While there are a lot of similarities between baseball and softball, there are definitely some pretty glaring differences as well – not the least of which is that in softball you pitch underhand.
Softball pitchers throw underhand for a couple of different reasons. Throwing underhand is a whole lot easier from a purely mechanical standpoint than throwing overhand, Throwing underhand has a lot less wear and tear on the shoulder joint.
Softball was originally designed to be a game that was significantly slower paced and “safer” than baseball, one that could be played indoors during the winter when you couldn’t go out and play on a diamond.
Below we dig a little bit deeper into the ins and outs of this decision-making, highlight a couple of the benefits that softball underhand pitching brings to the table, and even cover a little bit of the history of the game so that you have a better idea of why it’s a bit different than baseball.
Let’s jump right into it!
Softball Designed to Be a Lower Scoring, Safer Game
As highlighted above, when softball was first invented the idea was to create a game that traditional baseball players could enjoy when they were stuck indoors during winter weather.
At the time baseball was unquestionably the national pastime in the most popular sport in America, dominating newspapers and radio coverage in a way that is almost difficult to imagine today.
Sure, millions and millions of people watch baseball each and every year – but it’s impossible to argue with the fact that baseball has slipped and slid a little bit when it comes to overall popularity, often times ranking behind football as well as basketball (particularly with younger generations).
But when baseball was absolutely dominant there were players all over the country desperate to continue playing, developing their skills, and practicing. Many of them lived in cooler climates with weather that wasn’t conducive to all year round outdoor baseball, and that’s where softball was created.
Because they were indoors (because they were using a larger ball) it was established that you have to throw a softball pitch underhand. Not only did this slow things down (not just because the bigger ball is harder to grip but also because you aren’t using leverage underhand the way you are overhand), but it also made things quite a bit safer for indoor play as well.
Later on, as softball rules really became codified we saw underhand pitching become mandatory. The specific rule according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation (located on page 27 of their rulebook, to be specific) states the following:
The delivery (of a softball pitch) must be an underhanded motion, with the hand below the hip and the wrist not farther from the body via the elbow
Every other player on the softball diamond can throw the ball overhand if they wish, but the pitcher absolutely has to pitch the ball underhand when they are throwing to a batter.
Reasons for Underhand Pitching
There are a couple of reasons aside from history and tradition that softball pitchers throw to the plate with this kind of motion, with the most common reasons highlighted in this quick section.
1. More Accommodating to New Players
Right out of the gate, throwing underhand is a whole lot easier from a purely mechanical standpoint than throwing overhand.
This is especially important for new players that are just getting into the sport and it’s a big part of why you see so many young kids that are learning to play baseball and softball both using an underhand motion.
The underhand motion just feels really natural to us, it’s something that makes a lot of sense from a biomechanical standpoint, and it’s something that sort of resonates from an instinctual level when you want to throw or toss something.
Learning how to throw overhand is a pretty involved process (which is why people without a lot of practice doing so often look so funny when they try). You have to get different parts of the body to move at just the right time and in just the right way to do so efficiently and effectively – whereas throwing underhand (or pitching underhand) is a pretty simple and straightforward alternative.
2. Less Wear and Tear on the Shoulder
Another reason that softball now requires their pitchers to throw underhanded is that there is a lot less wear and tear on the shoulder joint, something that every single baseball player (especially pitchers) can attest to.
Throwing a ball overhand is not all that natural, it doesn’t feel all that great at first, and it’s going to wreak havoc on your muscles and your joints – especially in the shoulder – if you do it over and over again.
Major league pitchers regularly have surgery on their rotator cuffs and other components of their shoulders because of the stress and damage, particularly when you start to mix in some offspeed stuff where you’re trying to move the ball the way you wouldn’t with a fastball.
Throwing underhand does not put this kind of abuse on the rotator cuff simply because the motion works the way that our arms are biomechanical he inclined to work with our shoulder. Everything starts below the waist, nothing ever goes above the shoulder or above your neck, and your body isn’t all that stressed out along the way.
This is not to suggest that softball pitchers aren’t ever going to have to deal with injury because of pitching, by the way. Bicep injuries are very common, especially at the higher levels of the sport, and when you get into fastpitch softball these kinds of injuries are more and more place.
It’s Flat Out More Challenging to Throw a Softball Overhand
Lastly, trying to throw a softball – measuring about 12 inches in circumference and weighing 7 ounces (if you’re going with a regulation option) – overhand is an absolute nightmare for the most part.
This was done on purpose originally (again to make the game safe for indoor play), and while a lot of position players find a way to get comfortable throwing the ball around the diamond overhand you lose a lot of accuracy, you lose a lot of speed, and you lose a lot of control.
Throwing the ball underhand, the other hand is a whole lot easier when you are dealing with something this large and this heavy.
You’ll be able to zip it to the catcher (hopefully by the batter) and thanks to pretty awesome creativity softball pitchers are able to throw harder than ever before and with more movement as well. You may not be able to throw a traditional curveball with an underhand motion, but there are definitely ways to get that pitch to wiggle, to drop, and to dive so that you avoid the hitter’s bat (check our favourite bat on Amazon).
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At the end of the day, throwing underhand in softball is a bit of a mix between “that’s the way the game was designed”, “that’s the way it’s always been done”, and “that’s the way that makes the most sense for this sport”.
Hopefully, we’ve been able to shine a little bit of light on the topic for you so that you have a much better idea of underhand pitching in the sport of softball!