Softball bats are cool. There is no denying this. The graphics, the technology, the power. But there is a lot of confusion at the rec league level about the variety of bats out there, and even about the various options for a particular bat.
When a bat really fits the player, it becomes a part of their success and mystique. Sometimes I refer to my daughters bat as her sword. I have let her know more than once how much I love when she steps into that box with her sword, as a girl is throwing straight fire, and slays that dragon.
So I got interested in bats and the science of matching the right bat to the player fairly early on. Bat length, weight, drop, composition, grip, look and feel… all of these things fascinated me.
So let’s discuss the basics of fastpitch bats, and how to properly match one to your daughter.
Length – the vast majority of fastpitch softball bats are between 29 and 33 inches long. Unless your child is quite small or quite large, they will be in that range. The length of the bat obviously depends on the height of the player, and to an extent their overall strength, speed and agility as well. As a general rule of thumb, if you place your bat handle against your chest and extend your arm, you should be able to reach the barrel – the part after the taper.
There is a pervasive habit among players and parents to move successful hitters to a bigger bat too early so they can hit the ball harder. This is almost always a mistake and can have very negative consequences on mechanics. Very few girls in 14u softball need a 34 inch bat, unless they are 6’4″ tall and weigh 180lbs!
Weight – bat weight is described in ounces, and popular weights range between 17 and 25 ounces. The weight of the bat is obviously determined in part by the length of the bat, which brings us to the relative metric of ‘drop’ which is more crucial than weight.
Drop – the drop is the difference between weight and length. A ‘Drop Ten’ or -10 bat is one where the weight is 10 units less than the length, so for example the following bats are both ‘drop ten’:
- 33 inch / 23 ounce
- 30 inch / 20 ounce
The drop is a crucial measurement because it basically describes control. The higher the drop, the more control a batter will have, because the bat is lighter relative to the length. Most batters are best served with a drop ten bat. Lighter hitters, especially slappers, often use a drop 11 (-11), as for them control is far more important than power.
Power is of course the thing that is sacrificed in favor of control with a higher drop rating. Power hitters, especially those with excellent bat speed and body control, often favor a lower -9 or even -8 ratio. The heavier the bat, the greater the exit velocity of the ball, all other things being equal.
My daughter is a natural 2,3 or 4 slot batter. She hits with power, for high average, and has always maintained a very high OPS and SLG, despite maintaining an OBP of .500. This is a fairly rare combination. She is 5′ 7″ and very strong. She has excellent bat speed at 33 inches, so she is a natural candidate for a lower drop rating, and has been using a -9 (so a 33″, 24 oz bat) with great success for the past year. Soon, I plan to get her a -8, the lowest production drop rating, and see if she has the bat speed to make that work… that would be a 33″, 25 oz bat – that extra ounce makes a huge difference!
Load – the bat load is a description of the center of balance. The vast majority of bats out there are ‘balanced,’ which means that if you set the bat on your finger in the precise center of its length, it will balance perfectly. This balanced weight contributes to control for the batter.
On the flip side are ‘end loaded’ bats… an end load bat is heavier at the bat head than a balanced bat, and if you hold it at the midpoint it will tip. This shifted weight adds to the potential power, but again, like lower drop ratios, requires significantly greater strength which translates to bat speed and control despite the unbalanced weight.
My daughter has been using an end load bat since she was 12, because she had the strength to generate the bat speed and control necessary to use that speed. So, after covering length, weight, drop and load, I can describe my daughters bat as a 33 inch, 24 ounce drop 9 end load. Whew, quite the mouthful! But we aren’t done yet – we have yet to cover bat grip and composition!
Grip – the bat grip is almost universally overlooked by players, parents and coaches. We spend $100s on the bat, and don’t bother to check the most important aspect of the bat – how we interface with it. All bat grips are the same diameter out of the box, wrapped with whatever production grip tape the bat manufacturer uses. But not all girls hands are the same size! My daughter has very large hands, which we have adjusted to by wrapping her existing handle grip with an additional .5 millimeter tape. A general rule of thumb is that the thinner the grip, the greater control the batter has, but this is obviously dependent on how long the players hands and fingers are!
After market grip tape is not only a great way to give your daughter the confidence and control grasping the bat, but it is really fun to select the design! Like we said at the outset, looks matter. Looks feed confidence, and confidence leads to hits.
Composition – Finally, we come to composition. There are a lot of aspects to the technology of bats these days, from vibration suppression, to increased exit velocity through engineering. We will dive into this at much greater length in a different post, but for now, let’s just cover the basics. There are two basic types of bat composition out there, aluminum and composite.
We all know the sound of aluminum bats! Aluminum is the entry level bat material, but there is no reason why a batter can’t have great success with the right aluminum bat.
Stepping up a level to composite, however, will definitely add power to an already successful hitter. Composite material in bats is basically space age ceramics, with a sweet sounding crack on contact to match. The composite material allows the ball to bend the outer shell of the bat as it impacts and exits, providing a trampolining effect. They tend to have better vibration suppression as well, and the increased costs you might expect.
Finally, at the cutting edge of bat engineering are the double barrel bats made of composites. The outer bat hull is buttressed by another internal hull millimeters apart. When the ball compresses the outer hull, it impacts the inner hull, effectively doubling the trampoline effect. The resulting cracking sound, which sounds a bit like breaking glass, is impossible to mistake.
Those are some bat basics! Remember, it is not a competition for the longest bat, or the newest bat – it is a competition to hit the ball, with power and consistency. Find a bat that helps you do this and feel good doing it, and the rest doesn’t matter. The best way to get a feel for what you like it is to grip them and hit them yourself. Looking for a professional opinion? Go see Debbie Nelson and her staff at All American Sports Academy. A quality bat costs $200 or more – don’t make this decision without real professional advice!
I hope this helps clear up some questions you may have had… next time, we will discuss the latest advancements, like the reintroduction of Titanium to the game!