It is said that a craftsman is only as good as his tools. If you are a baseball or softball player, you have two main tools — your bat and your glove. When choosing a bat, there are several factors to consider: size/weight ratio, material and your league’s rules. We’ll take a look at all of these factors to help you determine which bat is right for you.
Choosing a Baseball Bat Size
If you’re looking for a Little League bat buying guide, height and weight charts and bat sizing guides can give you a good idea of where to start when you are choosing a baseball bat length for your child. But it’s easy enough to get a more personal measurement. Here are two methods for how to determine the appropriate baseball bat size for your needs.
Stand up straight and put one arm straight out from your side. Take a tape measure and find the distance between the middle of the chest and the tip of the finger. This number is a good starting point for choosing the length of the bat.
Standing Bat Method
If you are in the store and you don’t have a tape measure, grab a couple of bats. Stand up straight with your arms at your sides. Stand a bat up at your side and hold it with your hand. If you can rest the palm of your hand comfortably on the bat, it’s the right size. If the end of the bat comes up past your hand, it’s too long. And if you have to reach down for it, it is probably too short.
If you are shopping for a child’s bat, you should take into account their growth potential. Don’t ever buy a bat that is too large for them to swing comfortably, because you don’t want them to develop bad habits. But you should also make sure they don’t outgrow their brand new bat in their next growth spurt.
Choosing Baseball Bat Weight — What Type of Hitter Are You?
Length is only one part of the equation for choosing a baseball or softball bat. Weight and barrel size are equally important and will generally go hand-in-hand. How do you choose a baseball bat weight? To figure out which direction you should travel, ask yourself an honest question: What type of hitter are you?
We all want to be Babe Ruth and call our home runs, but we aren’t all blessed with the strength and power to be a power hitter. That said, even Babe Ruth would have had trouble hitting home runs if he was using too small a bat.
If you are a power hitter, you should look to get a bigger barrel and a heavier bat. A heavier bat will maintain its inertia through contact with the ball. Higher inertia means more energy transferred to the ball, which translates into more distance.
Naturally, though, you want to make sure the bat isn’t too heavy for you to swing through the zone. A more powerful stroke won’t translate into longer hits if your bat is too slow to catch up to anything. Bat speed is the result of a combination of physiological factors working together. Wrist strength, forearm strength and hip strength are important, but so are flexibility and proper form. Being the strongest guy on the team doesn’t automatically mean that you will be swinging the heaviest bat.
If you are a contact hitter, you will want to aim for a lighter bat. A lighter bat is easier to control and takes less strength to swing through the zone. Its lighter mass also means it will have less inertia at the point of impact, so you won’t get quite as much distance out of your hits.
Ideally, you will be able to find the heaviest bat you can swing without compromising your bat speed or wrist action. The only way to find this is to try bats with different weights. Borrow teammates’ bats during practice, or find a facility that has multiple bats available for a session in the batting cage.
If you are having trouble even finding a place to start, contact a local hitting instructor and set up a session with them. They will be able to assess your swing and help you decide what type of bat you should be using. You’ll even be able to pick up some pointers and improve your swing, so it’s well worth the time and money for the serious ball player.
If you are shopping for a young child’s bat, you won’t see much diversity in barrel sizes. The important thing for young ball players under the age of 13 or so is to develop good swing habits, so the bats for these age groups don’t have much specialization in the way of barrel sizes and handles.
Bat Materials — Pros and Cons
Bat companies these days are constantly experimenting with new materials and alloys, so while the main types haven’t changed, we have seen an explosion in variations and specializations. Your ideal bat should take a number of factors into consideration, but we’ll break down the pros and cons of each type to give you an idea of what each of them has to offer.
Alloy bats are more commonly referred to as aluminum bats, because the primary metal in most alloys is aluminum. They have been the standard issue for amateur baseball up and down the age range because they are lighter, livelier and more durable than wooden bats. Any additional up-front cost is spread over the lifespan of the bat, which will certainly be longer than that of a wooden model.
Not all alloys are the same, and each bat manufacturer will have their own distinct alloy. More expensive alloys will produce a more expensive bat. If you see two alloy bats that are similar in length, weight and barrel size, it is a good bet that they contain different aluminum alloys.
Alloy bats are the most popular category of both baseball and softball bats by such a comfortable margin that the advice given in other sections of this buyer’s guide apply implicitly to alloy bats, rather than composite or wooden bats.
Pros of Alloy Bats
- Popular: The alloy bat is the most common style of bat in the amateur ranks today. As such, leagues spend most of their rule-writing energy on the parameters of a legal alloy bat, and manufacturers devote much of their energy to innovating and producing alloy bats, giving you the widest variety to choose from of any of the bat types.
- Lightweight: It is also lighter than wood, so its popularity among younger players is self-evident. Alloy bats are easier for kids to swing than wooden bats.
- Durable: Alloy bats, if properly handled, will last for decades. You are much more likely to replace your bat because you want to jump on board with a new technology than you are because your old bat was broken. Even in the unlikely event that the bat’s barrel is dented, the bat is still perfectly usable and legal so long as you can still slide a bat ring down the barrel. Shattering an aluminum bat is virtually unheard of.
Cons of Alloy Bats
- Smaller sweet spot: All bats, no matter what material they’re made of, possess a “sweet spot.” If you make contact with the ball at that part of the bat, you will transfer maximum energy to the ball while reducing sting. We don’t need to spend a whole lot of time explaining it, because if you have ever hit a ball with a bat, you get it. When comparing man-made materials, aluminum alloy bats have a smaller sweet spot than composite bats. This means less room for error. Baseball purists might see this as a good thing, but a smaller sweet spot makes it harder to strike the ball well.
- Bat sting: There’s nothing worse than misreading a curveball and hitting it with the end of the bat. With an alloy bat, that sting reverberates through the bat and up into your hands and forearms. We’ve all experienced bat sting, and it’s worse with an alloy bat than with any other type.
- Lose “pop” over time: Alloy bats are at their peak right out of their wrapper. Over time — albeit a long time — the force of the ball hitting the surface of the bat will cause imperfections in the aluminum, reducing its performance capabilities.
Composite bats are made using a material similar to carbon fiber. Because of the production process of the material itself, bat manufacturers have incredible control over the construction of each bat. Composite bats are the top of the technological pyramid, with a price tag to match. The highest quality composite bats offer the best performance possible, even without the classic “ping” of aluminum.
Pros of Composite Bats
- Larger sweet spot: Composite bats have the largest sweet spot of all the bat types. This makes the bat much more forgiving than alloy or wooden bats.
- More “pop”: Once you have properly broken in the bat, a composite bat will have more “pop” than a typical alloy bat. For leagues where the bat rules are less restrictive, a composite bat can give you an advantage at the plate. Additionally, the nature of the composite material is such that the “trampoline effect,” which contributes to a bat’s “pop,” will actually improve over time. If you break in your bat properly — more on that below — and take care of it, the bat will actually be better down the road than it was when you first used it.
- Less vibration and bat sting: The composite material doesn’t vibrate or resonate like aluminum or wood, so a mis-hit isn’t going to sting your hands the way an aluminum bat will.
- More precisely balanced: Composite bat manufacturers have the ability to weight the bat much more precisely than a wooden or alloy bat. For instance, a bat could be evenly weighted for maximum control, or it could be end-weighted to increase the swing effort. If you have the opportunity to try out different options, you should see which one matches your swing type.
Cons of Composite Bats
- Expensive: Composite bats are the most expensive of the three types of bat materials. While high-end alloy bats can reach similar price points, the entry-level price for composite is much higher than for alloy bats. If you have $300 to spend on a bat, you could have plenty of options in both the alloy segment and the composite segment. But if you are looking to keep it under $100, you won’t find anything in the composite world.
- Fragile: Composite bats do have the potential to crack in a way that an alloy bat will not. Rarely will the bats shatter, but once a composite bat develops a crack, it becomes unsafe to use.
- Temperature-sensitive: The material used in these composite bats isn’t quite as resilient as aluminum, so manufacturers specifically recommend that these bats only be used in temperatures above 65 degrees. For this reason, composite bats aren’t as popular in the Northeast as they are in the South and West.
- Requires a break-in session: Composite bats aren’t ready right out of the wrapper. To unlock the full potential of your composite bat, you’ll need to spend some time with a bucket of balls before you step up to the plate during a game. An adequate break-in session requires between 150 and 200 swings using a regular baseball or softball — not the rubber pitching machine balls. Be sure to rotate the bat in your hand a little bit with each swing so the entire barrel of the bat is broken in evenly. One could argue that this isn’t necessarily a pro or a con, since more time practicing your swing is never a bad thing. But it is absolutely critical to the performance of the bat.
Hybrid bats are exactly as the name implies — a hybrid of composite and alloy technologies. Hybrid bats are manufactured by fusing separate handles and barrels. They are literally two pieces.
Pros of Hybrid Bats
- Combines the best of all worlds: Generally, a hybrid bat is going to have a composite handle and an alloy barrel. Other configurations exist, but this is the most popular because a composite handle reduces bat sting and an alloy barrel doesn’t require a break-in period.
- Somewhere between alloy and composite price-wise: Because these bats combine the two technologies, the price slots right in between. Hybrid bats will be more expensive than a comparable alloy, but not as expensive as a full composite bat.
Cons of Hybrid Bats
- Combines the worst of each world: An alloy barrel on a hybrid bat is subject to the same bumps and bruises as an alloy bat. The composite handle is just as susceptible to cracking, as slight as this possibility may be.
- Not legal in all leagues: At the end of the day, all of the pros and cons don’t matter if the bat isn’t legal in your league.
Wood is the original material, and still has a place in the professional ranks and in wooden-bat leagues. Ash dominated the wooden bat scene for decades, but maple and birch are growing in popularity with each passing season.
Pros of Wood Bats
- Classic: There’s just something about the crack of the bat that conjures up happy memories in anyone who has ever enjoyed the sport of baseball.
- Cheap: Per unit, wood bats will always be cheaper than any alloy or composite bat worth buying.
Cons of Wood Bats
- Fragile: At the same time, your odds of getting through the season with just one bat are pretty slim. Compared to alloy and composite, wooden bats are much more fragile. One mis-hit up on the handle can introduce a crack or split that renders the bat useless.
- Heavy: Wooden bats fell out of favor in Little Leagues because they will always be heavier than an alloy bat of the same length. To pare down the wood to match the alloy in weight would leave you with a broom handle, not a bat. Heavier bats are more difficult for youngsters to swing, so these remain unpopular at the lower levels of competition to this very day.
- Smaller sweet spot: Wooden bats have the smallest sweet spot of all, and you had better make sure you square up the bat and hit the ball with the face of the wood grain if you don’t want a splinter.
- Not as powerful: In the hands of a skilled batter, the ball will always travel farther off an alloy and composite bat than it will off a wooden bat. As high school and college players get bigger and stronger, this has been argued as a viable safety measure. The idea has not taken hold yet, and the current solution has been to “engineer down” alloy and composite bats to slow exit velocity.
Ash, maple and birch are the three most popular woods for bats. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Ash bats are the traditional choice, and they provide the biggest sweet spot of the three. An ash bat will actually flex when it makes contact with the ball, which can produce the “trampoline” effect you get from a composite bat. Ash’s flexibility also makes it more forgiving for hits off the end of the bat, but it’s also prone to cracking when the hitter gets jammed and makes contact closer to the handle.
Maple bats have surged in popularity among power hitters, because their dense, solid grain gives them the most “pop” of all the wood options. A smaller sweet spot makes them boom or bust, though, and when a maple bat breaks, it shatters, which introduces a safety hazard.
Birch offers an in-between option, with a density more like maple. However, its flexibility offers a forgiveness that will allow a novice hitter get comfortable with a wooden bat.
What Is the Drop?
A bat’s “drop” or “drop weight” refers to the difference between the length in inches and the weight in ounces. The larger the drop, the lighter the bat. For instance, a 34” bat that weights 25 oz. would be labeled as a -9 bat.
Different levels of competition will have specific rules about maximum drop weights. For instance, in high school and NCAA baseball, the maximum drop weight for a bat is -3.
League Rules and Restrictions
Each league has its own rules regarding the length, weight and construction of legal bats. Check into your league’s approved bat list before you go shopping. For example, see the note above about the -3 drop weight in high school and college baseball.
Other Terms to Know
Bat Performance Factor — BPF
The Bat Performance Factor is a ratio of the ball speed coming toward the bat to the trampoline effect of the barrel. Simply speaking, a ball will leave the bat faster than it came in, and how much faster is calculated as the BPF. The baseline BPF for a wooden bat is 1.15, so that is the performance standard that has been adopted by several advanced leagues. The BPF will be printed on any alloy or composite bat that is legal for leagues that use the BPF standard.
Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution — BBCOR
The BBCOR standard was introduced at the high school and NCAA level as a replacement for the Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR) standard. BBCOR calculates how much energy is lost when the ball contacts the bat.
The current BBCOR number is .50, and any bat legal for high school or NCAA play will carry a BBCOR stamp. A bat with a BPF of 1.15 will have more “pop” than a bat with a BBCOR of .50, so if your league allows you to use either standard, you should consider the BPF-stamped bat. If your league only uses one standard or the other, then obviously you’ll want to follow your league rules.
Buying Your Bat
Hopefully this guide has taken most of the legwork out of choosing a baseball or softball bat. You should still research and understand your league’s rules so you don’t spend money on a bat you can’t use.
Once you have your requirements nailed down, take a look at our collection of bats. We cover every size, weight, length, material and performance standard, so you’ll be able to find a bat to fit your needs.