In the vast world of sports, softball stands out like a shimmering diamond on a sunlit field. It’s more than just baseball’s close relative; it’s a game with its own identity, rhythm, and quirks. One of the most captivating facets of softball is its distinctive style of pitching – a whirl of arms that ends in a swift underhand release.
So can you pitch overhand in softball? The answer is no. Unlike in baseball where a pitcher will throw overhand – this type of pitch is not allowed per softball rules. Positional players can still throw overhand around the field, but when pitching to an opposing hitter – the pitch must use an underhand motion.
What the rule books say
Both USA (formally ASA) and USSSA softball clearly define that underhand pitching is a requirement for play.
- USA Softball – Page 60 of the Official Softball USA rulebook states: The delivery shall be an underhand motion with the hand below the hip and the wrist not farther from the body than the elbow.
- USSSA – Page 35 of the Fastpitch Rule book and Bylaws indicates that “A LEGAL DELIVERY – shall be a pitched ball that is delivered to the batter with an underhand motion“.
So as clearly states – underhand pitching is an absolute requirement in softball. However – you might be wondering why that is. We look at those reasons in the sections that follow.
Why do Softball Pitchers throw underhand?
You might now be wondering why softball pitchers throw underhand as it seems like overhand should be faster and easier to learn. However there are some key reasons why the underhand motion has become the preferred pitch in softball including:
- Hitter Safety
- Pitcher Safety
- Pitcher Arm Fatigue
- Ball Size
- Easier to Train and Progress
Safety – for Hitters
One of the primary reasons softball pitchers throw underhand is the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate.
In softball, this distance is notably shorter than in baseball. Depending on the league and age group, the mound can be anywhere from 35 to 43 feet away from the batter. In contrast, a baseball mound is 60.5 feet from home plate.
This reduced distance means that batters have significantly less time to react to a pitch. The mechanics of overhand pitching in baseball often result in pitches that exceed speeds of 90 miles per hour in professional leagues. In fastpitch softball, while underhand pitches can still be incredibly fast, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, the underhand motion allows for a somewhat different ball trajectory.
If softball pitchers were to throw overhand, the increased speed combined with the shorter distance could pose a serious risk to batters, given their reduced reaction time. It’s crucial to ensure that batters have an adequate opportunity to identify, react to, and hit (or dodge) the ball, ensuring their safety.
Safety – for Pitchers
For the same reasons in the last section with respect to field sizes and distances – underhand pitching is also much safer for the pitcher themselves.
While underhand pitches can be quite fast, they generally don’t reach the extreme velocities of overhand baseball pitches. A ball hit back to the pitcher off a less speedy pitch might be somewhat slower, giving the pitcher a slightly better reaction time. If overhand pitching with similar speeds to baseball were allowed in softball, it could lead to an increased number of injuries, including dangerous line drives back at the pitcher.
Pitcher Arm Fatigue
Have you ever noticed how softball pitchers seem to have an endless energy tank, or can bounce back quicker than in baseball? One of the reasons is that their arms aren’t as susceptible to becoming as fatigued.
The underhand motion helps reduce fatigue in the following ways:
- Natural Flow: With underhand pitching the arm swings in rhythm with the body’s natural groove, meaning less shoulder strain.
- Team Effort by Muscles: Think of underhand pitching as a relay race where every muscle pitches in (pun intended). From legs to core to arms, it’s a collective effort, distributing the load and keeping fatigue at bay.
- Lesser Strain, More Gain: While baseball has some high-tension curveballs and sliders, underhand pitches in softball are like varied notes in a smooth melody — diverse, yet less straining.
- Stride with Pride: Instead of lunging forward like in baseball, softball pitchers rise with grace, putting less toll on those legs and back.
We all know that softballs are larger than baseballs. The following considerations describe more reasons why softball pitchers benefit from throwing underhand instead of overhand.
The larger softball size makes it more challenging to grip and control with an overhand motion, especially when attempting to introduce spin or specific pitches. The underhand technique allows for a more secure grip and better manipulation of the ball’s spin.
There are several pitch types that top level softball players can make in a game. These pitches (like riseballs, dropballs, curves, etc.) are exciting and facilitated by the underhand motion. Given the size of the ball, certain grips and releases would be awkward or ineffective with an overhand throw.
Easier for Beginners to Learn and Train
The underhand motion in softball is often perceived as more intuitive for beginners, especially when compared to the technicalities of overhand pitching in baseball.
One reason is the fluidity and natural movement associated with underhand throws. Think about a child picking up a ball from the ground and tossing it — they will naturally employ an underhand motion. This instinctive approach means that new players can grasp the basics without an overwhelming amount of initial technical instruction. Additionally, the underhand motion, being in line with the body’s natural biomechanics, often feels less intimidating and more comfortable, especially when using the larger softball.
Progression to Advanced
As novice players get a hang of the basic underhand pitch, the progression to more advanced techniques is gradual and logical. The foundational movements of the basic underhand pitch serve as building blocks for introducing spin, varying speed, and mastering other pitches like the riseball, curveball, and change-up. In contrast, overhand pitching, especially in baseball, can sometimes require a radical shift in techniques as players progress. In softball, the journey from a beginner’s pitch to a more advanced pitch feels like a natural evolution. Coaches and trainers often find it easier to layer on complexities since they’re building on a motion that the player has already internalized.
Moreover, the training regimen for underhand pitching focuses a lot on muscle memory, repetitive motions, and consistent techniques. As a result, with regular practice, even newcomers to the sport can quickly find rhythm and consistency in their pitches, leading to a more rewarding learning experience and fostering a deeper love for the game.
History of Underhand Pitching in Softball
Another important consideration as to why softball pitchers do not pitch overhand lies in the origin and history of the sport itself.
Origins of the underhand pitch
Like most things – softball was sort of invented by accident. I’ll save the detailed history for a future article, but the general gist is that a boxing glove was thrown by a fan of one football team at a fan of the opposing team. This opposing fan hit the glove with a broomstick which was noticed by a reporter at the game.
This reporter then decided that the game would be called “indoor baseball”- a form of baseball that could be played indoors during the winter. As it was played indoors, the “field of play” was smaller and therefore pitches were thrown softly and underhand – similar to what you would see in the slowpitch game today.
Moving to the Outdoors
Eventually “indoor baseball” would move itself outdoors. Because the field size was still smaller than a baseball field – underhand pitching was still used. The underhand motion was seen as less aggressive and more controlled, especially with the larger, softer ball. Given that the field’s size was also smaller than a traditional baseball field, the underhand pitch made sense in terms of control and player safety.
As softball developed its distinct identity separate from baseball, the rules and techniques, including underhand pitching, became ingrained in the sport’s culture. The unique pitching style differentiated it from baseball and added a layer of strategy that players and fans grew to love.
Movement to Fastpitch
As is the case with many sports, the game grew more and more popular, and evolved. It made sense at first to start off lobbing the ball easily to hitters. However as years passed equipment changed (softball instead of boxing gloves), more people (women specifically) started playing, and the overall player pool just got better.
Players started making changes and eventually started getting away from the easy lobbing of pitches to the way you see things now. One thing that was kept all of the years despite all of the other changes was underhand pitching. I am glad for that as it makes the game much more unique and interesting in my opinion.
Is Overhand pitching better than Underhand?
I think you know my answer to this one! I feel like underhand pitching is just as good (if not better) than overhand pitching. I realize that there are many that will disagree with me though. Honestly – I think if we just consider both aspects separate and enjoy both then we will all be fine.
That being said – I wanted to provide some reasons as to why I feel underhand pitching offers some really unique game situations that you don’t see as frequently with overhand pitching.
Speed of the Game
Fastpitch softball, as the name suggests, often has rapid gameplay. The underhand windmill technique can generate pitches reaching speeds close to baseball pitch speeds, but the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate in softball is much shorter as we mention earlier. This gives batters less reaction time, making for intense and quick at bats.
The underhand motion in softball allows for a unique set of pitches that aren’t seen in baseball. Riseballs, dropballs, and screwballs, combined with varying speeds, introduce a challenging mix for batters. A perfectly executed riseball that seems to jump as it reaches the plate is one of the exhilarating sights in sports.
Given the closer proximity of fielders and the differences in pitching, bunting and slap hitting (where the batter begins to run and hits the ball simultaneously) are integral strategies in softball. These techniques create dynamic gameplay, as defenses need to be agile and anticipate these moves. If you want to learn more about slapping in softball – please see our What is a slapper article.
Given the shorter distance between bases (60 feet in softball compared to 90 feet in baseball), and the fact that pitchers are throwing underhand requires a different strategy when stealing bases in softball. The timing of the steal, the jump the runner gets, and the catcher’s throw all become even more crucial in the compressed space.
When it comes to answering the question of whether or not a softball pitcher can pitch overhand, the answer is a simple No. The rules for all of the major softball associations strictly prohibit it. After all – if you plan to play softball for a long time than you may want to get used to how the top players in the world throw and adjust.
Although overhand pitching is not allowed, there are several reasons why pitching underhand is considered an advantage. Pitchers aren’t as fatigued, don’t have as much arm injury issues, and have a better opportunity to react to line drives and other hard hits.
Although i’m sure in the past there were many thoughts to go overhand for pitching, but I am personally glad they kept things as is to keep this great game unique.
If you want to learn more about the different underhand pitches you could see in a softball game – you may want to check out this article next which outlines the different pitch types.