Looking at all of the baseball bats that are available on the market today, it can be overwhelming when trying to determine which one to use in a game or practice. With the numerous materials, stamps, weights, designs, etc. players and parents are left at a crossroads when selecting a bat to use at the plate. So where does the player or parent start? How does someone determine which bat is best? Hopefully we can clear up some of these questions when it comes to the different options each player has.
Where to Start…
The best place to start is with league regulations. Is the player in Little League, Pony, NCAA, USSSA, etc.? Each league will have its own bat regulations based on age group, so it is important to know what is allowed and what is not. You can take a look at our previous post for more information about which bats are legal. But of course, the best route would be to contact your local league directly to double check on any regional regulations.
Along with the league and its regulations, you want to take into consideration the level of play and age group for the player. A younger, less experienced player will not need to use such high-end and advanced materials; and will probably need to use a lighter bat in general. Whereas a more experienced, elite player will be looking for a bat with more advanced technology in the materials and a heavier swing weight to provide as much “pop” possible.
For a younger player, lower price point alloy bats would be a good selection. At a lower level, players and coaches should be focused on developing the best habits in form and mechanics of a swing. Tee-ballers and little ones that are just getting into the world of coach or player pitch should rely more on their mechanics, than the makeup of the bat. Not to mention they will grow out of the bat quicker than their older counterparts, in turn saving mom and dad a few bucks along the way by buying a less expensive bat.
As the player gets older and gets into more advanced leagues, the mechanics of their swing should be smoothed out and they can now look to more advanced materials to help get the most that they can from their swing and their bat. A good place to start when selecting a bat for an older player, after going over league regulations, would be the type of player s/he is and what is most comfortable for him/her. A smaller player that may not be as strong quite yet will want to look for a bat with a lighter swing weight or Moment of Inertia (MOI), while a stronger, power hitter may prefer a heavier swing weight. These players may also prefer higher to lower drop weights, respectively.
MOI & Drop Weight
MOI is the weight of the bat through the swing, not just the actual weight of the bat itself. If the weight is distributed evenly or closer to the handle/hands, the bat will swing lighter and be able to get through the zone quicker. If the weight is distributed toward the end of the bat, the bat will swing heavier but will have more power behind it as it makes contact with the ball. Depending on the materials used in the bat, manufacturers can manipulate the MOI to fit a specific player’s needs and wants.
Drop weights measure the ratio between the length and the weight of the bat. For example: if a bat is 33 inches long and weighs 30 ounces, the drop will be (-3) since 33-30=3. The higher the number (-10, -12), the lighter the bat. However, keep in mind that some leagues allow specific drop weights, depending on level of play/age group. For example: all BBCOR .50 certified bats will always carry a drop of (-3).
After determining the MOI and drop that is needed for the player, we can now start the great debate over bat materials and composition. Many players and coaches will have their own opinions on each type of bat, whether it be wood, composite or alloy – some will swear by alloy, while others composite. There may not necessarily be a “right” or “wrong” when it comes to a player’s performance with a specific material. If a player has been using alloy his/her entire life and feels s/he hits best with that material, then it is absolutely appropriate to stick with that – but it is always good to know the differences between each of the materials when searching for a bat. So, when should a player use alloy, composite or wood?
Alloy baseball bats can be comprised from several different types and grades of aluminum. If a bat is in a lower price point range, it will likely be made from a lower grade – while with higher price point, it is safe to assume that it is made with a high performance alloy. A lower grade alloy will be softer, making it more susceptible to dents. A high performance alloy, such as Scandium, is made from stronger, thinner alloy materials which allow the manufacturer to produce a better MOI and longer barrel, without adding weight. Using this lighter alloy, manufacturers can also double the barrel walls, creating a more effective sweet spot and trampoline effect than its single walled counterpart. Alloy also does not require a break-in period, so it is ready to go right out of the wrapper.
Composite baseball bats can be made up of a combination of a variety of more advanced materials, including but not limited to: carbon, fiberglass and graphite. These materials allow the manufacturer to create a more personalized bat with varying swing weights and performance abilities. Although composite bats can be found in low price point ranges, they are designed for a better performance overall. Swing weights and weight distribution for a composite is determined by a weighted rod that runs through the barrel of the bat. This is possible because composite materials are lighter overall, so the manufacture may put this rod in the bat, without worrying about adding too much extra weight. These light materials also allow for double walls, increasing the trampoline effect. However, even though these materials are strong and lightweight, they also have what is considered a “shelf-life”. In other words, the materials after X amount of hits will begin to break-down, crack and eventually break – especially in colder temperatures. Composite bats also tend to require a break-in period, which varies, but will tend to be anywhere between 100-200 hits.
Wood baseball bats are available in types such as: Maple, Ash, Bamboo and Birch. Each material will have its own strengths and weaknesses. For example: Ash bats are more porous, giving them the ability to flex and produce a better trampoline effect than Maple; however, because of this same benefit Ash bats tend to wear out and break down sooner. When comparing wood to non-wood bats, there is most certainly a difference in performance. BBCOR standards have recently restricted the trampoline effect of non-wood bats, to make them perform closer to their wood counterparts. However, even with this restriction, non-wood bats still tend to outperform wood at the plate. So why use a wood bat? Well, if you are a player aspiring to play at a higher level, you will need to learn how to use one at some point since more advanced leagues (Cape Cod Baseball Summer League, Major and Minor leagues, etc.) require the use of wood bats exclusively. Wood bats have a smaller sweet spot, compared to non-wood bats and have less trampoline effect as well. The lower performance capability of a wood bat may be beneficial for the player that uses wood for batting practice before using his/her non-wood bat in a game situation. If a player uses wood in BP and is used to the smaller sweet spot, it may help his/her performance when using a non-wood bat that has a larger sweet spot, is more responsive and forgiving. Also, by the time the transition from non-wood to wood occurs, the player that has used the wood bat before will have an advantage.
Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a bat for the upcoming season – but hopefully this provided a little more guidance in clarification during the search. Now that you’re in the know, share the knowledge! Spread the word to friends, family, coaches and teammates via your favorite Social Media outlets like: Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to name a few!
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