At a glance, softball and baseball look like very similar games because they have the same goal: try to score more runs than your opponent. If you aren’t familiar with the differences between softball and baseball, you might be wondering which game is harder to play. There are fundamental differences between softball and baseball that can help answer a common question: is softball harder than baseball?
Is Softball Harder Than Baseball?
Yes, Softball is harder than baseball. The smaller field and shorter basepaths make softball harder than baseball.
Softball vs Baseball – The Basics
Field Sizes and Basepath Lengths
One of the first things you notice if you look at softball and baseball fields is the difference in their sizes. A softball field is small and condensed, with shorter basepaths and closer fences. A baseball field larger and spread out, with longer base paths and farther fences.
Because a softball field is so compact, players must do everything much faster. Batters must react to pitches quicker and fielders must make plays quicker. There’s almost no room for error on a softball field and any hesitation or miscue can cost a team an out or a run.
Grapefruit-Sized Ball or Apple-Sized Ball
Another key difference between baseball and softball is the actual ball itself. A softball large and yellow, about the size of a grapefruit. A baseball is small and white, about the size of an apple.
Because of the larger size of a softball, it can be easier to make contact because there is more space for the bat to make contact with the ball. But, not all contact is good contact! Batters want to make solid contact that travels fast and far, so they aim for the center of the ball.
Making good, solid contact on a softball is harder than on a baseball because of its size. Even with good contact, a softball won’t fly as far as a well-hit baseball. Making contact on the “sweet spot” of the ball is harder in softball than in baseball because of the large size of the ball.
Mound to Plate Distance and Pitch Speed
The main feature that makes softball harder than baseball is the short distance between the mound and home plate. On a softball field, that distance is 43 feet. On a baseball field, it’s 60.5 feet. The longer the ball is in the air, there’s more time for the batter to track and react to the pitch.
Because baseball pitchers throw overhand, they can throw the ball faster than a softball pitcher can throw underhand. Baseballs can be thrown at 90 miles per hour and softballs at 70 miles per hour. Even though the speed of a baseball pitch is faster, the reaction time for a softball pitch is less because of the shorter distance between the mound and home plate.
A baseball player has an average of 0.44 seconds to react, a softball player has 0.35 seconds. This is still a short time for both, but every millisecond counts! This is what makes softball so difficult.
Softball and baseball are both games that require players to hit, throw, and field, but there are different features in each game that pose unique challenges. The smaller layout of a softball field makes it a more fast-paced game that is harder than baseball in terms of its speed.
Even though a pitch’s speed is faster in baseball than in softball, the close distance between the mound and home plate in softball allows the batter less time to react. Lastly, it is harder to hit a softball’s “sweet spot,” but the size difference between a softball and baseball gives the players in each sport a different challenge that makes each game special.
This ESPN Sports Science feature looks at how speed impacts batters and fielders in the game of softball. They compare difficult tasks in softball to impressive feats in other sports, including reacting to similar plays in Major League Baseball and even a serve from tennis star Serena Williams.