Designated and Flex Player: What is the rule? (Guide)

There are two softball terms that you may hear used around the field that may be unfamiliar to you. If you’ve ever heard designated player or flex player but have no idea what they actually mean – then you’re in luck.

These players make the game of softball unique, and can provide a coach with more strategic decision.

In order to understand the rule and its intricacies, it will help to know what designated and flex players are, and what purpose they serve on a softball team.

what is designated player in softball

What is the Designated Player?

The Designated Player (DP for short) is a player who is able to hit for another player in the lineup. This player provides more flexibility for coaches as they can place a better hitter in their lineup without sacrificing defense. In essence, it gives teams the best of both worlds.

This is very similar to the Designated Hitter (DH) used in baseball but does have a few differences as will be explained in subsequent sections.

What is a Flex player

Designated players have a yin to their yang, called the Flex player. The problem is if we have a Designated player who is not on the field then how do you fill 9 fielding positions? This is where the Flex player comes in. Where the DP just hits, the Flex just fields.

Designated Player Strategy

The name of the game in softball is to score runs. If you can score the most runs, you’ll win. While that sounds simple, in reality it can be hard to form a team or a lineup that is built to manufacture runs. This is where the designated player, or DP, comes in.

What to Do With the Pitcher

A common problem with a baseball or softball team is when forming a lineup, the pitcher has to be in it.

While again, that is obvious and extremely necessary to have a pitcher, the downside is that it is atypical to have a pitcher who is also a strong hitter. That is, pitchers who rake are hard to come by. This is why players like Shohei Ohtani from the LA Angels, or Olympian Rachel Garcia from UCLA are so valuable.

This is because pitching is a specialty position. It takes much more practice, knowledge, and specific training to be a pitcher rather than a position player. Thus, pitchers end up focusing on just pitching, and put their other skills like fielding and hitting on the backburner. Coaches are blessed if they have a pitcher who rakes, and their teams have a huge advantage.

Find Someone Who Can Hit

Nonetheless, coaches shouldn’t fret if their team isn’t stacked with Players of the Year like Garcia. The DP is a very solid option that is increasing in popularity. To put plainly, the Designated Player is a position in the lineup who strictly hits.

However, depending on the talents of a roster it might be smart to include a DP. The nine people in the field may be a strong defense but may struggle hitting.

flex player in softball

Why would a team use a Designated player?

Anyone who’s ever made a fantasy baseball team knows that it’s hard to form a team that checks all the boxes. The dream player is one who excels at:

  • hitting
  • fielding
  • speed
  • power
  • endurance
  • and more…

Typically, coaches or managers have to choose what to build a lineup for.

While this might sound bizarre to everyone except baseball and softball whizzes, it puts coaches into a real pickle. Some teams have really big bats and a plethora of homeruns, while others are known for robbing them. Depending on the roster, it can be really tough to find a balance. This is where the Designated and Flex players come in.

Managing Strengths and Weaknesses

Coaches of younger age groups may want to use a DP/Flex if they have a player who is a really strong hitter but a weak fielder, and vice versa. This benefits a youth team in more ways than one. For one, the team’s talent gets stronger because you can pick which player to only field and which to only hit.

The DP/Flex combines two players into one, makes it possible to create a stronger player out of two people.

Furthermore and possibly even more importantly, the young players get more playing time. Coaches don’t have to pick one player to sit and one to field; instead they can divide the spot into two. This gives young athletes more experience, increasing teamwork, and keeps parents happy as well.

The DP/Flex at the Competitive Levels

At higher and more competitive levels of ball, however, the DP/Flex is used in a different way.

College teams typically see Flex players in the circle, and the DP as a strong hitter or even a typical position player who just needs a break in the field. This extremely strengthens a lineup because now coaches can put their best hitter in the lineup without sacrificing defense, and can throw their pitcher without worrying about having an unreliable bat, and also allowing him or her to focus on throwing. The DP/Flex combines two players into one to make the best of both worlds.

Coaches Should Know the Rules

However, there are rules with a DP/Flex.

The DP/Flex truly are yin and yang. The DP is only used for the offensive side, and the Flex needs only a mitt. They can be substituted in for one another, but only once a game. That is, the DP can enter the field, taking over the Flex half too. Likewise, the Flex can hit or run the bases for the DP, but then the DP becomes an extra player. After one substitutes for the other, they can be reinstated, but only one time.

When wouldn’t a team use a DP/Flex?

Baseball and softball are extremely competitive games. While the rules are unique compared to other sports like football, soccer, or basketball, baseball and softball are still easy to follow, and conceptually simple.

Yet, when dug deeper, there is a game inside the game. How to build a lineup, how to make the best defense without sacrificing run support, which players to play together on the field; do some players play better together? Is this athlete stronger here or there? Do I put speed or strength at the top of my lineup? There are so many more moving parts than what meets the eye in these two similar sports.

As discussed, a popular way to increase offense without sacrificing defense (and vise versa) is using the DP/Flex lineup option. This way, teams can use 10 players instead of the usual nine. The ninth man is split into two people: one who only hits, and one who only fields. Coaches often use a DP to let the pitcher rest when their team is at bat. This gives the perfect storm for teams and can greatly strengthen a lineup when used correctly.

But, there are times when a coach doesn’t need to use a designated player.

When the Pitcher Can Hit

However, sometimes there is no need for the DP.

A common problem with a baseball or softball team is when forming a lineup, is what to do with the pitcher. In the last section, we noted that if your pitcher isn’t the greatest hitter that a DP/Flex makes perfect sense.

But what if you do have a pitcher than can clobber the softball?

Coaches are blessed when they have a pitcher who rakes, and their teams have an advantage. These multi-purpose players tend to be leaders and batteries for a team. That is, they put the team on their back, work extremely hard, and bring energy to a team. It is so important that they are in the lineup because they help team chemistry and morale.

Using the Best Player at the Plate

On the coaching side, it makes their life easier because they can bat a straight nine-player lineup and don’t have to go through the DP/Flex loophole. So, while the DP/Flex is a great option because it can create a build-your-own-player option – depending on a team’s roster – a coach may have a two-for-the-price-of-one offer by having a pitcher who is also a great hitter, and that is a better deal.

designated player in softball

Does a team have to use a DP?

While the designated player can greatly improve a team, the DP is not necessary. In baseball and softball there are no rules saying that a DP is or is not allowed.

Following the DP/Flex Rules

However, there are rules that the DP must follow. It is known that the flip side of the DP is the flex – the two always go hand in hand. It is possible for one to substitute in for the other, but that does not mean the two can flip positions. In other words – the yin cannot become the yang.

Instead, what the DP/Flex substitution rule allows is for one or the other to overtake both positions instead of just one. That is, the DP can take over the Flex position and both hit and field, or the flex can do the DP’s job on top of their own.

Understanding the Re-Entry Rules

However, this can only be done once in a game. The DP and Flex cannot flip-flop and come and go as their team so pleases. If one wishes to re-enter then they can, but once they are taken out they cannot be re-substituted again.

When Teams Must Play the DP

The only time that a coach must play a DP is if the tournament or league rules mandate it. Otherwise, the coach can choose her lineup for any game. Softball teams should bat a minimum of nine players, which players prefer because they get the most opportunities to face the opposing pitcher. Sometimes, teams will play 10, with the pitcher and DP both batting, simply because the rules allow it.

With large travel, high school, and college teams, using the DP and flex gives players more opportunities to play. The coach has more opportunities to make changes to the lineup to get the win.

Is the DP the same as a Designated Hitter in Baseball?

While the Designated Player and the Designated Hitter appear to have the same job description at a glance, their actual abilities and positions are a little different. Furthermore, the DH is only in the game of baseball, while the DP is in both baseball and softball.

DP vs. DH

As noted many times in this article, the Designated Player is exactly what the title suggests – a “designated player”. Typically this player is designated to hitting, but he or she can be substituted in for their opposite player, the Flex. On the flip side of the coin, the Flex player can have a changing duty as a player by being subbed in or out alongside the DP. Typically they are also put to use in the field as their name also alludes to.

On the other hand, the Designated Hitter is strictly used in baseball but not everywhere. However, it’s made famous for its use by the American League of Major League Baseball. Also, it is only used to replace the pitcher’s spot in the batting lineup. There are no special substitution rules compared to the DP/Flex. Instead, the DH’s job is simple: hit.

The American League enacted the DH to replace the pitcher because MLB pitchers tend to be awful hitters (to be nice). So instead of lending the team a free out they decided to replace their bat with a better hitter. This has led us to legends like David “Big Papi” Ortiz who’s defense can be a liability on the field.

For years, the National League did not make use of the Designated Hitter and had pitchers hit. This created many strategic decisions including the potential of pulling a pitcher too early for a temporary bat. After the MLB lockout, the National League was provided with the same opportunity to have a Designated hitter.

Conclusion

Although it sounds simple – designated and flex players have quite a few different rules and things to watch out for. When used properly they can make a huge difference in a game. We hope this article helped to outline what a designated player is, what they do, and the different strategies that can be used.