Wood bats are a baseball tradition, like Cracker Jacks or the seventh-inning stretch. Swinging a wood bat can be beneficial for players, as it can increase their strength, mechanics and eye for the ball. Before picking up any piece of lumber, however, there are a few things to take into consideration, such as wood type, length and bat weight.
WHICH WOOD IS BEST?
In today’s game, players have a number of options available to them when deciding on which types of wood to use. Which wood you choose, though, has an impact on the bat’s performance and lifespan. The four most popular choices include maple, ash, birch and bamboo.
Maple bats are made from a very dense wood which features a tight grain structure. This structure makes these bats very stiff and is what gives maple bats their higher energy transfers, or “pop.” Also, because of their tight grain structure, maple bats are less prone to “flaking”, which is when the bat begins to separate between the rings of the wood. This durability and added pop is why maple is one of the most popular choices among ballplayers. Look for bats made from Rock Maple (which is the common term for or Sugar Maple trees). This is considered a “hard maple” and will be the strongest wood available.
Whereas maple gains its popularity from its density and durability, ash bats are known for their lightweight and flex. Ash is a porous wood, which makes it very forgiving and thus creates a “trampoline effect” upon impact. The ball will jump off of the bat with more force because of this springboard effect. Ash bats also have a larger sweet spot, giving a player more positive surface area and making ash a perfect starter wood bat for someone who is transitioning from metal bats. Most ash bats will be made from Northern White Ash and the best available will show the straightest grains.
Birch bats are another great option for players making the switch from aluminum to wood. Birch features a tight grain structure similar to maple, giving it a respectable strength, but also flexes slightly, like you would see in an ash bat. Whereas ash or maple might break or flake due to inside pitches or impact on the label or at the end of the bat, birch is able to withstand more less-than-desirable points of contact. This makes birch a popular choice among players who aren’t accustomed to finding the sweet spot of a wood bat just yet. Yellow Birch will be the most common wood choice when searching for a birch bat.
Bamboo bats are very unique in that they are actually constructed from multiple chutes of bamboo. The individual chutes are pressed together to form one billet (the “blank” from which all bats are made) and then cut into a specific model. Bamboo is high in density and extremely strong. They are often used as a batting cage stick because they are far more durable than other wood options, but can be used in league play as well. These bats are light and feature a nice pop and transfer of energy. Adult bats made of bamboo must carry the BBCOR .50 certification mark to be used in high school or collegiate play.
Another option when looking for a wood bat would be composite models. These are typically a combination of either multiple wood materials or a wood and foreign material. Because of this splicing of materials, composite bats will be the most durable option, but also the most expensive. Also, because composites are engineered specifically to be extremely durable, many will come with some type of warranty against breakage.
BAT WEIGHT & LENGTH
The dimensions of your bat will greatly affect its performance. If it’s too long, your bat could be adding unneeded weight. If it’s too short, your bat can cut off your ability to hit outside pitches. For a good understanding of how long your bat should be, use the graphic below as a guide. Another effective measuring estimate is to stand the bat up vertically against your leg. A proper wood bat will reach mid-hip height.
As far as bat weight, there is little that can be done in terms of wood. Most wood bats will come in either a -2 or -3 drop, with some youth models offering lighter models in -7.5. A good test to see if your bat is too heavy is to hold it out in front of your body. If you are able to hold it straight out for roughly 45 seconds without the barrel falling, then your bat is a good weight.
Naturally, stronger players will be able to swing longer, heavier bats, but remember that bat speed is pivotal in success at the plate, so finding a balance between length and weight that works best for you is key.
As a final note, remember to check with your league for any bat requirements or restrictions before making a purchase. This is crucial if you want to use your wood bat in a game and not just at practice or in the cage. Once you have this information, get out there and swing for the fences.
Use the size charts below as a guide to find the right size wood bat for you. Click to enlarge.