April 20, 2014

Is the softball swing different than the baseball swing?

Welcome to my weekly hitting blog here at ShowcaseLeague.com. My name is Bobby Tewksbary and I will be coaching the Lowell-based baseball team in the Showcase League next fall. I am the cofounder of A.B. Athletic Development in Nashua, NH and I work with baseball and softball players full-time. If you want to learn a little bit more about me, click here. This blog is going to be a detailed look into swing mechanics, the mental approach to hitting, video analysis, instruction and other aspects of hitting. But first, I need to get all the Showcase League hitters on the same page!

Is the softball swing different than the baseball swing?

In one word: No.

For many years, the softball world yelled and screamed that the swings were different. Many softball coaches still push this on their players. But the truth is – with exception to slap hitting – the baseball and softball swing is the same. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Mike Candrea and Sue Enquist, two of the top softball coaches in the country, agree.

Candrea and Enquist for Right View Pro – Baseball and Softball Swing the Same
Candrea at a Clinic – Baseball and Softball Swing the Same

There are two primary arguments for why the swing is different.
1. Softball players require a shorter/quicker swing do to reaction time and,
2. The plane of a softball pitch – specifically the rise – is different.

Here are some answers to quickly dismiss both arguments.

Reaction Times in Baseball vs Softball

Here is a spreadsheet I made in 2008 for throwing batting practice. I wanted to simulate reaction times without actually having to throw 90 mph. It comes in handy in this argument. In high school baseball, top pitchers are usually 85 mph or higher. Potential draft picks throw 90+. So the softball equivalent is:
- From 40 ft, 60 MPH is roughly the equivalent to 90 MPH.
- From 45 ft, 67 MPH is roughly equivalent to 90 MPH.

Since mounds are now 43 ft, a softball pitcher throwing 60 is like a mid-80s pitcher in baseball. Reaction times are very similar. You could also argue that since the ball is actually moving slower, there is more time the ball is literally in the zone to make contact.

The Plane of the Pitch and The Rise

What is the best way to hit a rise? Don’t swing. If it is high, it isn’t a strike. Seriously though, Jen Yee (former Georgia Tech star and Canadian Olympian) wrote a pretty awesome blog post with information about the trajectory of pitches. The rise does rise. It is very hard to hit. So is a slider away for baseball players if it isn’t a strike. Make sure you check out this picture.

Softball Pitch Plane

Of course, this isn’t good news for old school softball coaches. For years, they have taught that the softball swing was different. I can remember watching the softball swing in high school with all the girls smacking their backs with the bat. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure that out. The issue for coaches now is that since the swing is the same for baseball and softball… they have to learn the baseball swing.

Identifying a High Level Swing (with Video Breakdown)

One more issue with this swing debate is that softball players don’t really look like baseball players. If you want to see a bunch of softball swings, check out this link: DiscussFastpitch Forum – Model Swings

Softball doesn’t have a minor league filtering system and athletes can thrive at the college level – especially considering the technology in the bats! Here is a YouTube clip of Tairia Flowers being compared to David Wright that was recently sent to me regarding baseball and softball comparisons. Watching the clip, the guy talking makes it look like these swings are alike. (As a rule, I always watch videos like this with the volume off first, then watch again with audio to see if I agree.) Here’s a more accurate look at these clips.

Tairia Flowers, David Wright Comparison Video

I will agree that Flowers is taking a baseball swing, however I would not classify it as a high level swing when compared to the best baseball swings AND the best softball swing. Since it was a comparison to David Wright, let’s dig into that first.

Here’s where the most important stuff happens. Where the speed and suddenness of the swing occurs.

Tairia Flowers, David Wright Comparison Video

There are issues with Flower’s swing that are very common problems I see with the baseball swing. First, she shifts her weight to the front side. To keep her hands back, she extends her lead arm. Not all lead arm extension is bad, but in this case she is loading the front side. Finally, to get the swing going, she has a lot of shoulder rotation and lead arm pull to power the swing. Compare to Wright who has a much precise move to the ball from the rear hip.

Tairia Flowers, David Wright Comparison Video Lead Arm and Shoulder Extension and Pull

Both players have moved forward, but only Flowers has shifted her weight forward. The last couple frames into the ball, you can see her moving vertically from the front leg, not turning into the ball. This would be like pushing the lead leg up right before releasing the ball in a throw.

Now let’s compare Flowers to the baseball swing of Albert Pujols. (I dare anybody to name five better hitters in baseball’s history.) For Pujols, there is no lead arm extension to keep the hands back, he has a similar move forward as Wright’s without shifting the weight forward (they are both coiling the rear hip, not shifting), and a no vertical move from the lead leg into contact.

Tairia Flowers, Albert Pujols Comparison Video

And now a comparison with Crystl Bustos*, widely regarded as the best softball hitter… ever. Bustos does have lead arm extension, but there are a couple important style pieces to take note of. First, her starting position is different. She needs to move her hands back. Second, she doesn’t shift her weight forward before the swing. Flowers has leveraged her body to pull with the lead shoulder and lead arm. Bustos is still back. Try it. Stand up and shift your weight to your front foot and get some stretch feel in the left shoulder… then pull with the front shoulder or arm. Then try to launch a swing from with your weight still back. These are two very, very different movement patterns.

Tairia Flowers, Crystl Bustos Comparison Video


* This is the only clip I had prepared of Bustos. In this swing, she had baited a Japanese pitcher to throw an inside pitch and she hit it mostly out of the stadium. I have seen other swings and although she knew what was coming, I don’t believe this swing is a false representation of her mechanics.

Finally, a comparison of all the hitters at the same time. While Flowers is taking a swing that is comparable to many baseball swings I see, it doesn’t match high level baseball or softball swings.
Tairia Flowers, David Wright, Crystl Bustos, Albert Pujols Video Matrix

If you want to look at the clips frame-by-frame, check out this link for instructions:
How To Save and View Animated GIFs

Until Next Week…

Thanks for taking the time to read! If you have any questions or if you’re interested in getting your swing on film, please email me at bobby@abathletics.com. Of course, you can fill up the comments as well! Next week I will be talking about striding patterns and how “getting the foot down early” could be one of the worst things you do in your swing.

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Comments

  1. Just a guy says:

    Don’t you think its a shift and swing because she has a “casting” swing? She has to shift her weight prior to the swing because of the poor hand path. Improve the hand path, the shift and swing disapears.

    • I do not think this swing has any issue with casting. She does roll the top hand back early, but I believe that is a product of where she is trying to get her power from. I understand casting as the barrel getting away from the rear arm/rear shoulder, not necessarily from lead arm extension, and I don’t see that here.

      When I picture casting in my head, I see something more like this:
      http://i164.photobucket.com/albums/u31/rndhad/johnson.gif

      As for improving the hand path, it depends on your opinion about what an improved hand path means. She is shifting THEN swinging while the others are shifting AND swinging. The swing is/causes the weight shift in a high level swing. Simply keeping the hands in tighter would likely result in a push swing… different than a pull swing, but still not whip.

  2. John says:

    Wanted to say thanks, My daughter and I really enjoyed it and look forward to more.

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  1. [...] Bobby Tewksbary has completed his first blog for a new weekly series at ShowcaseLeague.com. The blog will focus on all aspects of hitting. His first post answers the question: Is the softball swing different than the baseball swing? [...]

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