Did you know that hitting in slow pitch is one of the most counter-intuitive things you’ll find? That instead of trying to swing with an upper cut, you’ll actually see the ball explode off your bat when you swing downwards on the ball? In this article, we are going to discuss how to hit a slow pitch softball further, harder, and with more authority than you’ve ever hit before.
Hitting with a chopping motion is the secret to hitting a slow pitch softball. More specifically, hitting involves these 5 strategies:
- Have a solid and balanced batting stance
- Transfer your weight from the back hip to your front hip
- Throw your hands at the ball and lead with the knob of the bat
- Chop down on the ball and “cut” it to create more backspin
- Hit the ball out in front of the plate – don’t let it get too deep in the strike zone
In this article, I’m going to expound on the step by step approach to hitting more effectively in slow pitch softball. After reading this, you’ll be well on your way to having the perfect slow pitch softball swing. Not only will you see the ball travel farther off your bat, but you’ll gain the type of confidence you’ll need when you walk up with bases loaded. Don’t be the guy on the team that nobody wants up with the bases juiced. Instead, become the “automatic homer” you’ve always dreamed of becoming.
Slow pitch swing vs. baseball swing
In slow pitch, the game is different. For many of us with a baseball background, we’ve got short, quick swings that don’t produce a lot of slow pitch power. And for softball, a short quick swing doesn’t really effectively put much “carry” on the ball. For others who maybe didn’t play baseball growing up and you’re here trying to get some tips for the slow pitch swing, I’m going to explain in detail and from a place of simplicity.
As a general note, swing mechanics and much of what I’m going to talk about is a very nuanced topic. You could put five hitting coaches in a room and they’ll debate quite a few different areas of the swing. However, my goal is to describe mostly the things they all agree on. Certainly, there may be a few items along the way that are based more on research and experience instead of what someone like George Brett might teach, but the goal is to give you as many tips as possible. A big challenge is that if I keep it too vanilla, you won’t get anything from this. But if I go too specific, it’s darn near impossible to explain it through written text. So I’ll do my best!
What is Launch Angle and Why Does it Matter?
If you’ve paid attention to hitting mechanics over the past few years, you’ve likely heard hitting coaches talk about launch angle. I admit, it sometimes gets a bit complicated and frankly, annoying. But, it does actually play an important role in understanding swing mechanics and hitting for power. In simple terms, launch angle is the vertical angle that the ball leaves a player’s bat after being hit.
The general consensus for various launch angles looks like this:
- Ground ball: Less than 10 degrees
- Line drive: 10-25 degrees
- Home run: 20-40 degrees
- Fly ball: 25-50 degrees
- Pop up: Greater than 50 degrees
This is a baseball graphic, but the same still holds mostly true in slow pitch. However, the caveat here is that the ball is obviously much bigger.
The launch angle is very much a part of where you strike contact on the ball. And for hitting in slow pitch softball, it’s imperative that you strike the ball on the proper region for the type of hit you’re wanting. For example, I have shown below that hitting a home run requires the downward launch angle between 20-40 degrees.
Now, it’s not just about where you strike the ball, but it’s also about what your bat is doing as it comes through the zone.
I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve seen try to uppercut and drop their shoulders to hit a softball. I get it, because the softball is coming in at an angle, so you automatically want to go up to meet it. But for all that is holy, please keep reading as I’m going to explain why that is about the worst thing you can do. And if that’s a habit of yours, my question to you would be, are you tired of flying out? I’ll explain this in Step 4 below.
Launch angle for a home run: 20-40°
According to the graphic above, if you’re wanting to hit a home run, we want to create the launch angle of about 20-40°. And for this particular step, I want to talk about the area on the softball that you should be aiming for.
Obviously, if you hit the top of the softball, you’re going to ground out. Physics, right? If you hit the very bottom of the softball, you’re likely going to foul out or pop up to the infield. Likewise, if you hit dead center of the softball, it’s going to create a line drive that is going to knuckle as it flies. Those are great for singles when you need them, but obviously not what if you want to hit a home run.
Where on the softball should you aim to hit?
If you are NOT hitting the ball in the red zone, your likelihood of hitting a home run goes down to just about zero unless your swing speed is 90pmh+. When you have swing speed like that, your name is most likely Hercules or Behemoth and you probably aren’t reading an article like this. These are also the guys telling you to swing with an uppercut, because they can do it and get away with it. For most of us, we’ve got to focus our eyes on the red zone of the ball to hit it at that 20-40° launch angle.
This is also a bit dependent on the type of bat you’re using, ASA or USSSA. ASA bats do not allow for the ball to come off the bat any faster than 98mph, whereas USSSA bats allow for a high BPF (bat performance factor) where the ball can come off quite a bit faster. Not to mention, if you’re using a crappy bat, the ball isn’t gonna go anywhere regardless of how perfect your swing is. I recommend checking out our article on the best slow pitch softball bats to get yourself something you can work with.
Personally, one of my favorite bats right now is the 2022 DeMarini Dale Brungardt Nihilist bat.
Okay, now that we’ve established the launch angle methodology, let’s go ahead and get into the step by step approach to hitting a home run in slow pitch softball.
5 Steps to Hitting A Slow Pitch Softball
Step 1: Find a batting stance that is comfortable
Your batting stance really isn’t a huge deal as long as your comfortable and you’re in a good athletic position. The thing that can become a big deal however is where you setup in the box. For example, let’s say you’re in an ASA league where the arc of the pitch is a bit higher. That means the ball can come into the strike zone a bit deeper. In this scenario, you would want to set further back in the box closer to the catcher. While in an USSSA league, the arc is lower and the ball can come shallow through the zone. Position yourself closer to the pitcher.
If you’re coming from baseball, keep in mind that you’re now using a 34 inch bat. For some guys who are accustomed to using a 32 or 33 inch bat, one or two inches actually makes a big difference. If you are up on the plate, you may tend to see yourself getting jammed a bit more than usual with the increased bat length. However, and I’ll get to this is a bit, as long as you are hitting the ball out front, this should be relatively a moot point. But still worth mentioning!
Take a look at this video about batting stance and where to position yourself:
Step 2: Your swing stride and transferring your weight
This may be one of the most important facets of the swing, so pay attention. So many guys will lose their power because they stride, wait, and then swing. Essentially, the weight transfer happens before the swing, which causes all of the power to be placed solely in the arms. And I don’t care how strong you are, you’re going to lose substantial power when you aren’t using weight transfer to your advantage.
The key is to having a significant stride, not just some little baby step. This isn’t baseball, remember? However, time it so your front foot goes down and your hands immediately come through to zone to follow. For you to hit dingers in softball, this is the secret ingredient that you’ll live and die by. Keep your weight back, back, back, lift the front leg to start your stride. As your front foot hits, explode your hands through the zone and twist your hips on their axis.
What is torque and how does it relate to swinging a bat?
We cannot talk about hip rotation and the transfer of weight without talking about torque. You may hear that term a lot in golf or even on a Ford F-150 commercial, but torque is the power you generate by rotating on an axis – aka your hips in this scenario. Did you know there’s actually a formula for it in physics?! By generating torque, you’ll generate more power. But in an effort to not get overly complicated with this, let me trying explaining it this way.
The stride is about timing and getting your weight transfer through the zone. But your hips and legs are ultimately the place where the power is being generated from. More specifically, you must load your back hip for more torque and power. Imagine that you have this explosive energy lying dormant in your back hip. And once you lift your front leg, it starts a chain reaction. When the front leg hits the ground, the hands are thrown at the ball and your hips and abdominal area explode from your back hip to your front hip. That faster this explosion happens, the more torque you’ll see.
Much of the explosive energy comes from the legs and up through the hips and abs. This is why you’ll see so many major league baseball players with tree trunks for legs. That explosive energy just sits and waits to explode through the zone when a hitter starts the chain reaction. So if you are in a position right now where you know your swing speed is too low to hit home runs, the best place to start is in the gym doing legs and abdominal core exercises. Build up the explosive energy in your legs and core and you’ll see increased swing speed and power.
Step 3: Throw Your Hands at the Ball and Lead with the Knob of the Bat
Now that we’ve discussed weight distribution, launch angle, and stride length, let’s talk about the role of your hands.
Thankfully, the hands are often one of the easiest parts of the swing to correct. And one of the most common issues with the hands is having a really “long” and looping swing. In a very extreme example, imagine swinging a bat without bending your elbows and visualize how far the bat would reach across the zone. Theoretically, the bat handle would be about where the strike zone is, which would cause you to hit the ball on the very inside of the bat near the handle. This is also known as “jamming.”
Now, obviously, nobody swings without bending their elbows. However, some guys get pretty dang close! And that is a big problem because of what I’ll cover in this section. The main problem is, you can’t barrel up the ball when you have a really long and loopy swing. And when you don’t barrel the ball and hit it square on the sweet spot, the ball isn’t going to go anywhere regardless of your weight distribution and where you’re hitting on the ball. Bats are designed to have a sweet spot, so it’s imperative that you use it!
So we need to shorten it up and use our hands to create “bat whip” through the zone. Let me explain.
How to create “bat whip” through the zone
A “long” swing occurs when instead of leading with the hands, the bat gets way out in front of the body and goes through the zone incorrectly.
Look at the “standard swing path” in the graphic. This is what we’d call a long swing. From point A to point B, you’ve got from the back of the plate to the front of the plate to make contact. Your bat will only be in the zone for that period of time. So your margin of error goes down significantly which makes your timing that much more important.
Now, take for example the illustration on the left. This is what we label “knob hitting” or throwing your hands at the ball. What this does is create larger plate coverage because the bat is in the zone much longer. Our starting point is the same, but look at where these two different swing paths end up. By “knob hitting,” your ability to keep the bat through the zone longer goes up a ton, which gives you a much higher likelihood of barreling up the ball. Additionally, knob hitting will create bat whip and increased swing speed.
How do you successfully swing by “knob hitting?”
So how do you throw your hands at the ball and “knob hit?” The best thing to do is to imagine that the knob of your bat is in fact the barrel. Your mindset and what you’re visualizing is very important, so if you can wrap your brain around trying to legitimately hit the ball with the knob of your bat, you’ll be in a good headspace.
As the ball is pitched and you’re setting everything else up, take the knob of the bat and fling it as hard as you can at the ball. By just reading about this, you might feel like you’re legitimately going to hit the ball with the knob, but I can assure you that this is practically impossible. Because what is happening when you do this is you are creating a swing path that will cause the bat to whip around like a slingshot. So as the knob is flung at the ball, the rest of the bat and the barrel will slingshot around the swing axis and make contact with the ball.
Take a look at perhaps the greatest home run hitter of all time, Barry Bonds. Do you see where his hands are?! Do you see how the knob of the bat is completely out in front of the barrel? He’s relying on bat whip through the zone to create his power.
Knob Hitting is the #1 way to generate more bat speed
Just this simple little trick alone can improve your swing substantially. Yes, all of the other things we’ve talked about up to this point play a part in generating power, but knob hitting is probably the fastest and easiest thing to adopt that can transform your swing right away. Much of this is a mental thing that you simply can simply wrap your mind around. By throwing your hands at the ball, you’ll start hitting more of the barrel of every swing. That alone is going to help you see the ball travel further off the bat.
Take a look at another example here of Albert Pujols doing a knob hitting drill. See how he is throwing the knob of the bat at the ball on the tee? These guys get it. It’s how they were trained by the best hitting coaches in the world, so don’t you think there is something to it?
I promise you that even though the softball swing is a tad different than a baseball swing, this “knob hitting” will take you to great heights as a slow pitch softball hitter. It gives you greater control over the bat, increased swing speed, and ensures that barreling up the ball becomes a reality.
Even though it might seem like you can get more bat speed from taking a long approach to the ball, it just isn’t true and it won’t work. Knob hitting is the way.
Step 4: The softball swing – chop down vs uppercut?
Now that we are throwing our hands at the ball, there is an additional component to think about that can enhance the carry on the ball. Much like knob hitting, this step can be easily manipulated with your mind and swing approach. While transferring your weight and creating more torque can take many swings to perfect, this is something you can implement today and see quick results.
This brings us to the controversial topic of chopping down on the softball vs. uppercut swinging.
This has been debated since the dawn of slow pitch softball, so what I’m about to say is to be taken with a slight grain of salt as you could find 3 different methodologies that all claim they know “the way”. Additionally, keep in mind that I’m specifically talking about how to hit a home run, not hit a single. There are times and seasons to actually alter your swing depending on the scenario. While what I’m about to say is what I personally do and recommend when trying to hit a home run, I wouldn’t recommend necessarily doing this if nobody is on base.
However, when trying to cover a controversial topic like chopping with a downward swing path vs. swinging with an uppercut, there are so many tangents and variables associated. The only one I want to speak to right now before I get into this is to consider what type of hitter you are and how much power you can generate.
Every slow pitch softball swing is different: We all have different body types
The thing that drives me a little nuts with this debate is people rarely want to talk about the fact that we all have different body types. Mark McGwire hit the ball a tad bit further than a guy like Kenny Lofton. So why should every slow pitch softball player swing the same way? There are guys that will debate this till they’re blue in the face that you should swing with an uppercut. And on the other side, guys are ready to go to battle for their downward chopping swing. What I’d say is this: It depends on the type of hitter you are.
In my opinion, if you’re one of the guys that can do everything I’ve talked about in this article and still not hit a home run, I’d strongly recommend that you get serious about implementing this chopping downward swing I’m about to discuss here. Much like knob hitting, it causes your bat to remain level through the zone longer and keeps the bat head on a better plane. This leads to a higher margin of error, or more room for you to make a mistake. Additionally, if you can’t hit a home run, you likely have a hard time driving the ball really anywhere on the field. This downward swing is going to give you more carry on the ball to potentially hit gappers for doubles and tripples.
Hitting a home run should be dependent on the game situation: Don’t hit one every time!
Even if you do have power and are simply looking to dial your swing in a bit to hit home runs more consistently, then I would recommend implementing this as well on a case by case basis. The obvious truth here is that most leagues have home run limits. So if you swing like this every single time, you’re likely going to hit home runs when you don’t want to. That’s where I would say to only pull this out with the bases juiced or with two guys on.
Personally though, I focus more on where ON the ball I make contact vs. whether to alter my swing path. I usually always swing with a downward angle, but will move my eyes up the ball if a home run isn’t needed. I’ll try to hit the 0° angle, or center of the softball for a single or double.
I know many long time softball guys would disagree with the downward angle, but you’ll also find just as many power guys out there who live and breathe by it. With that said, I’d certainly love to hear your feedback if you’ve got some other methodologies you believe work better.
Okay, that’s out of the way. Let’s get into it:
The name of the game here is to “cut” the ball. It’s a term used in both baseball and softball, but it’s essentially when you hit a launch angle of 20-40°. The bat comes through the zone and cuts the bottom half of the softball, generating backspin for it to travel. Backspin is the main way a non-bruiser hits for power. You’ve got your big guys who can hammer the ball out while it knuckles, but for most guys, they’ve got to rely on backspin. This is definitely something we can all agree on.
Creating more backspin on the ball will make it go further.
I mentioned this in the very beginning when I was talking about swinging with an uppercut and matching the angle of the slow pitch softball coming down. It does make a bit of sense to swing up at the ball to hit it out of the park, right? Unfortunately, that’ll typically just generate a pop fly unless your swing speed is 90mph+.
Let’s reference the launch angle once again but this time, let’s pretend that the bat is traveling on an upwards axis through the zone.
Well, if the bat is literally traveling up through the zone and you hit the ball square on a 0° angle, where would it go? Physics would tell you that it’s going to go in the same direction as the swing axis – which, if going up, the ball is also going to go up. So when you square up the ball with an uppercut, it’s going to go up and most likely get caught (unless you are a behemoth… remember different strokes for different folks)
But won’t the same thing happen in reverse with a downward swing angle? Nope, but great question.
Instead, when you swing down on the ball, you’ll actually create backspin. Why? Because you’re physically cutting the ball. As the bat travels downward through the zone, which really, when we’re being technical here, it’s just traveling flatter than an uppercut swing, it will strike the bottom third of the ball and create backspin. How? Because… well, science.
“Chopping” is more about controlling your shoulder plane than anything else.
One very important distinction to make here is this. When you’re chopping down on the ball, you’re not actually pulling the bat through at a severe downward angle. Yes, I’m basically pulling the rug out from under you right now. Much of what I’m talking about in this section is almost more semantics to get your hands to do what they need to do. However, the actual bat tends to swing though the zone on more of a level plane when you chop. This is because of the way the bat whips through the zone when you knob hit and chop down on the ball.
When you go “up” to meet the ball with an uppercut swing, your shoulders get unbalanced and all out of whack. When this happens, your back shoulder will dip severely down and your front shoulder will come up. And not only will you likely fly out, but since the bat is going through the zone like a wet noodle, your likelihood of hitting the ball squarely goes down substantially. The bat isn’t level! It’ll be going through the zone at an angle and you’ll likely hit the bottom or upper third of the ball and hit a sissy fly ball or ground ball that Grandma could catch.
When you chop down on the ball, your swing plane stays level through the zone longer.
As I said, when guys try to uppercut, their shoulders usually dip and the bat head falls. Check out this video and look at the plane of the rope. See it going down and how the batter is keeping his swing above it. An uppercut swing will cause the bat to go way off of this plane. But when a swing is done correctly by chopping down, you’ll end up with more of a level swing that can cut through the ball.
For most slow pitch softball players, upper cuts are bad. They don’t work. And if anyone tells you otherwise, it’s likely that they don’t know what they’re talking about or they are one of those big Hercules of a guy that can legitimately swing with an uppercut and hit it 500 feet. You aren’t them and they aren’t you. Very easy for them to say to upper cut when their swing speed is 100mph and they eat horse tranquilizers for breakfast. The rules are different for guys like you and me. They might be able to do that, but we need to rely on good swing mechanics to see the ball travel like we want.
Whew, okay, I hope I made my point. Don’t uppercut the dang ball.
Let me quickly give you a few tips on how to implement this right away.
Imagine you’re out on a farm somewhere getting ready for winter to roll in and you’ve got to chop a bunch of pieces of wood into logs. You put the log on a flat surface, load up in an athletic position, and throw that axe head straight down onto the log. The swing motion is almost entirely vertical.
“Wait a second, so you’re saying my swing should be vertical?” No, but that’s what I want you to think about.
Psychologically, your mind is going to make you want to swing up at the ball. This isn’t as big of a problem in baseball because the ball is more on a level plane. But in softball, that arc is huge and your brain wants to go up and meet it. However, when we chop down with our hands, we’re creating a swing path that is much more level in nature. I’ve covered this at length already.
But the practical thing here is to practice by chopping heavily down on the ball. Almost like you’re trying to drive it into the ground. However, do this while hitting the 20-40° angle on the ball. This is precisely how you create the backspin needed for a homer. The best way to practice this is by setting up a batting tee or soft toss. Don’t try this in a live game, please. Goodness, you’ll try it, strike out, and then likely come back and tell me I’m a liar. Just practice first in a cage and see how it feels. Then implement it!
Step 5: Pitch selection and hitting the ball out in front of the plate to get full extension
If you swing at crappy pitches, none of this will help you.
The amount of guys that are impatient and swing at total garbage is astounding. I know you want to hit, but goodness, don’t swing at that ball that’s literally over your head. I’ve seen guys try to hit like this and it usually always ends in an out. Or the guys who swing at the super low pitches and straight up wiff. Not good.
Choose good pitches to hit, plain and simple.
None of this will help you if you don’t swing at strikes. And in an effort to not waste your time explaining what the strike zone is, I’ll let you go research that depending on your ASA or USSSA league. The rules do in fact change depending on the league, so check it out.
Other than pitch selection, you’ve likely heard the the term extension before. It’s the word used to describe getting your bat head through the zone and hitting the ball out in front of the plate. Getting your hands and bat extended is an integral part of getting the barrel on the ball. If you let the ball get too deep into the zone, it’s quite common to get yourself jammed.
Don’t overthink this. It’s literally just a process of making sure you hit the ball a bit sooner than later. Don’t let the ball get deep in the zone when you hit. Hit it out front of the plate and get your hands fully extended. This gives you the ability to experience full bat whip power when you put everything together.
Expert Tip: How to Grip a Slowpitch Softball Bat
This is only for the real boppers out there that want to rake in the home runs. It’s how many of the slow pitch softball pros grip their bats to create maximum bat whip. However, it does reduce your control of the bat and can often lead to more outs. So in my opinion, if you’re going to do this, only do it when you want to hit a home run.
The grip I’m referring to is when you put your bottom hand on the knob of the bat, and place your top hand on top of your bottom hand. Yes, on top of your hand, not the bat. A traditional baseball grip is when you put both hands on the bat, but this grip places your bottom hand on the bat and your top hand gripping your bottom hand. It’s strange, yes, but the purpose is to create more leverage and length on the bat. Check out this video:
There are quite a few different variations to grip the bat, so find what is comfortable to you. The one in the video is likely going to yield the fastest bat whip power. I personally think it feels way too weird because of the years of baseball in my past, but find what works for you.
Putting it All Together: How to Hit a Slow Pitch Softball
We’ve talked about a lot here from swing mechanics to pitch selection. So let me summarize this is a few simple and easy steps:
- Get in a comfortable athletic stance at the plate. If you’re in ASA leagues, get toward the back of the box. USSSA leagues, scoot up in the box toward the pitcher.
- Keep your weight back, stride, and explode toward the ball in one swift motion. Don’t stride, wait, and swing. The front foot hitting down on your stride should start the chain reaction to generate torque and transfer all of your weight from your back leg/hip through the zone and onto your front hip.
- Knob hitting – Throw your hands and the knob of the bat at the ball.
- Chop down on the ball, thus, creating a more level swing. Do not try to uppercut the ball as this will cause your bat head to drop through the zone. A downward angled swing will ultimately result in a level swing designed to cut the bottom third of the ball in order to get that 20-40° magical launch angle.
- Hit the ball out in front of the plate. Don’t let it get in on you and deep into the zone as this will likely cause you to get jammed. Fully extend your hands and bat by hitting the ball in front of the plate.
Well, it’s one thing to know how to do this, but another to actually go do it. Knowledge is power, but action is where you’ll truly get results. Go practice in the cage, on a batting tee or soft toss into a hitting net. If you implement everything we’ve discussed today, you’ll start seeing the ball travel much further off your bat and if the strength is there to back it up, you’ll be hitting dingers all day long.