I am frequently asked to recommend bats for baseball or softball hitters. I rarely recommend a particular make or model, but I do provide my opinion on the size and weight that would be most appropriate. It should not be a surprise to anyone who subscribes to this blog that the primary determinant in choosing the right bat is bat speed. The trick is to match the size and weight of a bat with the bat speed of the hitter.
The Relationship Between Bat Weight/Length and Bat Speed
Many people believe that hitters who use a heavy bat will hit the ball farther than hitters who use a light one. They contend that the greater the force (a heavier bat), the farther the ball will travel. These people are right and they are also very wrong. It is true that a more powerful force like a heavier bat COULD result in more power than a light bat. It all depends on the speed both bats are travelling. A hitter with a lighter bat who has high bat speed will hit the ball farther than the hitter who uses a heavier bat, but has low bat speed. The goal for all hitters is to use the heaviest bat possible WITHOUT sacrificing bat speed.
So, here is an example. A college softball hitter who uses a 33″/23 oz. bat, with bat speed consistently over 70 mph (which is the target for my high school and college hitters), may want to consider switching to a 33″/24 oz. bat to take advantage of the additional force of a heavier bat, if she doesn’t sacrifice very much bat speed. The same holds true for the length of a bat. Using the same logic, this hitter may choose to upgrade to a 34″ bat. A longer bat that travels at the same speed as a shorter bat will result in greater “pendulum effect” and thus more power. However, if this hitter switches to a heavier or longer bat and her bat speed decreases significantly (more than 5 mph), then the change could actually result in less power than if she was using the lighter or shorter bat.
To determine the ideal bat speed (by age), here is a link to a previous post.
Hitters should select a bat that allows them to achieve the target bat speed levels for their age. If hitters are unable to achieve the bat speed targets summarized in this post with a bat that is typical for their age, then it is not the bat. Instead, these hitters should work to improve their hitting mechanics to reach the target bat speed levels before they worry too much about the bat they should be using.
Another factor in selecting the right bat is determine how easy or difficult it is to control the bat. Unlike bat speed, it is difficult to quantify bat control. Obviously, the lighter the bat, the more bat control hitters will enjoy. As a hitting instructor, I believe strongly that hitters should not strive to “control the bat”. I teach hitters to allow the bat to go where it wants to go, as a natural byproduct of powerful rotational mechanics driven by the body, not the hands or arms. Any time hitters actually try to alter the natural path of the bat, they will sacrifice power and consistency. Examples of this are hitters who initiate the swing with their hands and arms or hitters who aim the bat at the ball or hitters who change the path of the swing after impact.
Conversely, a bat that is too heavy for hitters will result in a lack of control. Even hitters who use their body effectively to generate power, need some level of bat control. The primary role of the hands and arms is to make fine adjustments to the pitched ball. Hitters who use a bat that is too heavy will be unable to make the subtle adjustments that can be the difference between a hard ground ball and a line drive.
For younger hitters, it is easy to see when a bat is too heavy. However, for high school and college hitters, it is more difficult to determine the degree of bat control. For these hitters, I recommend defaulting to the bat weight/length vs. bat speed equilibrium discussion above.
The Feel, Sound, and Look of the Bat
Finally, bat selection often comes down to the feel, sound, and look of the bat. These factors are both very subjective and very personal to each hitter. Some bats are manufactured with the total weight distributed evenly along the barrel of the bat. Other bats are “end-loaded”, which means more weight is allocated toward the end of the bat. Supposedly, this is geared toward power hitters. Some bats make a loud “pinging” sound and others sound as if they were made out of wood. Some bats just look cool, with bright colors and graphics that make it look like a “hot bat”. I love bats, so I have always been a sucker for a “technological breakthrough” or a creative design, but they probably have never helped my hitting.
It’s Rarely The Bat
When hitters go into slumps, they often blame the bat. If a bat could defend itself, it would tell hitters to focus more on their hitting mechanics for success and less on their bat. I agree with the bat. Sorry Mom and Dad, but an expensive bat is not a substitute for good hitting mechanics and hard work. However, a great hitter and the right bat is a lethal combination.