Softball pitching rules stand to protect batters and keep pitchers from exploiting certain advantages they already own. For example, the short distance between the pitching mound and home plate in softball means a pitcher with fast velocity can dominate a game. Batters must resort to reaction time and in some cases plain luck to make contact with a pitch. Even with this advantage, many pitchers attempt to gain an additional edge through illegal pitching motions.
In softball, pitchers use a crow hop to re-establish their pivot foot closer to home plate. By doing this, the 60-foot distance between mound and home plate shrinks to approximately 57 feet and that shortens the amount of time a batter has to react to a pitch. Both the American Softball Association (ASA) and the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) prohibit the crow hop. Identifying a crow hop is simple. The pitcher begins her windup momentum. In stepping toward home plate, she slides or hops forward off the mound. Instead of her back foot pushing off the mound rubber, it pushes off the dirt in front of the mound. Any space in between the pivot foot and the mound is illegal and usually results from a crow hop.
Softball rules state that a pitcher must maintain contact with the mound rubber at all times prior to releasing the ball. One way pitchers attempt to get around this rule is to leap forward from the mound and release the pitch closer to home plate. This gives the pitcher more momentum and velocity behind a pitch and also shortens the distance from release point to home plate. However, rules strictly prohibit leaping. If a pitcher leaves the mound with both feet in the air during a pitching motion, it is considered a leap. To prevent this, many pitchers are taught to drag their back foot across the mound during their release. Although a foot dragged across the rubber completely before a pitch is thrown, so no contact is made at the time of release, is illegal, the dragging of the foot also makes it difficult to identify.
While rules against crow hopping and leaping prevent pitchers from getting too close to home plate with their delivery, side-stepping rules limit the angle at which a pitch can be thrown. Specifically, rules state that pitchers cannot side-step beyond the horizontal boundaries of the 24-inch home plate. Stepping beyond the 24-inch barrier allows a pitcher to hide a ball with her body, making it harder for a batter to recognize it out of her hand. It also allows a pitcher to throw a ball at an angle that is difficult for a batter to hit. For example, a pitcher with a long enough step could aim a ball so it comes across the plate at an angle that only grazes the plate coverage. Although an incredibly skillful pitch, this is considered too much of an advantage for pitchers over batters.
Fast Pitch vs. Slow Pitch
While fast-pitch softball heavily favors the pitcher, slow-pitch softball may provide more rule advantages to hitters. There are two major pitching differences between slow pitch and fast pitch aside from velocity. Slow-pitch softball requires a ball to approach the plate with an arc no less than 6 feet and no greater than 10 feet. Fast-pitch softball designates no arc rules. Slow-pitch softball also features a different strike zone than fast pitch to accommodate for the arc. In slow-pitch softball, a pitcher must pass the ball through an imaginary plane located between the batter's front kneecap and back shoulder. This diagonal plane varies based on stance. In fast-pitch softball, a pitcher must place the ball between the knees and armpits of the batter.
- Photo Credit softball image by Steve Brase from Fotolia.com
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