While the sports are similar there are differences between baseball and softball especially when it comes to the equipment. While most youth equipment is the same for both sports, at the adult level of the games, things are different. The balls and the gloves are different, as are the bats used for each sport. If you’re unsure of what bat to use for your given sport or just want to know how the two are different from one another, you have to compare their general makeup and how they perform on the field.
Bat Length and Weight
When you initially compare the bats used for baseball and softball, look to their size. The most notable difference that you can tell just by looking at them is their length. A standard adult baseball bat is 33 inches long while an adult softball bat is 34 inches.
The weight is the next noticeable difference between these two bats. Bats, even those for the same sport, can vary in weight to suit a player’s needs depending on how fast they can swing a bat.
Softball bats tend to weigh around 28 ounces for slow-pitch leagues. These can feel heavier or lighter depending on how the weight is distributed in that specific bat. This has to do with where the balance point is centered on the individual bat so once you find the bat suited for your sport, make sure to pick it up and see how it feels when you swing it. Fast-pitch softball leagues tend to use lighter bats due to the higher speeds of the pitches. The lighter weight allows you to swing the bat faster to keep up with the pitches.
Baseball bats’ weights depend on the league in question. High school level bats and NCAA college leagues have restrictions on their equipment so there are no unfair advantages with aluminum bats. This is known as the minus-three rule. It means that a bat has to be no more than three ounces less than the length of the bat. For example, an aluminum baseball bat that is 33 inches long has to weigh anywhere from 30 ounces to 33 ounces.
Wooden bats used for professional leagues tend to weigh around 33 ounces but there are no weight restrictions for wooden bats in Major League Baseball. The only thing that needs to be followed here is that the bat is made completely of solid wood and can be handled properly by the individual player. For example, MLB great Babe Ruth used a bat that was over 40 ounces to get more power.
When comparing softball bats to baseball bats, the differences might not be immediate but when you physically compare the two you’ll see the differences in length and weight as well as what the bats are made of.
Softball and Baseball Bat Profiles
When you look at the two bats from the side, you’ll notice more differences between them. One of the first differences is the barrel diameter of the bat. Baseball bats have fatter barrels than softball bats with baseball bats for high school and NCAA having a set diameter of 2-5/8 inches and softball bats measuring at around 2-1/4 inches.
The barrel of a softball bat is long stretching down 12 to 14 inches of the whole length of the bat before meeting with the thinner handle of the bat. The barrel tapers down and gets thinner as it blends into the handle, like a typical bat. Fast-pitch softball bats, however, have longer barrels that can take up almost half of the bat’s length and have a shorter tapering leading up to the thin handle in order to give the hitter a larger contact area at the plate.
Aluminum baseball bats have long handles of a consistent width that is a little wider than that of softball bats. The barrel length is much shorter creating a smaller hitting area. In baseball bats, the barrel length is much shorter than softball bats. In fact, the barrel is only around 6 inches long with a longer taper region connecting it to the thinner handle. Wooden bats have thicker handles to protect them from breaking too easily during a game. There is also a flared bottom of the handle instead of a consistent width. These also have a more gradual taper region that makes it hard to define the barrel of the bat at a glance.
By looking at the profiles of softball and baseball bats, you’ll notice that the diameters between the two are different. You’ll also see that the way they’re structured is quite different with softball bats having a larger hitting area and shorter thin handles.
Barrel Stiffness (Trampoline Effect)
The performances of the bats are also different thanks to the different ways the two types of bats are made. The stiffness of the barrels product what is known as a trampoline effect which has to do with the elastic properties of the balls instead of the bats.
Baseballs and softballs are different sizes and are also made differently giving them different elastic properties. Their elastic properties are based on how the ball bounces after hitting a hard surface and is measured as the coefficient-of-restitution or COR. Standard baseballs have a COR of 0.55 while softballs have varying CORs measuring 0.40, 0.44, or 0.47. To put it simply, the COR tells you how much energy a ball loses upon impact. The COR, along with the compression value of the two balls and the speed at which they’re thrown, act together to create the differences in how the bats and balls interact.
The trampoline effect of a bat is basically what happens to the barrel when it hits a ball. Any bat springs and rebounds to transfer its energy to the ball to send it flying back into the field. The springing and rebounding are basically like the motion of a trampoline propelling you into the air after jumping on it. The stiffness of the bat’s barrel comes into play here since stiffer bats won’t react as much as softer bats. Baseball bats tend to be the stiffer of the two bats which means they’ll have less of a trampoline effect than softball bats.
Getting the Right Bat for Your Sport
In order to be properly equipped for the sport you’re playing, you need to make sure that the bat you buy is the right one for it. Ultimately, as long as you aren’t playing in a league with strict requirements, you can get away with using a baseball bat for either game as long as you can make the proper performance adjustments for the differences in the bats’ sizes, but if you are playing in a league that requires certain standards, getting the right bat is more important. You can’t, however, use a softball bat for baseball since they’re not able to stand up the force produced by a pitched baseball. This will make the bat crack in most cases.
To make sure you have the proper bat, compare the lengths, weights, and the size of the barrels. Be sure to look at each bat’s profile to compare the shape of them from the barrel to the handle, too. If the bats aren’t properly designated in a store or you’re buying equipment used from an individual, knowing the differences between the two can help ensure that you’re buying the right bat for your needs.