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Fastpitch vs. Slowpitch Softball: How to Tell the Difference

Everyone loves softball. There are actually many regular slowpitch and fastpitch softball players, but there are also people who cannot tell the difference among the two games. Although they are both softball games and a variation of baseball, they are still several differences in the way the game is played. Both games share a few similar rules, but the number of players, the way the ball is pitched and the ball itself are different.

Boy waiting for the ball in a baseball game

As an overall, fastpitch softball is faster in the sense that the ball must be thrown with greater power and speed which makes it harder to hit, too. This is why this game requires powerful pitchers who can throw the ball with incredible velocity and in a way that will discourage the batter to hit it.

On the other hand, slowpitch softball involves moderate speed. The ball must be thrown in an arch and it is easier to hit. That’s the objective of this game. During a slow pitch softball game the ball is thrown in a way to encourage the batter to hit it.

These are the main differences as far as the two games are concerned, but let’s outline here a few more distinctions.

Different Number of Players

The number of players is different. There are ten players in each slowpitch softball team whereas fastpitch games only use nine players. The ball is mostly found at the hands of the catcher and the pitcher, but in the infield there are also three basemen and a shortstop whereas in the outfield there is a right, center and left fielder. In the case of slowpitch softball, the tenth player is used as a rover or extra outfielder. So, apart from the left and right fielders, there are also the right-center and left-center fielders.

Another difference in terms of players is the catcher’s gear. The only protective gear required (if any) for slowpitch games is the mask whereas the catcher of fastpitch games must be fully protected with the right gear.

Gender and Age Differences

Although slowpitch is mostly played by adults and both genders, fastpitch softball is mainly played by young females. Some players nowadays are as young as five years old. Slowpitch is often considered a recreation sport.

Pitching Technique Differences

  • Fastpitch Pitching – the traditional way to pitch the ball is by adopting the “windmill” style. In other words, the pitcher must extend the arm above the body and throw the ball fast at hip level after rotating the arm 360 degrees. The overall movement is extremely important. The wrong one would lose in speed and power. The ball must travel very fast (at least 60 MPH) so that the batter won’t have time to react in time to hit the ball.

Although speed is the most important factor in fastpitch games, the way the ball is thrown is equally vital. The pitcher can create curves by throwing the ball low to move high for example or throwing the ball to the right or top of the strike zone. The entire strategy of the pitcher is to throw the ball in a way so that the batter won’t hit it or to lead the batter to make a weak hit to the infield, causing strikeouts.

The pitching distance in fastpitch softball can be anything from 35 to 43 feet and it depends on the players’ age.

  • Slowpitch Pitching – whether the players are female or male, the pitching distance is 50 feet. The pitcher’s movement is also different since he/she makes a half “windmill” movement. The basic difference is that the ball is thrown to create an arc in the air and can reach from 6 to 12 feet in height. If the ball doesn’t reach the expected height, the umpire will consider the pitch illegal.

The pitch is called a strike only when it falls in the plate. The most important thing is that the ball is pitched slower and travels high. The batter might often wait for long before hitting the ball. Then he/she must swing very hard.

Fast high school softball player bunting the ball.

Hitting Strategies are Different

In contrast to fastpitch softball where the pressure falls on the offensive team, in slow pitch games the pressure is on the defense. The main rule in fastpitch games is not to rely completely on a big hit. Coaches also use singles, slapping and bunting as offensive techniques to win the game. The hitter can be replaced with a stronger one.

The only offensive technique in slowpitch games is to hit the ball as hard and as far as possible. Bunting is not permitted. The pressure is placed entirely on defense and the power of the hitter. A foul ball on a 3rd strike is an out.

Bat and Ball Differences

Although the game is called softball, the ball is not soft. It is actually made of leather in the exterior and consists of two pieces which are sewn together with thread whereas their core is often a blend of rubber and cork or is made of fiber kapok. There is a small difference in their weight and slowpitch balls have a 12-inch circumference.

Bats designed for fastpitch games must be 34 inches maximum in length and their maximum drop must be 12. Bats for slowpitch games have the same length, but they can weigh up to 38 ounces. Players shouldn’t use just any bat for either game. Lightweight bats are easier to handle in fastpitch softball because the player won’t have time to react and must swing the ball. For slowpitch games the bat should be heavier since the player must use tremendous body energy to hit the ball.

Differences in Terms of Rules

Slowpitch softball base rules are somehow different from fastpitch base rules. Base runners in fastpitch games can lead-off as soon as the pitcher hits the ball and they can also score on passed balls and steal the ball. This is not allowed in slowpitch games. Base runners stand still until the hitter hits the ball. Since they are not allowed to steal the ball, they can’t score on passed balls. In slowpitch games there are no pinch runners and players are not permitted to wear metal cleats.

The mercy run rules are also different. In slowpitch softball games, the game can end if the winning team has a 15-run lead after 4 or 5 innings. Since fastpitch softball is not so much about high scores, it can impose a mercy rule after 5 innings only if the winning team leads by eight runs.

After comparing the two, it is clear why slowpitch softball is mostly a leisure sport in comparison to the fastpitch softball where competition counts. In any case, they are both great sports and can be enjoyed by both genders of all ages. Whether you want to socialize or get active, choose which softball game fits your taste and just be a member of a local team!

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