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RitterSport
04-14-2010, 10:22 AM
Today's column (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/268/whats-the-purpose-of-the-pitchers-mound-in-baseball) brings up a question I've had for a while. Softball pitchers (in college or in the Olympics) seem to have a bigger advantage over the batters than baseball pitchers. And, the movement itself seems to be much easier on the pitcher, since I believe winning pitcher from Japan pitched two games in the same day(!). Further, softball pitchers are able to accomplish this even without a mound to give them the advantage noted in the column.

So, why do baseball pitchers pitch overhand? I think the column poorly addresses that matter, but since this is a more general question, I've put it here.

More questions: Is my impression correct, that softball pitchers have a bigger advantage over the batters? Are E.R.A.s lower in softball? Is the movement more natural or less damaging? According to the column, MLB pitchers could pitch underhand if they wanted to, but could they windmill pitch?

Contrapuntal
04-14-2010, 10:32 AM
More questions: Is my impression correct, that softball pitchers have a bigger advantage over the batters?Generally, but bear in mind that they are about 20 feet closer to the batter.

pulykamell
04-14-2010, 10:33 AM
I don't know the answer, but also take into account that the softball pitcher's mound is 46' or 43' away (male, female, respectively) from home plate for fast-pitch, while it's 60'6" in the MLB.

Chefguy
04-14-2010, 10:46 AM
One of the current players on The King and His Court (http://www.kingandhiscourt.com/khcteam.php)(a 4-man softball team that has been doing exhibition games since the 40s) was offered a contract by the Phillies to pitch underhand. A side note: one of the stunts this team does is to pitch to (and strike out) batters from second base.

Philster
04-14-2010, 11:10 AM
Underhand pitching from 60-plus feet and on a high mound with a small baseball would be vastly different.

A few pitchers have pitched underhand in major league baseball. They were more side-armed style, but with a drop so low the rotation was effectively underhanded and the pitches would rise (although there was some curve action on the ball, too).

RealityChuck
04-14-2010, 11:49 AM
There were pitchers who did pitch underhand in the past and even now (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_(baseball)) (most lists don't differentiate between submarine and sidearm (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/List_of_Submarine_Pitchers)). Here are some photos. (http://hurtyelbow.typepad.com/hurtyelbow/2009/04/submarine-style-baseball-pitchers.html)

Players are rarely taught to pitch underhand. If they are starting out and want to try it, their coaches will probably discourage them. Players who develop it usually do so once they have established themselves as an overhand pitcher.

In addition, softball in the US is usually a woman's sport through high school and college. Potential submarine pitchers don't get their start there -- they're playing baseball.

RitterSport
04-14-2010, 01:29 PM
...Here are some photos. (http://hurtyelbow.typepad.com/hurtyelbow/2009/04/submarine-style-baseball-pitchers.html)

...In addition, softball in the US is usually a woman's sport through high school and college. Potential submarine pitchers don't get their start there -- they're playing baseball.

Ugh. Those pictures looks their arms are broken. It's amazing they can move that way.

Are their any other woman's sports where the technique is so different from the man's version?

So, it seems to come down to the longer distance between the mound and the plate that explains the relative pitcher dominance in softball. It's odd, though -- I imagine the top male pitchers, had they been trained in windmill pitching from the start, would be able to maintain that dominance, even at the longer distance. The ball would be comparatively faster than softball pitches. And, windmill really seems more natural (especially after those pictures) and easier on the arm and shoulder, given that Olympic performance.

One of my questions remains -- would an MLB pitcher be allowed to windmill? Or, does their wind-up and overall movement have to follow some template?

Philster
04-14-2010, 01:33 PM
They can windmill, and used to.

Get your brain around this: Imagine trying to hit a 95 MPH fastball that was thrown at a distance of 43', and that ball has some movement on it.

Contrast that with trying to hit a ball thrown underhand from 60' 6". I don't think the underhand throw is going to have the speed, movement or location needed to dominate.

OldGuy
04-14-2010, 01:57 PM
I'm pretty sure, but don't have a cite, that the pitch motion used by so-called underhand pitchers in baseball would not be legal in soft-ball.

RitterSport
04-14-2010, 03:16 PM
They can windmill, and used to.

Get your brain around this: Imagine trying to hit a 95 MPH fastball that was thrown at a distance of 43', and that ball has some movement on it.

Contrast that with trying to hit a ball thrown underhand from 60' 6". I don't think the underhand throw is going to have the speed, movement or location needed to dominate.

No, I get that, I really do. My question was really this: given that women softball pitchers better dominate batters than MLB pitchers, and they don't even have a raised mound, and given that the motion seems to be less damaging, why don't MLB pitchers use it?

Well, I'm told that they are pitching from a closer distance, and they are women pitching to women. Fair enough, however, I would imagine that top male pitchers pitching from 60'6" would proportionately scale up the speed and movement, so they may dominate as well from the further distance, and they should have more stamina. Maybe that's not true, or maybe it's just that they only teach overhand pitching in little league, so it's a cultural thing.

It has to be one of those factors, since it sounds like they would allowed to windmill if they wanted to.

kenobi 65
04-14-2010, 03:21 PM
I'm not an expert at fast-pitch softball pitching, but, in watching videos of such pitching, it looks like a fair amount of the motion involves striding towards the plate. I don't know how well that translates into baseball, where the pitcher (as I understand it) has to keep one foot on the pitching rubber.

RealityChuck
04-14-2010, 03:41 PM
Are their any other woman's sports where the technique is so different from the man's version?Generally, women's sports have evolved to match the men. You don't have things like sidesaddle riders or six-woman basketball any more (women's basketball used to have two forwards, two guards, and two rovers. The rovers were the only ones allowed to cross midcourt).

RaftPeople
04-14-2010, 04:00 PM
Are their any other woman's sports where the technique is so different from the man's version?

Youth LaCrosse in my area is contact for the boys and non-contact for the girls (which apparently was the original rules).

Lamar Mundane
04-14-2010, 04:04 PM
The real reason for the dominance in pitching in softball (men's and women's) is movement, not speed. A softball has almost 50% more surface area than a baseball, plus the stiches are larger. You can make a softball move way more than a baseball.

I caught for a guy in college who played professional fast pitch softball in the summer. He could throw a baseball from a windmill motion, but it just wasn't very fast. It would drop precipitously, but he could only use it once a game, because once you had seen it, it was very easy to sit on and hit. I'd say he could throw the underhanded pitch around 70 mph tops, while an average college fastball was in the mid to high 80's.

thirdwarning
04-14-2010, 04:16 PM
I'm not an expert at fast-pitch softball pitching, but, in watching videos of such pitching, it looks like a fair amount of the motion involves striding towards the plate. I don't know how well that translates into baseball, where the pitcher (as I understand it) has to keep one foot on the pitching rubber.

"The pivot foot must remain in contact with the pitcher’s plate at all times before the forward drag, leap or hop.
i. In the act of delivering the ball, the pitcher may take one step with the leading, non-pivot foot simultaneous with the release of the ball. The step must be forward toward the batter and within the 61.0cm (24 in) length of the pitcher's plate." From the ASA rulebook

Fast-pitch softball, too, the back foot has to stay in contact with the pitcher's plate.

And OldGuy, you're right, that motion wouldn't be legal. The wrist can't be farther away from the body than the elbow. So that sidearm pitch wouldn't work.

DrCube
04-14-2010, 05:19 PM
Baseball pitchers used to pitch underhand in the 19th century, and almost everyday. (See Old Hoss Radbourn, who won 60 games in 1884!) There was a rule change that allowed pitchers to pitch overhand (it wasn't allowed before), which killed their stamina and required a pitching rotation. Presumably they wouldn't have switched unless it was almost universally a more effective way of getting batters out, due to the strain on the arm.

kferr
04-14-2010, 05:26 PM
Generally, women's sports have evolved to match the men. You don't have things like sidesaddle riders or six-woman basketball any more (women's basketball used to have two forwards, two guards, and two rovers. The rovers were the only ones allowed to cross midcourt).
In Iowa high school girl's basketball in the late 70's (when I was in high school in Iowa) there were 3 defensive and 3 offensive players on each side, nobody crossed the line at all.

Back to the OP, there are several sports involving thrown balls and custom seems to overrule efficiency every time. Compare baseball to softball to cricket. All different styles and all delivering balls in the 80-100mph range.

installLSC
04-15-2010, 12:21 AM
An excellent discussion of the switch from underhand to overhand pitching is in the opening chapter of the "Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" by Bill James and Rob Neyer. James and Neyer point out that before the 1880s, pitchers were more supposed to put the ball in play (like slowpitch softball) than get batters out. Pitchers were required to pitch stiff armed and underhand. As the 1880s went on, pitchers started gradually stretched the rules. Overhand pitching was legalized in 1884 and had virtually driven out underhanders by the end of the decade. Why if overhand is more stressfull on the arm? James and Neyer note that you rarely generate velocity above 80 mph throwing underhand. Plus the variety of pitches and their movement greatly increases when you throw overhand. It's no coincidence that of the few submariners of the post-WW2 era, only Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry had anything approaching All Star status. Overhand helped changed pitchers from ball deliverers to the center of the game.

Now why you may ask doesn't this hinder softball pitchers? It's because pitching from 43 feet is way easier than 60 feet. Hitters have way less reaction time and there's at least a 10 mph increase in velocity at the shorter distance. 1892 was the last year baseball had 50 feet between mound and plate. Hitters averaged .245 with 5.1 runs per game. Just two years later, they hit .309 with 7.4 runs a game! See here. (http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/bat.shtml)

Incensed
04-15-2010, 08:23 PM
A couple of angles that have been overlooked-

In baseball, the ball comes in on a downward plane probably north of 95% of the time. In order to maximize his chances of contact, a hitter generally tries to match the plane in reverse-a slight uppercut-which generates line drives and deep fly balls, which translate into almost certain singles or extra base hits. So the standard swing is close to optimal for both contact and power.

In softball, by contrast, the ball comes in on either a upward or downward plane, with upward being the most prevalent, I believe. So a hitter has a choice-swing down, to maximize her chances of contact, or swing up, sacrificing her ability to connect for better outcomes if she does. In softball there's a major philosophical choice between power and contact, whereas in baseball the choice is much less significant with regard to mechanics.

Another factor that may play in a softball pitcher's favor is the relative range of her fielders compared to the area of the playing field. In softball, there's about 35,000 square feet in play (assuming a uniform 210' fence) and 7 fielders (excluding pitcher and catcher) to cover it. In baseball, there's about 108,000 square feet in play (370' fence) and 7 fielders to cover it. Estimating that a baseball outfielder can cover a 50' diameter circle on any given play and all the infielders combined field 85% of all balls on the infield, that gives a effective coverage to about 20%. Assuming a softball outfielder can cover a 25' circle*** and the infielder's the same 85% of the infield, that gives an effective coverage of about 28.5%.

Now it may well be that a proper evaluation with correct field dimensions and range factors would reveal that more of the field is covered in baseball; I'm not stating the above as truth, but as a plausible factor regarding pitcher's dominance.

But, as other's have said, advantage A1 with regard to performance is the shortened distance.

***No I'm not quite sexist enough to think women are only half as fast as men; I arrived at 25' by starting with the men's range, estimating hang time differential by field dimension relationship and multiplying by 90% to account for the speed differential. 50 x (210/370) x 0.90= 25.54. I should have used 26', but I'm not starting over.

Donny Kerabatsos
10-18-2011, 05:15 PM
Ugh. Those pictures looks their arms are broken. It's amazing they can move that way.

Are their any other woman's sports where the technique is so different from the man's version?

So, it seems to come down to the longer distance between the mound and the plate that explains the relative pitcher dominance in softball. It's odd, though -- I imagine the top male pitchers, had they been trained in windmill pitching from the start, would be able to maintain that dominance, even at the longer distance. The ball would be comparatively faster than softball pitches. And, windmill really seems more natural (especially after those pictures) and easier on the arm and shoulder, given that Olympic performance.

One of my questions remains -- would an MLB pitcher be allowed to windmill? Or, does their wind-up and overall movement have to follow some template?

So many variables. First of all being a softball (underhand) pitcher requires throwing a ball from a flat surface whereas in baseball the mound in professional baseball is 18 inches in height.

Windmill or no windmill? In BB yes you can use a windmill windup but it's usually done with only no runners on base. Why? Because when a runner is on base in baseball they can lead off and steal. The typical time that a pitcher in baseball should go from his first movement till the ball hits the catchers mit is around 1.0 to 1.2 seconds. Remembering to time the runner from 1st base in a stealing attempt, his time needs to be below the pitchers time to catcher and the time the catchers throw reaches second base, usually a combined 3.5 to 3.8.

OldGuy
10-18-2011, 06:33 PM
So many variables. First of all being a softball (underhand) pitcher requires throwing a ball from a flat surface whereas in baseball the mound in professional baseball is 18 inches in height.

Nitpick It's not 18 inches and I don't think it ever was except back in the 19th century before it's height was regulated. It was 15 inches when I started watching baseball in the 50s and lowered to 10 inches after the 1968 season when Yaz won the AL batting title with a .301 average, Gibson had a 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain was the last pitcher to win 30 games. (I think that's all correct.)

TriPolar
10-18-2011, 06:55 PM
Okay, something to clear up here. There are slow-pitch and fast-pitch versions of softball.

The slow pitch version requires the ball to follow an arc of minimum height. I forget the analysis of why it makes it harder to judge the speed and path of the ball that way. Also the spin makes it more difficult to get the ball in the air that way from anything but dead center contact with the bat. But slow pitch is generally considered easier to hit.

In fast pitch, a windmill pitch is used to throw underhand at high speed. A softball is larger than a baseball, and more off center spin can be put on it, the spin can make it rise, and it still tends to go down unless you hit it dead center.

Eddie Feigner used to pitch from second base on a softball field, which is closer than second base on a baseball field. He probably could pitch from second base on a baseball field though, his right arm was huge, it looked like it was twice the size as his left. He could do this because an underhand pitch is much easier on the joints than an overhand pitch, even with the weird motion he could put on balls.

Back to your regularly scheduled program.

Donny Kerabatsos
10-19-2011, 12:31 PM
Nitpick It's not 18 inches and I don't think it ever was except back in the 19th century before it's height was regulated. It was 15 inches when I started watching baseball in the 50s and lowered to 10 inches after the 1968 season when Yaz won the AL batting title with a .301 average, Gibson had a 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain was the last pitcher to win 30 games. (I think that's all correct.)

Well, it was 18 inches when I played and if you want to be picky it's actually 10 and 1/2 inches.

The point is the mound is raised in baseball and not in softball. Whether it's 10 or 110 inches is not the point.


According to Major League Baseball rules, the peak of the mound (where the pitching rubber sits) must be ten and 1/2 inches above the level of home plate (MLB Rule 1.04). The degree of slope from an area six inches in front of the rubber is one inch to one foot (this is in the direction of the plate), and must be uniform. The pitching rubber is legally defined in the rules as the "pitcher's plate".

Colibri
10-19-2011, 12:42 PM
Moving to the Game Room from GQ.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

gonzomax
10-19-2011, 01:18 PM
One of the current players on The King and His Court (http://www.kingandhiscourt.com/khcteam.php)(a 4-man softball team that has been doing exhibition games since the 40s) was offered a contract by the Phillies to pitch underhand. A side note: one of the stunts this team does is to pitch to (and strike out) batters from second base.

Not much of a stunt. When they appeared at a school in my neighborhood about 50 years ago, I batted against Feigne, he was at second base. I still remember the break on his curve. I dove like I was going to get hit and heard the catcher catch it across the plate. I promised myself i would dig in . He got me on a similar pitch again. I was not going to let him do it the third time. I managed to wave at the 3rd pitch weakly. I was so overmatched. The ball was not like a hardball, the break and the drop were far beyond anything I had ever seen.
I was kidded by all the kids who did not have the balls to stand in. They all thought they could have done better.

Chessic Sense
10-19-2011, 01:27 PM
Well, it was 18 inches when I played and if you want to be picky it's actually 10 and 1/2 inches.

The point is the mound is raised in baseball and not in softball. Whether it's 10 or 110 inches is not the point.

Welcome to the Dope. Here, nitpickery is a way of life. It's part of the culture of this board. When someone nitpicks you, they're not looking down their nose at you, they're helping you out. Our motto is "fighting ignorance", and nitpicking unimportant facts is part of that.

lisiate
10-19-2011, 04:24 PM
Not much of a stunt. When they appeared at a school in my neighborhood about 50 years ago, I batted against Feigne, he was at second base. I still remember the break on his curve. I dove like I was going to get hit and heard the catcher catch it across the plate. I promised myself i would dig in . He got me on a similar pitch again. I was not going to let him do it the third time. I managed to wave at the 3rd pitch weakly. I was so overmatched. The ball was not like a hardball, the break and the drop were far beyond anything I had ever seen.
I was kidded by all the kids who did not have the balls to stand in. They all thought they could have done better.

Sounds like a hell of a stunt to me. And at least you can say you matched up against one of the true greatest of all time players in any sport.

RitterSport
10-19-2011, 09:50 PM
Nitpick It's not 18 inches and I don't think it ever was except back in the 19th century before it's height was regulated.

Well, it was 18 inches when I played...

Whoa, you must be really getting up there.

And, on an unrelated note, I think this is the first time a thread I started returned to life with a taste for brains!

gonzomax
10-19-2011, 10:14 PM
Sounds like a hell of a stunt to me. And at least you can say you matched up against one of the true greatest of all time players in any sport.

I think I would have had a permanent 000 batting average.