Pitchers play probably the most crucial position in softball. Good pitching performance is typically the key to winning the game.
Besides being the most important, the position of a pitcher is also the hardest one to play.
Pitching technique is not easy to learn and mastering the mechanics of a pitch may take years of effort and practice.
On top of all that, pitching in softball is subject to pretty strict rules. This is particularly true for the fastpitch variant of the game.
The rulebook on pitching is rather lengthy and a big part of that deals with illegal pitches.
To fans pitching rules often seem too complicated and there’s a lot of confusion on what constitutes an illegal pitch.
Below, I’ll dig deeper into this matter, explain what is an illegal pitch in fastpitch softball, and provide examples of the most common illegal pitches.
So, let’s dive in!
What is an Illegal Pitch in Fastpitch Softball?
Underhand pitching is one of the main characteristics of softball as a sport. it’s also its biggest difference when compared to baseball.
However, unlike baseball which allows other pitching techniques, in softball, the underhand pitch is the only one that is allowed.
Most of the fans, even the casual ones are aware that overhand pitching is illegal.
Still, there are several other rules in fastpitch softball that define the illegal pitch that most of the observers are not that familiar with.
I’ll list the most common ones and clarify what each of them actually means.
This is probably the most common illegal pitch in fastpitch softball.
It happens when the pitcher removes the rear (or drive) foot of the pitching rubber and then replants it before throwing the ball without continuity of that foot along the ground.
This illegal pitch got its name because the pitcher practically takes a small hop off the rubber.
By doing so, the pitcher doesn’t have its bodyweight evenly balanced and moving forward.
Instead, the bodyweight is on the pivot foot.
Leaping is similar to crow hopping. However, during this illegal pitch, the pitcher lifts both feet of the ground at the same time.
Per rules, the pivot foot must remain in contact with the ground or drag along the rubber during the delivery motion.
Just sliding or pushing the pivot foot along on the rubber is legal as long as there’s contact with the ground.
Also known as slide or crow drag, this illegal pitch is among the most difficult for umpires to spot.
It occurs when the pitcher slides their pivot foot along the rubber, thus complying with the dragging rule but the bodyweight remains on the rear foot.
As the pitcher keeps the bodyweight back and drags forward with the pivot foot, they can push themselves off with a new movement that was not a part of the original pitching motion.
Stepping Outside the Lane
This is not an illegal pitch that is called too often.
It’s simply because a lot of players, and even some umpires, are not aware of its existence.
While delivering a throw, the pitcher has to stay within an imaginary pitching lane. The width of the lane is the same as the width of a pitching rubber.
In case a pitcher has their foot too far outside this imaginary lane, the umpire may call the illegal pitch.
But, as I said, these calls are extremely rare.
This illegal pitch happens when the pitcher starts to drag the foot then stops, and restarts the dragging again.
All this occurs during the same pitching motion.
Not Presenting Hands Apart
This is a common mistake mainly among the younger and less experienced pitchers.
As the pitcher steps onto the pitching rubber, they must keep their hands separated. The hands must be apart no matter where the ball is, in the hand or in the glove.
The pitcher has to keep hands separated until the signal from the catcher is received. This also serves to allow the batter a bit of time to prepare for the pitch.
As this is the illegal pitch mostly seen in youth leagues, umpires will usually let the pitcher get off with only a warning.
What is the Penalty for an Illegal Pitch in Fastpitch Softball?
What happens after an illegal pitch mostly depends on the rules of a particular fastpitch softball league.
In general, the umpire will loudly call the illegal pitch so that everyone on the field can hear him.
In most cases, after an illegal pitch, the ball is awarded to the batter.
If there’s a runner already on the base at the time of an illegal pitch, the runner will move on to the next base.
When the outcome of an illegal pitch is a ball four, the batter will take the walk while all the other runners move forward one base.
Can You Hit an Illegal Pitch in Softball?
When the ball remains live after an illegal pitch, the batter is allowed to hit it and put it in play.
In case the batter hits the ball and gets on the first base, they are allowed to stay on it. Other runners who advanced are also awarded their bases.
The coach of the team on offense has a choice whether to accept the penalty for the illegal pitch or decline it and accept the play as it happened.
This must be done immediately after the end of the play.
When the ball is hit and the batter reaches the first base while all of the other runners have advanced the play continues regardless of the illegal pitch.
Illegal pitches in fastpitch softball mostly happen because the players have developed bad habits while learning the game and made a routine out of them.
For that reason, it’s important to have coaches that are well educated on the, sometimes obscure, rules on illegal pitching.
This way they can help players learn and understand the mechanics and motions of the legal pitch.
The bad habits acquired at the start of a softball career are very difficult to get rid of later on.
Luckily, the umpires are mostly aware of this and, in most cases, would likely only serve a warning to the pitcher rather than dish out the punishment that can alter the outcome of a ballgame.