Choosing a Baseball Bat

One of the most important decisions a ball player can make is choosing a baseball bat, which is the cornerstone of baseball success.  While it is crucial to have a fundamentally sound baseball swing, whether it be a rotational swing, linear swing, or some sort of hybrid, the bat is still the piece of equipment making contact with the ball, so it plays an integral part in your hitting success.  The baseball bat, after all, plays a part in overall swing speed, velocity of the ball off the bat, batted ball distance and comfort level.   So while the bat decision is critical, it can certainly be overwhelming…perhaps even intimidating.  Do an internet search for baseball bats and you will find literally thousands of choices.  Walk into any sporting goods store or baseball specialty shop and you will find hundreds of bats to choose from.  So how do you choose?  How do you know which bat, of the thousands that are available, is the right one for you? 

Here are some tips for choosing the right baseball bat

The first thing most folks think of when trying to decide, or at least beginning initial research on a bat, is the size; specifically, the length and weight.  While these are indeed very important, and will be covered below, Before you make a decision of anykind, please make sure you are very familiar with your league rules and regulations.  If you are going to be potentially spending hundreds of dollars for a new bat, do whatever it takes to determine if the bat you decide on can even be used where your son or daughter is playing.  Little League, Pony Ball, Babe Ruth Ball, USSSA, Middle School, High School and all other youth baseball leagues or baseball organizations have rules and regulations, and many times, they differ.  Not only this, but sometimes you will find certain tournaments have rules that differ from what you are currently using in your league, so that is another thing to take into consideration.  Please, for your sake and the sake of your son or daughter, don’t go out and spend 500 dollars on the newest bat, take it out of the wrapper, use it in a game, then find out it is not allowed by the organization (Also, please don’t go out and spend 500 dollars on a bat with the thought that it will magically transform your 10 year old immediately into Mike Trout)!  A little research goes a long way, and justbats.com has all the information, updated, available on their site at http://www.justbats.com/buying-guides/baseball-bats/youth.  The videos and charts are intuitive, very easy to use, and provide a great deal of absolutely necessary information.

Wood Baseball Bats. Image Courtesy of Spitzgogo_Chen, available on Wikipedia Creative Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Common Baseball Bat Material

For the purpose of this article, we are going to discuss aluminum, composite and hybrids, and not discuss wooden bats.  While I still love the sound of the crack of the wooden bat, and consider myself a baseball purist, there just aren’t many folks in little league, pony, middle school, high school or college using wood bats.  Of course, there are some great wood bat leagues and tournaments for youth baseball and many players love to use wood bats at practice, so I don’t want to complete exclude wood bats and the discussion of them.  Therefore, if you are looking for good info on wood bats, Coach John Peter of baseballtips.com posted a great article here; http://baseballtips.com/howto/wood.html.

The composition of the baseball bat is important and has to be considered but be mindful to not let today's lighter, stronger material alter the proper mechanics and swing fundamentals or you  may have problems as you progress to higher levels of baseball.  Nobody wants to relearn and no coach wants to reteach the proper form and techniques at the high school level and beyond.  Tweaks are always OK, however.  Some bat materials you will need to consider: 

Aluminum Alloy – There are several different aluminum alloys used, which explains why some aluminum bats cost in the hundreds while others stay in the double digits.  The purpose of this article is not to describe and explain the cost benefits of each type of aluminum alloy, but just to inform the reader that there are many different types out there, and each has its own advantages.  A quick look at www.slugger.com will provide additional information on the different types of alloy.  For the most part, aluminum alloy bats are generally less expensive than composite and hybrid bats, do not require a break in and are ready to go right out of the wrapper, and can be used in any weather. 

Composite – These combine graphite, fiberglass and resin, and provide a large, forgiving sweet spot.  Composite bats tend to have longer durability and lower swing weight, and over time can see an increase in trampoline effect.  Unfortunately, they are generally not hot right out of the wrapper and should not be used in cooler weather.

Hybrid – hybrid bats combine aluminum alloy with composite materials, giving the hitter a combination of the best aspects of the alloy and composite bats, specifically, an aluminum barrel with a stiff composite handle.  Some hybrid bats feature gas filled inflatable chambers which significantly enhance trampoline effect and performance.

Bat Size (Length and Weight)

The two main components of size, and the two primary issues that need to be taken into consideration when choosing a baseball bat, are length and weight.  These components are distinctly related and ultimately linked together.  That is, the weight of a bat is expressed in its length.  A drop 10 means the bat is 10 ounces lighter than the length, so for a 32 inch bat, a drop 10 weighs 22 oz.  For a 33 inch bat, a drop 5 is 27 oz. 

Length – Home plate is 17 inches across and the edge of the inside portion of the batter’s box is 6 inches from home plate.  A bat has to cover those 17 inches of plate, and likely a few more.  A bat that is too short will not allow the batter to hit balls on the outer half of the plate, even ones in the strike zone, and may result in the batter reaching for the ball.  This will disrupt timing, balance and rhythm, and prevent the ability to shift weight and hit with any power.  A longer bat may allow for more coverage, but may be heavier which could result in a slower, lazier swing. 

Weight - A bat that is too heavy results in a slow swing that does not maintain sound swing fundamentals.  Obviously, this greatly reduces the chances of a successful at bat.  A bat that is too light may throw off timing and rhythm, and cause the upper body to outrace the lower body during the swing.  This could cause a reduction in torque and power. 

To determine the size that is right for you, swing bats of different lengths and weights to decide which works best for you.  Use a batting tee and various tee positions, and vary your stance within the batter’s box.  This holds true for both length and weight.  As you progress and begin to play high school baseball and travel baseball, experiment with end loaded and different balances until you find the exact size that you are comfortable with.

Try it Out!

Before you buy a baseball bat, make sure you try it out.  While there are some sporting goods stores that do not allow you to demo, you can certainly swing a bat to see if it feels right.  That said, many of the baseball specialty stores and batting cages have demos and bats available for use, and you can get a very good idea of the material, length and weight that seems to fit you best.  Remember, comfort is crucial, and if a bat just does not feel right to you, look for something that does.  Now, when you have found the perfect bat and have made the investment, get more comfortable with it and use it.  Besides comfort, confidence is a big thing, and knowing you could hit it in a situation will go a long way towards doing so.  Go to a cage, perform hitting drills, hit in your yard, use a tee or other swing device or training aid.  Use it in batting practice.  We play like we practice and we practice like we play, so try to get in as many swings as you can outside of your games so it will be a source of comfort and satisfaction when it counts!

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