This is an excerpt from Softball Fundamentals eBook by Human Kinetics & Rick Noren.
Developing an offensive strategy for a game begins with the coach putting players in a batting order that maximizes each player's ability and presents the greatest opportunity for scoring runs. The coach must look at the entire roster and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the team. For example, a coach who is lucky enough to have nine strong offensive players in the lineup might want to alternate players who are slower and faster on the base paths to make it more difficult for the defensive team to defend them. However rarely is a team stacked with hitters, so the challenge for the coach is to find the proper spot in the batting order for each player. Usually a team is composed of players with varying skill and athletic ability.
The leadoff hitter is the player who can be trusted to get on base more than any other player on the team. This player usually has good running speed and can steal bases or move into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. More important, the leadoff hitter should have a lot of confidence, be able to see a lot of pitches, and be willing to get on base via a walk. A player who likes to swing at anything and strikes out a lot is probably not the best option for the leadoff hitter.
A player who has good speed and can hit consistently is a good choice for the second slot in the lineup. This player needs to be able to perform sacrifice bunts to move the leadoff hitter into scoring position. She can't get too anxious at the plate and must have the ability to watch some pitches before swinging at just the right one. The second hitter needs to be patient at the plate to allow the leadoff hitter a chance to steal a base, even if it means getting behind in the count.
The third hitter in the lineup must possess the ability to drive in runs and put the ball in play when asked. This hitter is usually the most consistent and talented hitter in the lineup. The third hitter needs to be aggressive at the plate and find a way to drive in runners on base.
The fourth hitter, sometimes called the cleanup hitter, also is one of the best hitters on the team but probably will strike out more often. The fourth hitter should be able to generate a great deal of power to hit for extra bases and drive in runs.
The hitter in the fifth slot also must be a very good hitter but usually does not have as much power as the fourth hitter. The fifth hitter should possess a little more speed to give the team a scoring opportunity if the top of the lineup doesn't score any runs.
The sixth hitter is very similar to the fifth hitter but usually does not have the power to produce a lot of extra-base hits. The seventh and eighth hitters typically have the lowest batting averages in the lineup. Depending on the type of players on the team, these hitters may be very powerful but strike out often or may have little power or speed.
Many people mistakenly believe that the last hitter in the lineup should be the weakest. The ninth hitter shouldn't be the weakest hitter because the best hitters on the team are coming up next. This batter must be able to get on base and score runs for the team. He should be another leadoff-type hitter who can get on base, has the speed to steal a base, and can work well with the top of the order. The ninth hitter usually does not have the high batting average or the discipline of a leadoff hitter, but he is crucial to the success of the team.
Remember, these are just guidelines for putting together a lineup; every team is different. The most successful coaches find a way to get players to work together in a lineup that makes sense and lets players work off each other's strengths. Some hitters are more comfortable in one spot in the lineup than another. The coach must talk and work with players to find out what they think are their best spots and why. The coach may need to do some convincing if a player's opinion differs from the coach's, but the coach should be able to explain the reason for her decision. Finding consistency in the batting order can be difficult, but it is a crucial part of the coach's job.
For the coach to use various strategies to create runs, players must get on base. Once players get on base, the ways in which a team can score runs are virtually endless. Many coaches have great ideas about scoring runs, but the first order of business is to find a way to get some base runners.