Baseball and softball share a lot of similarities. After all, the goal of each sport is the same – score runs by hitting pitches thrown by a pitcher. However, baseball and softball are different enough that National Pro Fastpitch player Jennie Finch easily struck out Major League Baseball’s Albert Pujols during a celebrity softball All-Star game.
Seeing two professional ball players from different sports compete against one another makes you wonder what else might be different between baseball and softball. So I listed out all the major differences I could think of between baseball and softball below, but please contact me if you think I missed one!
- 12 Major Differences Between Softball and Baseball
- 1) Baseball Fields Are Larger Than Softball Fields
- 2) Softballs Are Yellow, Baseballs Are White
- 3) Softballs Are Bigger Than Baseballs
- 4) Softballs Are Heavier Than Baseballs
- 5) Baseball Bats Are Heavier Than Softball Bats
- 6) Some Baseball Leagues Only Use Wood Bats
- 7) Slow-Pitch Softball Leagues Use 10 Players
- 8) Pitching Is Completely Different in Softball and Baseball
- 9) A Softball Game Is Played With Seven Innings, but a Baseball Game Is Played With Nine
- 10) Baseball Players Always Wear Hats
- 11) Some Softball Players Wear Fielding Masks
- 12) Baseballs and Softballs Are Made Differently
12 Major Differences Between Softball and Baseball
While softball and baseball are similar in how to win a game, they are different in how they’re played, the size and shape of gear, and how the balls are made. But what is the difference between softball and baseball? Let’s dive into the top 12 reasons for what makes the two sports different.
1) Baseball Fields Are Larger Than Softball Fields
Each sport has a diamond-shaped field with three bases and one home plate, but the two fields differ significantly.
In baseball, the distance between each base is 90 feet. The outfield fence is positioned 330 feet from the foul lines and about 400 feet away from center field on average.
In softball, the distance between bases is only 65 feet. The distance from the outfield fence to the home plate is usually 265 feet down the line and 315 feet to center field.
In slow-pitch softball, the distance between bases is 65 feet and the outfield fence can be between 250 and 275 feet. It’s recommended to leave a space between 25 and 30 feet between foul lines and the nearest obstacle.
As a result, softball usually has a faster tempo because the field is smaller, and plays happen much more quickly than in baseball. On the other hand, baseball players are asked to cover a more considerable distance during each game.
2) Softballs Are Yellow, Baseballs Are White
The ball is the star in both games, but softballs look different from baseballs.
Softballs are yellow and baseballs are white. The color of the ball can have an impact on how each game proceeds.
On overcast days, white balls are harder to follow in the air, which can mean players misread balls. In my league, there’s one particular field where it’s extremely common for outfielders to have no idea where the ball is hit during overcast days. It’s extremely frustrating.
Although experts claim that both sports are equally tricky, this factor can make less-experienced players struggle to locate the ball during the game.
Additionally, white baseballs get dirtier than yellow softballs, which can lead to batters having a difficult time picking up pitches. Although this MLB is not a fan of dirty baseballs so catchers and umpires change out baseballs whenever the ball hits the ground.
3) Softballs Are Bigger Than Baseballs
In general, softballs tend to be larger than baseballs. Unlike baseball, the size of the softball differs according to the players’ age, but on average, a softball has a circumference between 11.88 and 12.13 inches.
In teams where the players are ten years or younger, softball players use a ball with a circumference of 11 inches and a diameter of 3.5 inches. On teams where softball players are older than ten, the ball has a circumference of 12 inches and a diameter of 3.8 inches.
Baseballs have a circumference between 9 and 9.25 inches and a diameter between 2.86 and 2.94 inches.
4) Softballs Are Heavier Than Baseballs
Typically, softballs are heavier than baseballs. An average professional softball weighs between 6.25 and 7 ounces, while an average baseball weighs between 5 and 5.25 ounces.
There’s a greater variety in the weights of softballs compared to the weights of baseballs. The weight difference between the smallest and biggest baseball is only 0.25, but it can be up to 0.75 ounces if you’re talking about softballs.
The one caveat is that water-logged baseball can be heavier than softballs. When I weighed a bunch of baseballs I own, I intentionally water-logged a brand-new leather baseball. A water-logged baseball weighed 8.4 ounces. That’s heavier than non-water-logged softballs.
5) Baseball Bats Are Heavier Than Softball Bats
Baseball and softball bats look pretty similar, especially in youth leagues, but baseball bats tend to be a little heavier than softball bats.
It can vary from league to league, but youth softball bats tend to be a -12 drop whereas youth baseball bats tend to be a -10 drop.
In the pros, baseball bats are around a -3 drop whereas softball bats are around a -10 drop. Although it was difficult to find info around the drop of a pro softball bat so please correct me if I’m wrong.
And in case you’re wondering, the “drop” of a bat refers to the difference in numbers between the weight of the bat in ounces and the length of the bat in inches. So a bat that is 33 inches long and weighs 30 ounces would be considered a -3 drop.
6) Some Baseball Leagues Only Use Wood Bats
In professional baseball, players can only use wooden bats. Metal bats aren’t allowed and are banned by Major League Baseball.
However, plenty of baseball leagues use metal bats. It’s very common for baseball players to use a metal bat all the way through college. And even though metal bats give players an advantage, some players in these leagues opt to use a wood bat.
Softball players exclusively use metal bats, regardless of the type of league. Even slow-pitch softball leagues are exclusively metal bats.
7) Slow-Pitch Softball Leagues Use 10 Players
Professional softball teams that play fast-pitch or professional softball have nine players on the field, which is the same number used by baseball. However, slow-pitch softball leagues use different rules.
Each slow-pitch softball team will have one extra player in the lineup for a total of 10 defensive players. This means that there will be a total of 20 players in the lineup (10 from each team).
The tenth player either plays a short outfielder, closely behind the shortstop or second baseman, or they fill in to be a fourth outfielder.
Even though slow-pitch softball has the word “slow” in it, plays happen extremely fast. Each team needs that extra defensive player to create more outs.
8) Pitching Is Completely Different in Softball and Baseball
The most noticeable difference between baseball and softball is pitching. Although the pitcher throws the ball toward the batter in both sports, the pitching technique differs.
Softball players pitch underhand and baseball players pitch overhand.
Pitching underhand has less stress on a pitcher’s arm so softball pitchers can easily pitch an entire game and they can be ready to pitch again for the next game. However, most starting pitchers in baseball need to be relieved at some point in the game because pitching overhand fatigues the arm.
Additionally, softball pitchers stand on a flat pitching mound while baseball players stand on a raised pitching mound.
Because of the raised mound, most baseball hitters are used to hitting pitches that travel at a downward angle. On the other hand, most softball hitters are used to hitting pitches that rise.
One more pitching difference is that a softball pitching rubber is 43 feet from home plate while a baseball pitching rubber is 60 feet and 6 inches away from home plate.
9) A Softball Game Is Played With Seven Innings, but a Baseball Game Is Played With Nine
In softball and baseball, innings are made of two halves. Both teams take turns to bat and field during an inning, and each half won’t end until the fielding team records three outs.
But a softball is played with seven innings, while a baseball is played with nine. If there’s a tie, both teams will play extra innings until there’s a winner.
This means that a baseball game usually lasts longer than a softball game. The game will continue with extra innings until either the home team or the visiting team is leading after the end of an inning.
As of the 2023 season, a professional baseball game lasts about 2 hours and 40 minutes, while a softball game usually lasts two hours. These rules apply to professional leagues, as youth and high school games can be significantly shorter.
10) Baseball Players Always Wear Hats
Baseball players wear hats during games. These hats are considered part of their uniform. However, the Major League Baseball rulebook doesn’t explicitly state that players should wear hats to play the game.
Hats protect baseball players from the heat of the sun, the flash from the stadium lights at night, and hair obstructing their vision. But most importantly, players wear them to show team pride.
Softball uniform rules are less strict, and the hat isn’t considered an official part of the uniform.
Some softball players wear a hat, some wear a visor, and some choose to wear nothing on their heads. Female players, in particular, don’t find hats practical because they’ll wear their hair in buns, braids, or ponytails, and hats won’t fit.
11) Some Softball Players Wear Fielding Masks
Softball players tend to wear helmets with masks when they’re hitting or fielding.
Although fielding masks were initially designed to be worn by softball pitchers and catchers, some softball players, like third basemen, choose to wear these masks during games. The main job of the fielding mask is to protect players and reduce the risk of facial injuries.
In a softball game, the distance between each base is shorter than in baseball, which means softball infielders are closer to home plate.
If a ball is hit hard enough it can be difficult for players to react because of how short the infield is. Wearing a fielding mask protects players who are unable to predict the path of the ball.
Softball hitters are also using metal bats so the ball tends to shoot off the bat pretty quickly.
Fielding masks don’t exist in baseball, or at least I have yet to see a player other than the catcher use one.
The distance between the pitching mound and the home plate is 60 feet, and this longer distance decreases the likelihood of facial injuries when compared to softball.
Finally, the wooden bats used in baseball reduce the ball’s exit velocity. Baseball infields are further back from home plate and they have more time to react to hits. So fielding masks aren’t as necessary for fielders as they are in softball.
Although I’ve also taken a few baseballs off the face when fielding and I might have disagreed with that statement at the time. But in general, fielding masks are not needed in baseball and they tend to get in the way.
12) Baseballs and Softballs Are Made Differently
Both baseballs and softballs are composed of several layers, but are made differently. If you were to cut each ball in half, you’d notice they’re made using different materials.
The baseball has a core or pill of granulated cork compressed with rubber. This tiny ball in the center weighs half an ounce and can be about three inches wide.
This core is later wrapped in layers of yarn that give this ball its rigid feel. The first layer is made of 121 yards of four-ply wool yarn, the second one is made of 45 yards of three-ply wool yarn, the third one is made of 53 yards of three-ply wool yarn, and the last one is made of 150 yards of polyester-cotton blend.
The yarn in one baseball amounts to more than 1000 feet when stretched. It’s all wound up by high-quality machines to guarantee that the balls stay taut.
These four layers are different in color. The first is blue-gray, the second is white, the third is blue-gray, and the last is white.
To make the baseball even harder, the whole thing is dipped into rubber cement, which doesn’t take long to cure. Finally, the ball is covered by two pieces of white cowhide shaped like the number eight.
These are hand-stitched using 216 raised stitches using red cotton thread. These raised stitches give players a better grip while pitching and throwing.
Most of the baseballs people use today are made in China, but the official ones used in Major League Baseball games are exclusively made in Costa Rica. Choosing these materials affects how the ball moves because wool bounces. So, when a baseball player hits the ball, it will return to its original shape.
Softballs are also made of several layers, and although they’re called soft, there’s nothing soft about them. There are more variations of softballs, and each one is made using different materials and techniques.
Professional-grade softballs have hard centers, usually made of polyurethane material. They’re used in fast-pitch softball and won’t damage the bat when struck.
On the other hand, some softballs have soft centers and are usually used in slow-pitch softball and school games. The ball typically has a cork center, held in place between layers of rubber, and is larger than a hard-centered softball. Softer balls are less likely to cause injury when less experienced players use them.
Softballs are then covered with two pieces of cowhide or synthetic leather, shaped like the number eight, and hand-stitched using cotton or linen threads. The number of stitches differs according to the size of the ball. You’ll have 80 stitches on an 11-inch ball and 88 stitches on a 12-inch ball.