How To Choose A Wood Baseball Bat
Posted on July 17, 2013
Most players today (other than those who are being paid to play) are new to the ways of wood baseball bats. I’ve included some basic knowledge on the subject for the serious player and his coaches who are realizing that to get to the next level you need to train with wood.
More importantly, here’s some straight advice on how to choose the right bat and get the most for your money too. Let’s start with some basics:
Most wood bats today are made from Northern White Ash generally harvested in Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. It is graded for quality with straight grain being the most important criteria. (Southern Ash grows too quickly and is not as dense). Major League grade is, of course, the best and is also in short supply. Most of what you see that’s labeled or sold as Pro-Stock or some similar name is actually Minor League wood or a lesser grade and generally is found for around $40. Of course, there are other levels of quality down to the $20 range. They are known by grades called high school, trophy and retail (don’t expect to see the grades labeled). Generally, they are not of very good quality and only worth purchasing if money is an issue (better than not having any wood at all).
Here is another material that has recently gained some Major League notoriety. They cost a bit more, but when made properly AND from the right material, known as Rock or Sugar Maple, it is absolutely worth the extra money simply because it tends to outlast ash bats many times over. So in the long run, because they last longer, they’re less expensive.
So why don’t all Major Leaguers use maple? Actually, as they are becoming more well-known, more players are now using them. Just like in your own dugout, players will try out each other’s new bats. And since they have such good “feel,” some players will switch while other players having the superstitions that many ballplayers tend to have, will never change even the color much less the type of bat that they use. Also, since Major Leaguers aren’t concerned with saving money on bat breakage, economy is not the issue that it is for the rest of us.
Here’s a warning when considering a maple bat: Because of it’s recent good press, too many new companies have jumped on the bandwagon making bats out of inferior material such as red or silver maple, a soft maple that just won’t hold up well enough in my opinion, especially keeping in mind that they cost more than ash bats to begin with. So, don’t buy unless you are sure you are getting a hard maple bat (remember the names rock maple and sugar maple)!
It’s a great “stick”, with some players saying that the ball just jumps off the bat a bit quicker. It doesn’t flake (outer layers or pieces that chip off in flakes) like ash either. If there’s a downside, it just costs more than many ash bats.
This is going to be a “next-great” alternative in my opinion. It’s as hard a piece of wood as it gets, the inherent problem being its weight. However, with today’s improved air kiln-drying methods, new ways are being uncovered to remove more of the moisture, which in turn means more of the weight. It may become a reality on the Major League circuit very soon. It will be a potent & maybe hardest-to-break bat than most anything else you could find. Nobody is making an all hickory bat yet, so stay tuned.
Here’s another of the exotic materials that are now on the market. I like the fact that it seems to take a lot of mis-hits without breaking. It has a good sound, doesn’t require being taped at the barrel for BP (batting practice) or cage work (batting cage practice) as it just doesn’t flake or split easily. Bats from Brett Brothers even have a fiberglass boa wrap covering the lower 18 inches of the bat to further prevent breakage at the handle.
Composites, Combinations & Other Trick-Bats
Note: These bats are approved for high school, college and pro ball up through Rookie and Short Season Class A Leagues.
I don’t even know there is a true definition of the word composite, as it applies to bats. My best guess is that it means that it is either more than a billeted bat (made of one piece of wood) or it is a man-made material. I have seen bats called composite which are regular run-of-the-mill ash bats encased in fiberglass and I’ve seen them made from some unidentifiable man-made materials that don’t even seem to be wood at all. and priced up to $150!
Suggested Model Choices and Variations
Brett Brothers Stealth Model
Here’s another great idea from the baseball Brett family of George, Kenny and Bobby. Long-lasting and reasonably priced. These bats are made from 3 separate 1′ x 3′ pieces, 2 of maple and one ash piece sandwiched in between. They are then glued and power-bonded together. After the drying process, they are turned on a lathe into a very balanced and very durable bat. The patented boa fiberglass wrap is then applied to the handle to prevent much of the breakage found in single piece ash bats. It is then double-dipped in black lacquer. A great choice for any age or level of player.
Brett Brothers Stealth Bat
Wood Bat Knowledge
Here’s the stuff that too many players and coaches don’t know…
(but would rather do it the wrong way than admit it!)
Handling and Care
Extreme temperatures are probably not a good idea. Wood bats should be stored in the house and not the garage. Simply store them in the back of your closet to keep them out of the way in the off season.
Breakage and Prevention
The reality of wood bats is that any one of them can be broken. However, with some knowledge and the right bat, they have been known to last a long, long time.
The first thing to do to reduce breakage is to understand that the placement of the trademark is not by accident. As no two trees are alike, no two bats are alike either. The trademark is placed on an area which has the greatest possibility of failure. The exact opposite side of the trademark is also a place where bats will be more likely to fail too. Take a close look and you will see how the grain runs and why this is true. So the simple rule of prevention here is.Bat with LABEL UP OR LABEL DOWN. While holding a bat with two hands extended across the plate, make sure the label faces up to the sky or down to the ground.
Secondly, understand that movement of your hands will always start the swing. (Ok technically it’s the hands and the front knee). With wood, it generally takes a bit more to get the bat through the contact zone, so start your swing earlier (sooner). This is great training for many reasons; one being that you’ll be even quicker with your aluminum bat!
Know that around 70% of all bats break when hit off the end of the bat, not off the fists (hands). Your first thoughts might be that this sounds crazy because when the bat breaks you notice it tends to be near the handle, not the business-end of the bat, right?
But check out this reasoning. . .
Most hitters are right handed. Most pitchers are right handed. Pitchers in the aluminum bat era (since 1972) know that you can’t pitch inside and saw off an aluminum bat so they live on the outside corner, not having been taught to pitch inside (I hear guys say that they will come inside, but really, not many do. Who wants to hit the guy and put him on base anyway).
Also, what’s the second pitch that you see so many guys throw?.The hard, hopefully for them, late-breaking curve or maybe the slider. And which direction do these break? Away from the right handed hitter!!! Many of them making contact on the end of the bat. And where does the bat tend to break?.Near the thinner part, the handle!
Repairing Broken Bats
I learned this from Dave Cook of Hoosier Bat Company (and NY Yankee scouting fame). In the old days a broken bat was brought back to life with whatever you could find in Dad’s toolbox. A combination of nails, screws and electrical tape is all that it took. Of course, some breaks being worse than others, you tried to make it last the best you could.
Well, now that you are player-enough to understand the value of hitting with wood, let’s see if you can learn the value of fixing rather than throwing away (and coughing up another $49) and replacing your wood bat.
First, you place one hand on either side of the break and over the corner of a work table, attempting to open the wound. If it’s a small or hairline fracture you can try to enlarge the wounded area by sliding the side of a knife down into the affected area. BE CAREFFUL AND DON’T FORCE THE SHARP KNIFE!
Now that you have enlarged and opened the area, fill the crack by squeezing some Elmer’s woodworking glue or something similar (even the plain old Elmer’s glue if that’s all you’ve got).
Clamp it with whatever you’ve got handy. A wood worker’s vice would be best but whatever kind of clamp or vice you have will do.
Let it completely dry, then take it out to hit.
Note: Now that you know to hit with either “label up or label down,” you may want to change the label direction that you normally hit with so if you hit label up, try it label down. Good luck. and quit swinging at balls that are too far inside or outside!
Pine Tar and Other Sticky Subjects
Since wood bats don’t use the leather grips that aluminum bats do, you may want to consider some sticky alternatives. Do note that these are only options; many players use nothing at all.
Pine Tar is the brown gooey substance that many big leaguers use. It works well, and is also very sticky and gets on everything from uniforms to helmets and batting gloves. I don’t advise its use for younger players for those reasons.
Tape is simply white athletic tape, though players have been known to try lots of different varieties. Tape works well. I like a double criss-cross pattern that leaves some of the wood exposed. It forms distinct patterns of diamonds. Some players just tape by continually encircling the bat about 8 to 12 inches form the knob. I call this a full-wrap. Yet others like to build up the knob end with many layers and then either full wrap or criss-cross. Some will also twist the tape so that it becomes a rounded rope shape and then wrap that about one inch apart all the way up to the 8 to 12 inch point from the bat handle. Yet others combine the full wrap and then rope their bat.
Manny Mota Stick is tough to find but is a cardboard tube about 5 inches tall and 1 inch in diameter. You peel the cardboard to expose the mysterious ingredient that when rubbed on a bat handle makes it sticky without leaving a complete mess like pine tar. If you find it, buy two because it is tough to find. Believe me, you will lose it before you finish the tube.
Gorilla Gold is something new. It’s a tacky cloth that you simply rub on your bat handle. I’d imagine you can purchase it at sporting goods stores.
Why Hit With Wood.
when the rest of the world seems to hit with aluminum?
Wood Bats Correctly Teach The Strike Zone
When you hit an outside pitch with an aluminum bat, you can very well hit it beyond an infielder even though you swung at a bad pitch. On an inside pitch, you can manage a flare-single over the 2nd baseman’s head. With wood you learn the strike zone and which pitches you should lay off.
In the old days (before 1972) every bat you bought was wood and you sure didn’t want to break the only bat you owned, so you learned to lay off bad pitches (not to mention the “bees” you felt in your hands when you swung at bad pitches on cold spring days)!
Maybe you will now begin to learn the strike zone and the value of pitch selection. You just might gain one more weapon in learning to become a better hitter! Remember, if you learn these great lessons by hitting with wood, think about what a powerful and smart hitter you can become when swinging with aluminum!
A wood bat will train you to hit with good mechanics and will tell you right away when you are dragging it through the zone with incorrect mechanics. The sweet spot is a bit smaller and the barrel diameters tend to be smaller as well, so to be successful you start the hands early, select good pitches to hit and accelerate right through the ball with a flat, level swing. It just won’t let the bad swings turn into cheap hits.
Why Some Players Struggle With Wood
We covered many of the reasons in the paragraph you just read, but the bottom line is that the sooner you begin training with wood, the sooner you get over whatever it is that makes some good hitters struggle. Keep in mind that I am not limiting this potential problem to youth league and high school players.
The rookie leagues are littered with 1st year pro players who have been extremely successful in high school and the college ranks but 30 days into camp are ready to jump off buildings because of the wood bat transition (relax.it’s just an exaggeration).
But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way.
You start now, training with a wood bat, not then. You start your swing with what the scouts call live hands and avoid what they call, appropriately enough, dead hands You learn the strike zone; I mean really focus on good pitches. You aim at the art of perfecting the flat swing. Not sure how? Check out Coach Rob Ellis’s complete video series or even begin with reading his article, The Lost Secrets of Hitting.
The earlier a player begins training with wood, the better hitter he will become. Likewise, the more he trains with wood the better hitter he will become. You can cheat with aluminum. Instead of breaking the bat of a hitter who swings at an inside pitch, the aluminum hitter gets a flare just over the 4 or 6 (2B or SS) guy’s head. Outside pitches end up grounders which split the infielders for cheap singles.
Baseball in general is not rocket science, but is rather the dogged pursuit of learning the correct mechanics and then duplicating them hundreds and then thousands of times.correctly. This fact alone may be the biggest reason why so many of the best Little League age players that you know did not turn out to be the best players as they got older.
Glossary: Terms used in this article
Barrel – This is the business end, the largest diameter of the bat. The best part of the hitting surface found a few inches above the trademark or label.
Bat Ring – This is the colored marking encircling the bat at an area 18″ above the knob. This is sometimes known as the Brett Ring and marks a point where no pine tar can be above. (Look up the George Brett pine tar incident – it’s a very memorable and funny piece of baseball history.)
Billet – A single piece of wood which a bat is made from after the cutting, grading & splitting. Generally around 37 inches in length and just less than 3 inches in diameter. The billet is placed on the lathe which ultimately shapes the bat into its particular model.
Boning – This is an old tradition where players would take a cow or hambone and continually rub and smooth down the grain of their bat feeling that it made for a flatter, harder surface while helping to seal the raised pores. (Today’s physics gurus say that it just isn’t so. Tell that to Cobb and Gehrig!)
BP – Batting Practice
Butt – Also known as the knob, which is the end of the bat beneath your hands.
Cage Work – Hitting in a batting cage with either real leather baseballs or machine pitch dimple balls (the white or yellow balls you hit at the commercial batting cages).
Flaking – Whole pieces or layers of bat that chip off of a wood bat. This is mainly prevented by hitting with the label in the up or down position.
Flame Tempering – A process where the bat is run under an open flame to seal the wood.
Full Dip – Bats which are stained one color throughout.
Grain – The “heart” of a wood bat, grain is the lines you see running end to end on a wood bat. Wide or narrow, players debate what is best, but straight is the single most important factor to consider. I believe that 8 “rings” per inch is as perfect as it gets, but remember that no two trees or bats are exactly alike.
Half Dip – Bats that are stained only at the barrel end leaving the handle just a plain, rough-sanded wood. Other half-dips are actually two separate colors.
Lacquer – The original finish that was used to seal and protect the bat’s finish.
Model – Though bats stay within certain length and weight tolerances, there have been many variations over the last century. Handles and barrels can be either thin or thick. In pro ball, there are probably no more than 40 or 50 different models. I would venture a guess that the majority of players will use one of only a handful of the different available models.
Sweet Spot- This is that mysterious and perfect area on your bat where home runs begin their flight.where maximum carry can be assumed! When hit here, it just sounds and feels right.
Want to test where it is on your own bat? Hold your bat about 6-8 inches up the handle and tap the barrel with a second bat (hopefully wood), beginning at your bat’s trademark. Work your way up the barrel until you reach that place where your hands feel no vibration. Listen and feel. Close your eyes. You will recognize that sound when you become old. That’s the perfect spot. That’s the Sweet Spot!
Trademark – This is the bat brand or label that is found at the beginning of the barrel in the sweet spot area. Note that it is placed in a particular spot to inform the hitter to hit with this label facing upward or downward while extending the bat straight outward. To further test for this correct alignment, you can also notice the label itself resting on your rear shoulder. Incorrect alignment may very well produce a premature bat failure.
Urethane – A protective coating that seals the grain of the bat. It is generally clear.
Weight Drop – The length to weight ratio where a bat weight in ounces is related to the overall length of the bat itself. For example, a 32 -3 bat would translate as a 32 inch long bat that weighs 29 oz. Younger players who are still quite small may play in leagues where -11 or -12 is acceptable. Many 13 and 14-year old leagues may have requirements of -5 or -7 oz.
As of January 2001 all High School players must use a bat of -3 oz or less!
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Coach John Peter, presently aged 50 something, is the publisher of Baseball Tips.com and a lifelong student of the greatest game on earth. After being asked to find a more suitable occupation at age 26, many seasons after donning his first uni at age 7, he has transcended his skills into the much more important role of coach and especially as an instructor. He prides himself as never having charged any player or coach for a single lesson! “This game has been wonderful to my family and has afforded me a lifestyle to instruct any local player or coach who seeks my knowledge without charge!”