For the past number of years, we have been told by numerous high school and collegiate coaches that the high level softball swing is “much different” than a baseball swing. But after looking at the data and video, is it different at all?
When looking into the data of a pitched and batted ball for both baseball and softball, they have many more similarities than most tend to believe.
Attack Angle: (AA)
Definition: The angle of the bat coming through the zone on its way to make contact with a pitched ball.
Generally, great hitters have the best ability of “matching plane” or “matching angles” or getting their bats on the same angle of the incoming pitch. The earlier that they can get on that plane and the longer they can stay on it, the higher chance they have of hitting the ball square, and transferring as much energy through the ball as possible. This will allow them to hit the ball harder (higher Exit Velocity), and data supports that hitting the ball harder will result in more success at higher levels, especially when matched with quality launch angles.
Exit Velocity: (EV)
Definition: The velocity in MPH of a batted ball.
This has quickly become one of the most important statistics used in professional baseball, and it is equally important (probably more important) in softball due to the smaller size of the field.
Launch Angle: (LA)
Definition: The angle of a batted ball when it leaves the bat after contact.
The more data that is gathered, the more it shows that high exit velocities combined with hitting these pitches at reasonable angles will yield more success. Although just having a higher EV will yield better results than low exit velocities, matching a high EV with the correct LA will allow for the highest chance of success. Its basically like having the answers to the test, and the job is figuring out how to repeat those results.
Based on the three visuals above, it is apparent that the swing plane in order to have the most success is slightly upward, allowing the ball to be driven in the air. Balls hit hard and in the air, give players the highest chance for success.
Baseball vs. Softball Comparison
Now that we know what the data says about a successful baseball swing, we must dive into the same data for a softball swing.
How the Attack Angles Compare:
In baseball, virtually all pitches enter the hitting zone between a -4 and -21 degree angle (Driveline Baseball: Using Swing Plane to Coach Hitters, A Deeper Look), therefore the best attack angle would fall somewhere between +4 and +21 degrees in order to “match plane”. Note that a -21 degree pitch was a 12-6 curve ball, and no pitch in fastpitch softball repertoire can replicate that level of vertical break. (Please note, a positive AA is an upward swing through the zone).
In softball, we have seen the ball enter the hitting zone between -3 degrees and -12 degrees (recorded through various Hittrax Live at bat sessions), so therefore the swing should have an attack angle between +3 and +12 degrees. To give a better idea, a +3 degree is a much “flatter” swing, although still slightly upward, while a +12 degree swing has a much more upward path to it.
But! The riseball!
From all of our gathered data, even with a few pitchers throwing their “riseball” over 60mph, the softball ball still entered the hitting zone at a -3 to -5 degree angle. The backspin that this ball is thrown with keeps it up longer against the force of gravity, combined with it being throw up in the zone gives it the appearance of rising, when it reality we have no statistical proof that this occurs. This means that the hitter must still turn their barrel slightly upward in order to have the best chance of hitting this pitch solid and consistently. Seen Below:
Different Hitters, Different Launch and Attack Angles:
In both baseball and softball, no attack angle will be suitable for every hitter across the board. Each hitter has a different average EV and therefore must work at different LA in order to increase their chances for success. For example, if someone’s peak EV is under 105mph (baseball) we want them to attempt to keep their launch angles between 10-20 degrees, where often their “miss-hits” will land in between the infielders and outfielders, while someone who is over 105mph (Example, Aaron Judge) can work at higher angles, say 20-35 degrees, because even their “miss-hits” have a chance of going in the gap or over the fence. In regards to attack angles, the guys who do not hit the ball as hard would stay more towards the +4 to +10 range, while the power guys could break in to high teens (+12 to +20).
In softball, we believe that players can even work at higher angles because of the size of the field. Based on Hittrax data that we have gathered, if a player’s peak EV is over 70mph they can start to work at higher LA and AA. We would recommend between 20-35 degrees for the launch angles, and +8 to +15 for the attack angles. Because of the smaller nature of the field (often only 200ft fences), missing on the bottom half of the softball is still much more beneficial than on the top half that would lead to ground ball outs. For athletes who can’t quite get up into the higher 60’s and lower 70’s in EV, we recommend keeping their swings a little “flatter” and working “gap to gap”. This often equates to 10-20 degrees for launch angles, and +3 to +8 for attack angles.
As bad as some people want the softball and baseball swing to be different, in reality they are almost identical. It is time for softball hitting instructors to embrace it, and help their hitters reach their true potential. No more “chopping down” or “knob to the ball” cues please. Help your hitters get on plane early, and swing to do damage!