Baseball and softball are similar in many ways but each sport also has rules in place that the other doesn’t. As someone who has played both sports (albeit recreationally), the difference between baseball and softball rules allows games to flow better and makes them more fun to watch and play.
Some similarities and differences between baseball and softball are: they’re both played on a field with a diamond, players use bats in both sports, slow-pitch softball uses a double bag at first and they both use similar-looking gloves that differ in length and depth.
This isn’t where all the similarities and differences end. To learn more about the unique aspects of each sport and how they’re similar, I encourage you to read on.
Baseball vs Softball Field Dimensions
Baseball and softball are both played on a field that has a diamond, which encompasses three bases and a plate. Softball is considered a faster-paced game because softball players have less time to react due to the infield being smaller and the bases only been 60ft apart. In comparison, the bases in baseball are 90ft apart.
There is also a big difference between softball and baseball field sizes. The fences in softball are usually around 200ft from the plate but can reach upwards of 230ft in center field.
In baseball, the distance between home plate and the nearest fence must be a minimum of 325ft. The minimum size between home plate and center field in baseball is 400ft.
The warning track in softball is about 10ft, while the warning track in baseball is about 15ft. Since softball fields are smaller, there’s less room for error when fielding.
Softball pitchers throw from a pitching rubber, located in the center of the pitcher’s circle. The rubber is 43ft away from home plate at the higher levels.
Compare this to baseball, where the pitchers throw from 60ft and 6” away from home plate. The bases are also farther apart in baseball at 90 feet.
The pitching rubber in baseball is also elevated, while the pitcher’s plate in softball is level with the rest of the field. In baseball, the mounds are 10” higher than the rest of the field.
The first 6” away from the pitcher’s mound is level with the mound itself but then starts to drop off 1” for every foot away from the mound.
Baseball and Softball Size Differences
There are more differences between softball and baseball than similarities when it comes to the balls used in each sport. To start off with, softballs are usually bright yellow, while baseballs are white.
Each softball and baseball has red stitching, which creates drag when the stitching comes into contact with the air, allowing pitchers to throw their arsenal of pitches.
Despite the name, softballs aren’t that soft. Softballs are also designed to not travel nearly as far as baseballs.
In fast-pitch softball, the balls are 11” around. Softballs in slow-pitch softball are 12” big, and softballs used in city leagues (where gloves aren’t used) are 16” around. Softballs weigh between 6.25-7oz.
With the exception of the youngest age groups in baseball, all baseball games use a 9” ball that weighs between 5-5.25oz. At the professional level, rubbing mud is used on baseballs to give pitchers additional grip.
Baseball and Softball Rules
Runners can lead off in baseball and steal whenever they want. Stealing is allowed in fast-pitch softball but the ball has to leave the pitcher’s hand before the runner can move.
Softball players generally can’t steal in adult leagues but there are some leagues that allow stealing once the ball crosses the plate.
In fast-pitch softball, when the pitcher enters the pitching circle with the ball, any runners on base must return to their base or try advancing to the next base.
Runners can’t dance back-and-forth in the baseline to try and bait the pitcher into attempting to throw them out. If a runner does this, the umpire has the right to call the runner out.
Baseball doesn’t have a rule similar to this but both sports use balls and strikes, as well as the same positions. Adult softball does field 10 players though.
Teams will sometimes play a player behind second base in shallow center known as the “rover”, but most teams opt to play with four outfielders instead.
It varies from league-to-league, but many adult softball leagues start at-bats with a 1-and-1 count. The purpose of doing this is to help speed games along.
Another way softball leagues speed up their games is through the “one to waste” and “none to waste” rules. One to waste means that the batter can foul off the ball once with two strikes.
On the second foul ball with two strikes, the batter is out. As I’m sure you can guess, none to waste means you’re out on the first ball you foul off with two strikes.
One of the biggest differences between baseball and softball is that adult softball leagues use a double bag at first. A double bag consists of two bases that are connected to one another, with one base being in fair territory and one in foul territory.
When running through first base, runners have to make contact with the base in foul territory. This base is usually bright orange or another color that stands out from normal white bases.
For a runner to be called out on a force play at first base, fielders must touch the white base in fair territory. The purpose of this is to help prevent collisions. For both sports, a normal base is 15” long and 3-5” thick.
Softball games are seven innings long at the highest level compared to nine innings with baseball. Something unique to slow pitch softball leagues is pitch height.
Many leagues require softball pitchers throw their pitches between a height of 6-12ft. Umpires can deem pitches illegal by indicating that they’re too flat or too high. When this happens and the batter doesn’t swing, a ball is added to the count.
There are also unlimited height softball leagues, where softball pitchers throw the ball as high as they possibly can while still hitting the plate. It’s much harder to hit a softball that’s coming almost directly down opposed to one that’s coming in at chest-height.
Baseball vs Softball Bats and Gloves
Baseball and softball bats come in multiple forms. Both softball and baseball use bats that are of an alloy (a mixture of aluminum and other metals), composite (reinforced carbon fiber) and hybrid (composite handle and alloy barrel) designs. Professional baseball players use wood bats.
Softball and baseball bats can also be classified as “one-piece” or “two-piece”. One-piece bats are made out of one material and are stiffer than two-piece bats. Two-piece bats have a handle that’s attached to the barrel that allows for more flex.
Baseball bats are also made with the Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) in mind. These bats are designed to reduce the trampoline effect when a bat comes into contact with a baseball.
This rule was put into place to protect baseball players in general, but especially the pitchers who don’t always have time to react to batted balls.
BBCOR bats can’t exceed a drop 3 (-3). This means that the length/weight ratio of the bat can’t be greater than 3. For example, a bat that’s 32” long can’t weigh less than 29oz. These bats come in aluminum, composite and hybrid models.
Along with bats, baseball and softball players use similar-looking gloves. The main difference between softball and baseball gloves is that the former are generally longer and have deeper pockets to accommodate the larger size of softballs.