I am frequently asked to recommend bats for baseball and 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 be no surprise to anyone who subscribes to this blog that my 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 generated by the hitter.
The Relationship Between Bat Weight/Length and Bat Speed
Many coaches and parents 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. They 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 traveling. 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 (not exit speed) consistently over 70 mph (which is the minimum target for my high school and college hitters), may want to consider switching to a 33″/24 oz. bat. This hitter can take advantage of the additional force of the heavier bat. But, if bat speed drops 5 mph or more, the heavier bat would not be a better option.
The same holds true for the length of a bat. A longer bat that travels at the same speed as a shorter bat will result in greater “pendulum effect” and more power. However, if a hitter switches to a longer and heavier bat and bat speed decreases significantly (more than 5 mph), then the change will result in less power.
To determine the ideal bat speed (by age), here is a link to a previous post. How Fast Is Your Baseball/Softball Swing?
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 my bat speed 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 control or aim the bat. I teach hitters to allow the bat to go where it wants to go. This is a natural byproduct of power generated by sound rotational mechanics using 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.
Hitters who use light bats have a tendency to initiate the swing with their hands and arms. I recently observed a coach instructing a hitter to aim the barrel of the bat at the ball. Hitters who aim the bat instead of trusting their swing will create all sorts of problems for themselves, especially power and consistency.
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 personal to each hitter. Some bats are manufactured with 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 them look like “hot bats”. I love bats, so I have always been a sucker for a “technological breakthrough” or a creative design, but they probably have never materially 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 with the right bat is a lethal combination.
About Paul Petricca
In addition to writing this hitting blog, Paul is a hitting coach and the author of the books Hitting With Torque: For Baseball And Softball Hitters and his new children’s book Going Going Gone!. He is also a public speaker and provides unique customer engagement training through his company Torque Consulting. Paul teaches a Customer Relationship Management class to undergraduates at Wheaton College (IL) and MBA candidates at Loyola University Chicago, and DePaul University.