats swung at very high bat speeds, leverage of arms and hands has relatively little importance. “Contact happens so quickly (about 1/1000 of a second) the handle does not have time react.” (The Physics of Baseball, Robert Adair). In fact, home runs have been hit with one hand on the bat.
But at youth and amateur levels of fast pitch softball, with heavier balls, lighter bats, and lower bat speed, leverage is an issue. 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 important leverage of arms and hands becomes.
Truth #3 – Timing Mechanisms Are Different
Different approaches and mechanisms to time pitches are primarily due to the different pitching motions used by baseball and fast pitch softball pitchers.
Truth #4 – Baseball Does Not Have a Rise Ball
This may be the biggest hitting difference between the two sports. A well spun rise ball lifts as it crosses the plate creating an upward plane rather than a downward plane. One of two strategies can be used to hit the rise ball: 1) aim higher with the swing path, or 2) get on top and chop down on the pitch (Tommy Hawk). But the best strategy against a rise ball is often to take it until two strikes. This done by check swinging on any pitch higher than the waist as the ball approaches midway to the batter. Softball hitters tend to chase rises moving up and out of the zone rather than being patient and waiting for a better pitch to hit. Accomplishing these goals requires purposefully practicing hitting many rises in as game like conditions as possible. At Salem Diamond Sports, strategies for being productive against rise ball pitchers is a point of emphasis for high school and college softball hitters.
Truth #5 – Early Pitch Recognition is Easier in Softball
At release, what type of pitch is being thrown can be more easily recognized in softball. Reasons for this include:
- Mound is closer, so vision is better.
- The axis of the upper body, for many fast pitch pitchers, varies substantially between a rise (backward leaning) or a drop or change (forward leaning).
- Many softball pitchers stride to different locations. For example, a curve is often thrown by striding across the power line where a screwball is thrown by striding away from the power line.
- Pitch follow-thru, which can be seen in peripheral vision, can also identify the pitch. For example, a curve with a follow-through across the hip or a flip turn change with a reach toward the plate.
- But most important to early pitch recognition is the spinning action of the wrist and hand is easier to see in softball. The ball is bigger, so hand movements and wrist angles used to spin the ball are more obvious. Through practice and training a softball hitter can see the spin put on movement pitches and identify the pitch at release, rather than before it has traveled half-way and they have committed to swing.
With deliberate practice, this truth can be used to the softball hitter’s advantage.
Truth #6 – Baseball Hitters Should Swing Slightly More Up to Match the Plane of the Pitch
For both fast pitch softball and baseball, to increase power and batting average, the hitter should strive to swing the bat in the same plane as the ball is traveling as it arrives at the plate. To do this the barrel must travel on a slightly upward path (baseball 7 to 12 degrees; fast pitch 4 to 7 degrees) to match the downward trajectory of the ball. This should be accomplished without over-doing, dipping under the ball, or upper cutting too much.
Truth #7 – Both Softball and Baseball Hitters Should Strive to Swing Aggressively in Games
As a hitting coach, the following is one of the most common comments I receive from parents in both sports “Our child’s swing appears so powerful during lessons, but looks tentative come game time!”
Here are common issues leading to tentative game swings:
- Undeveloped timing.
- Undeveloped strike zone discipline.
- Poor patience.
- Ineffective concepts.
- Fear of being hit by the ball.
- Thinking about mechanics.
- Fear of striking out.
- Habitual half speed swing.
To enhance game time success, hitters should deliberately practice their mental approach, during lessons, team practices, and games just as much as their mechanics. At Salem Diamond Sports, we believe instruction on how to go about improving the hitter’s mental approach, step by step, is crucial to the long term success of our students.
Truth #8 – Ace Softball Pitchers Usually on the Mound
The movement of the fast pitch delivery is more natural. A baseball pitcher puts more stress on the arm. As a result, a softball team’s ace can pitch many more innings than the best pitcher on a baseball team. This is one reason statistically ERAs are lower and strikeouts higher in softball.
Now for the short answer. Ninety-nine percent of hitting fundamentals taught to baseball and softball players should be the same.