Baseball and softball both possess some of the hardest skills to learn in sports. Whether it is hitting a spinning ball hurled at 90+ mph, placing pitches in the corner of a tiny strike zone, or having just 4 seconds from the time the ball leaves the bat to make the play at first for the out – the two sports undoubtedly call for extreme talent on both sides.
Today, we will take a closer look at the differences between the two sports and try to answer the ultimate question – “Is softball harder to play than baseball?” To answer this, we will take a deeper dive into the fundamentals, key differences, and various challenging aspects between the two sports. No matter if you think that one sport is harder than the other, you can’t deny that these two sports are immensely challenging in their own right.
Understanding the Fundamentals of Both Games
Fundamentally, both softball and baseball played an integral part in the rise of sports in the US. Baseball was first created in 1839 and softball was not far behind in 1887. The two sports were brought up during times when resources were thin and Americans were in desperate need of a pastime to bring communities together. Despite being very similar in nature, some of the fundamentals differ between softball and baseball.
Metrics Analysis: Softball vs Baseball
The gist of the game is the same in both sports. The basic objective is for the defense to get three outs each half-inning, while the offense tries to score as many runs as possible before those three outs switch play. However, here are some of the fundamental differentiators between baseball and softball when looking at key metrics:
- A baseball field has 90-foot baselines. And, the distance from the home plate to center field is roughly 400 feet, depending on the ballpark.
- Ball size is 9 to 9 1/2 inches in circumference and 2.86 to 2.94 inches in diameter.
Now let's compare that to the size of a softball and a softball field:
- The game is played on a field that has 60-foot baselines. The distance from the home plate to center field is usually 220-230 ft feet.
- Softball has a larger ball, from 10-12 inches in circumference depending on the level you are playing in.
Key Differences between Baseball and Softball
Now, let's look a bit closer at the key differences (outside of metrics) between softball and baseball. And, ultimately, how they impact the players and skills required in the sports.
The difference in the two sports pitching distance is around 17 feet. Baseball is a little over 60 feet and softball is 43 feet from the back of home base to the pitcher's mound. The reason that this is an important difference is it helps negate the difference in pitch speed since the ball is coming at you from a shorter distance. This requires softball players to have a quicker reaction time, while baseball has faster pitches and a smaller ball the batter must track from farther away.
We have discussed the different pitching distances, now let’s look at the differences in pitching styles. Baseball utilizes the classic way of throwing a ball, which is the overhand approach. MLB sees an average pitch speed of 92-93 MPH (fastballs). In contrast, softball pitchers utilize an underhand approach to pitching. Slow-pitch softball is a recreational sport where the ball is tossed slowly to the batter, which we will discount from this comparison. On the other hand, fast-pitch softball (what we are comparing to today) averages 63 MPH at the college level.
It is common for softball players to reference when softball pitcher Jennie Finch struck out baseball star Albert Pujols (three-time MVP and six-time Silver-Slugger) as an example of softball pitches being more difficult to hit. You may ask yourself how this happened, but the answer is simple. In softball, pitches are thrown underhand, creating a unique upward movement as the ball approaches the batter. This contrasts with baseball's overhand or sidearm pitches, which typically move downward or horizontally. The underhand style in softball can be particularly challenging for baseball players to adjust to, as it leads to different angles and types of pitch movement.
One of the most prominent differences is the use of a larger, softer ball in softball. Softballs are notably bigger than baseballs, and this size variance has a substantial impact on the game. Softball players wield bats that are thinner in diameter compared to baseball bats. This design choice is deliberate, as it allows softball batters to have better control and precision when making contact with the larger ball. Additionally, softball gloves are specially crafted with a larger pocket to accommodate the bigger ball.
One notable difference between the two sports is in the rules regarding bunting, specifically the drag bunt and slap hit. In softball, players are allowed to have one foot outside the batter's box when they make contact with the ball, which is illegal in baseball. This allowance gives softball players a distinct advantage in executing drag bunts or slap hits, as they can begin moving towards first base as they hit the ball, making it a commonly used strategy in softball. Another major difference is the implementation of the mercy rule in college softball. This rule calls for the game to end if one team has a lead of a certain number of runs after a specific number of innings (usually 8 runs after 5 innings), a rule designed to prevent excessively lopsided games.
Challenging Aspects of Both Sports
Both softball and baseball are as challenging as it gets in the world of competitive sports. According to ESPN.com, they are tied as the ninth hardest sport to play out of the 60 they listed. Baseball and softball are commonly grouped like this, but we wanted to point out how each sport boasts aspects that are more challenging than the other.
Faster Pitch Speed in Baseball
As we mentioned before, the two sports do differ in pitching speed. On average fastballs in baseball sit around 92-93 MPH. Even from the 90 ft distance that the baseball pitchers throw the ball from, it is one of the most difficult tasks in sports to try and make contact. Over the past couple of years, the league batting average in the MLB has been .250, meaning that batters get a hit 25% of the time they come up to bat. To put it in more perspective players average around 550 plus at-bats a year. Do not doubt that hitting a softball has its own challenges though, with the Jennie Finch vs Albert Pujols example we made earlier serving as a testament to that claim.
Shorter Reaction Time in Softball
The pitches may be coming in faster in baseball, but the field is larger to make up for it. In softball that is not the case. The field is smaller and the exit speed of the ball off a softball bat is just 20 MPH slower. The reaction time needed in softball is unmatched as the larger-sized balls are being rocketed toward the position players. According to leagueapps.com, softball requires a reaction time of 0.35 seconds which is slightly less time than baseball, which requires a reaction time of 0.44 seconds.
We have discussed the difficulties of both sports and it is evident that speed is one that both are challenged on. For softball, the smaller field and less reaction time make players have to react and make plays faster than many modern cameras can keep up with. For baseball, the same problem arises because of the speed the ball travels at and the speed of the athletes sprinting from base to base. The fact that cameras even struggle to keep up with what is happening on the field demonstrates the insane speed the game is played at when the ball is in play. To be good at either of these sports, you need to have cat-like reflexes and a strong arm.
Coming to a Verdict: Is Softball Harder to Play than Baseball?
This was not an easy decision, but if one needs to be made then fine here it is. No, softball is not harder than baseball because they are both extremely challenging in their own right. Both sports call for great reaction times, tremendous throwing ability, skilled hitters with great hand-eye coordination, and a level of commitment to constantly grow -- with perfection proving unattainable.
How BRUCE BOLT Can Help Both Softball Players and Baseball Players
We at BRUCE BOLT know how challenging both softball and baseball can be. We got our start in baseball, but have since adapted our offerings to serve softball players as well. Our batting gloves supply batters with increased grip and will contribute to confidence at the plate -- no matter if you are trying to hit a softball or a baseball. The same goes for our protective gear, which includes sliding gloves and leg guards designed to keep you safe so you can focus on your game. We also sell premium pants for both baseball and softball, ranging from standard pants to knickers.
Come shop BRUCE BOLT's extensive collection today and learn how you can take your game to the next level!