Slowpitch vs. Fastpitch Softball: The Mystery Resolved
Softball is a sport enjoyed by players of all ages. There are two variations of the game — slowpitch and fastpitch. When people think of fastpitch, their minds drift to high-speed pitches, female players, and a fast-paced game.
When people think of slowpitch, their minds wander to night lights, adult leagues, high-arcing pitches, and beer. Slowpitch is a different genre of softball with slightly altered rules, and this guide outlines the main features that set slowpitch and fastpitch apart.
Age & Gender
Fastpitch softball is a sport reserved for female athletes. Its players range from five-year-olds who play with rag balls to adults who compete in college or at the professional level.
Slowpitch, on the other hand, is typically an adult recreation sport enjoyed by both men and women. Slowpitch leagues, in particular, are very common after-work social pastimes.
The pitching techniques strike observable differences between the two games. One style of pitching requires years of practice and the knowledge of more than one pitch while the other is far more relaxed and not entirely as demanding.
When people think of fastpitch, many envision the whirling windmills. That, among a number of other things, make fastpitch pitching so unique:
- The pitching distance can range between 35 and 43 feet, depending on the age of the players.
- The pitcher’s motion is a full windmill that rotates 360 degrees around her shoulder before it’s delivered.
- The pitches travel at speeds of more than 60 MPH, offering little reaction time for the batters.
- Fastpitch pitching is also thrown along a straight plane, curving and diving to the left, right, top, and bottom of a strike zone that extends from the batter’s knees to her chest.
A pitcher’s strategy is to prevent the batter from making contact with the ball or to force weak hits to the infield. Thus, strikeouts are common.
Slowpitch pitching is also underhand, but it has its own set of characteristics that make slowpitch softball its own sport:
- Slowpitch rules mandate a pitching distance of 50 feet for both male and female players.
- The pitcher’s wind-up motion is a half windmill.
- The pitch must be thrown with an arc between 6-12 feet high. If the arc is not high enough, the umpire will call the pitch illegal.
- The pitch must also be lofted in such a way that it falls onto the plate in order for it to be a called strike.
Strikeouts are rare in slowpitch. Pitchers strategize to pitch the ball with a high enough arc that the batter cannot hit a line-drive. The speed of the pitches is much slower than fastpitch, resulting in plenty of reaction time. The batter can wait, and wait, and wait … and then swing as hard as possible!
Hitting strategies are much different in slowpitch and fastpitch softball. The rules, the types of bats, and the options available in the batter’s box vary between the two games.
Fastpitch is a game of small ball. Offensive strategy is to get a runner on base and her around the diamond. Teams rarely leave everything up to a big hit. This being the general rule, a coach will use bunting, slapping, and singles as the main offensive approaches to winning games. A designated hitter is also allowed in softball to replace a weaker hitter in the lineup.
In slowpitch these options are nil. The fundamental offensive strategy is to hit the ball as far as you can and as hard as you can. Bunting is not allowed in slowpitch softball, and a foul ball on a third strike is an automatic out. Because there are so few tools a batter can use in the box, slowpitch is dominated by power hitting. The lack of strikeouts require solid fielding in order to succeed on defense.
A softball player would never want to use a fastpitch bat in a slowpitch game because the probability of denting the bat would be high. Fastpitch bats are regulated to have a 34-inch maximum length with a maximum drop (length minus weight) of 12. Slowpitch bats also have a 34-inch maximum length, but the maximum weight is 38 ounces.
A heavier bat in slowpitch is used to generate more power from slower-moving pitches. In fastpitch, lighter bats are necessary because high velocity pitches render little reaction time. A lighter bat is easier and faster to swing.
Both games have nearly the same defensive line-up on the field. The only difference is the number of players. Fastpitch places nine offensive players on the field. Slowpitch games allow a tenth player, who either plays as a fourth outfielder or acts as a “rover” in the shallow outfield between shortstop and second base.
The main difference between the catchers in slowpitch and fastpitch is their protective gear. Fastpitch rules require a catcher to be fully suited prior to the start of each inning. Slowpitch softball leagues often call for only a catcher’s mask, if any gear is required at all.
On the Bases
Another major difference between slowpitch and fastpitch are the rules on the base paths. In fastpitch, base runners are allowed to take lead-offs once the pitcher releases the ball. They are allowed to steal and may score on passed balls. In slowpitch, stealing is not allowed. Base runners cannot leave a base until the hitter makes contact with the ball, and they cannot score on passed balls since that is essentially a steal. Also in slowpitch, pinch runners are not allowed and metal cleats may not be worn.
Both variations also typically have a mercy run rules. Slowpitch games are often high scoring and have a common mercy rule that will end a game if, after four or five innings, the winning team has a 15-run lead. Fastpitch, on the other hand, is generally not as high-scoring as slowpitch and commonly enforces a mercy rule after five innings if the winning team is ahead by eight runs.
Whether you enjoy the more fierce competition of fastpitch or the leisurely enjoyment of slowpitch, softball is a game for any person, regardless of age or gender! For adults, it’s an easy way to socialize, stay in shape, be competitive, and have an overall great time. Utilize iSport's Team Directory to find a local team, or form one, and get active!