To many, the word softball conjures up images of fast windmill pitches, larger balls, and teams of young women. However, as any softball enthusiast knows, that’s only half the picture.
There are actually two types of softball – fast-pitch softball which is likely the one most people think of, commonly played by women, and slow-pitch softball which is a more casual version played by men and women alike.
And while the fundamentals are the same, both games have some key differences that make them all their own.
What’s in a name: slow-pitch vs. fast-pitch
The differences between slow-pitch and fast-pitch really come down to pitching style. The distinctive throw for each game has an influence on everything from how players hit the ball to what gear is worn.
But let’s start with the game-play basics –
As you can see, the differences in throws are a key component to each game. The slower pitches in slow-pitch softball enable players to try for bigger hits, whereas the faster pitches in fast-pitch encourage bunting, slapping, and singles. And while striking players out is still the main goal for pitchers in fast-pitch, those who pitch for slow-pitch softball aim to throw the ball slow enough to make big hits impossible.
*Fun fact: Bunting is actually not allowed in slow-pitch softball.
Both versions of the sport also incorporate a mercy run rule. Since slow-pitch softball tends to be high scoring, the mercy rule allows a game to be called after the fourth or fifth inning if there is a 15-run lead. In fast-pitch, this rule requires at least an 8 run lead after the fifth inning.
Another variation between each version involves stealing bases. While making a run for it as soon as the ball has left the pitcher’s hand is normal in fast-pitch softball, it’s actually not allowed in slow-pitch. Players hoping to get a head start have to wait until the batter has made physical contact with the ball.
Which leads us to another question-
Do these play styles affect which softball bat works best?
The answer is yes and no.
While the speed of the ball may influence your decision, choosing a softball bat still comes down to personal preference and what works best for each player.
However, the American Softball Association (ASA), United States Specialty Sports Association, National Softball Association (NSA) and the Independent Sports Association (ISA) all have different rules and guidelines when it comes to bat types for each league, so it’s important to know which one you’re playing in before you purchase a bat. For example, due to the high speeds in fast-pitch softball, wood bats are usually not allowed because they may splinter and cause injury.
As you can see, the basics for the bats aren’t that dissimilar. For slow-pitch softball bats you may leans towards a heavier bat to make up for the lack of ball speed, while you may go lighter for fast-pitch softball bats as you need a quicker reaction time.
On top of this there are a multitude of other factors to consider, from one-piece to two-piece bats, alloy or composite, and whether you should buy a bat that is balanced or end-loaded.
To help, we’ve broken down the differences below:
One-piece Bats are made from a single block of wood, alloy, or composite material, which makes them very stiff, as well as strong. These bats tend to be favored by power hitters as little to no energy is lost through the swing when hitting the ball.
Two-piece Bats have the handle and barrel as separate pieces that are bonded together. This allows the bat to flex – meaning the head of the bat can then move through the hitting zone faster – which provides a boost in speed. These bats are usually favored by contact hitters.
Alloy Bats are usually made from aluminum and tend to be cheaper than their composite bat counterparts. These bats also require no breaking in, so you can start using them as soon as you get them.
Composite Bats are made from woven fibers that make the bat lighter. They also absorb a lot of shock, which means power hitters don’t get a lot of reverb when they hit the ball. However, these bats usually require 100-200 hits to be properly broken in.
Balanced Bats have their weight evenly distributed throughout the entire bat. This allows players to generate more swing speed while still maintaining control. These bats are usually preferred by contact or “base hitters.”
End-loaded Bats concentrate a portion of their weight at the end of the barrel of a bat, which allows players to generate more momentum and hit the ball farther. These bats can be hard to control, however, and are recommended for strong hitters.
In the end, the best method is still to test out a variety of bats and go with the one that feels right. And if you need any extra help, we have a guide to choosing the best baseball/softball bat to help you on your way!
And we also have some guides to help you make the most of your game!