You open your e-mail and discover that your league will be converting to wood bats this season. Either you have never hit with wood, or it has been a long time since you last picked up a piece of lumber.
I literally get this phone call or e-mail almost every week. Players have seen my bats on the website, or know someone who has one, and now they need to pick my brain. I think one of the most exciting things about wood bats over aluminum is that they are a very personal piece of your game.
You have the ability to completely customize a bat to your particular needs. Your choices include model, length, weight, color and engraving. I just love fine tuning bats for my customers.
The bottom line to bat selection is to find one that just feels right. You will know it when you swing it.The light bulb will click, and you can’t help but get a silly grin on your face when it happens.
Technical descriptions about the bats, and labeling models as made for power hitters or line drive hitters is a good place to start, but only you can pick the bat that will fit you best.
The first order of business is to be honest with yourself when analyzing your style of hitting. Do you spray line drives around the diamond, or are you pulling moon shots down the line? Be honest about your bat speed.
Can you wait on the ball no matter how hard a pitcher is throwing,or do you feel the need to get the bat started early against the harder throwers?
Do you stay closed at the plate with your hands inside the ball, or do you have a tendency to open up, bar arm, and drag the bat through the hitting zone?
Once you have categorized your style of hitting, you need to discuss this with someone who has the knowledge to get you on the right track. I’ll address this part of the equation later in the article.
What you need to understand about wood bats, is that they feel much different than an aluminum bat in terms of balance and weight distribution.
An aluminum bat that is 33” long and weighs 30ozs will feel much different than a wood bat with the same dimensions. This is a direct result of the materials and the manufacturing process used to make the bats. Many variables can be manipulated during the production of an aluminum bat.
Obviously, as with a wood bat, the length, weight, handle and barrel diameter are designed, but the hollow shape of a metal bat allows the manufacturer to very precisely control the weight distribution. The thickness of the walls throughout the entire length of the bat dictates the balance and feel.
Wood bats are turned on a lathe. They can be manufactured in many different shapes and sizes, but it is a solid piece of wood, and as such has limitations.
The point of all this is that it is not easy for a player to convert from aluminum to wood.
You really need experienced help to get started.
I think the most logical place to start in selecting a bat is at the handle.
Most wood bat companies offer a variety of handle sizes.
Here at Pro Bats, we offer six different handle sizes ranging from 0.9 “to 1.03”. We also offer a variety of knobs and flares leading into the knob. Pick a handle that feels comfortable. This is your connection to the bat, and is a very important piece of the puzzle.
Next is the transition from the handle to the barrel. Some models have a pretty radical transition, where the handle stays thin for quite a while as it approaches the barrel, while others have a smoother transition gradually increasing in diameter as they connect with the barrel.
This section of the bat plays a very important role in how balanced the bat will feel to you. Last is the barrel itself.
Bigger is not always better.
Once again you will have a variety of sizes available to you. My company produces over sixteen models. The barrel dimensions run from 2.45” to 2.57”. This may all seem like splitting fine hairs to you, but you have to understand that in the world of wood bats, a very small variance in any of these dimensions makes a big difference in how the bat feels to you.
A very simplified system is to reduce the length and ounces of the aluminum bat you use by 1” each when you convert to your first wood bat. If you currently hit with a 33” – 30 oz aluminum bat I would suggest picking out a well balanced wood bat that is 32” long and weighs 29 ounces.
I have included a size chart at the end of the article as a reference point. It’s not the bible by any means, but it has some merit and is a decent place to start.
The biggest question you have to ask yourself is where to buy your bat.
The choices today seem endless as more companies jump on the wood bat bandwagon. I feel very strongly that you should purchase a maple bat over ash. The durability and pop far outweigh the added cost. If you purchase a maple bat from the right company, you can have the same bat in your hands used by Major League players.
That is impossible with ash. Do you buy from a big name company, a small company where bats are made one at a time in a garage, or somewhere in between?
By now you are aware of the fact that I own a maple bat company so I will try to give you the best advice I can without making this an advertisement for Pro Bats. In the business, there is not necessarily a direct correlation between price and quality. The most expensive bats are not always the best quality.
Look for a company that is fairly small and has not lost touch with the players.You are looking for personalized customer service from someone who has intimate knowledge of the game and the product. From a production standpoint, high quality wood bats are very difficult to produce on a consistent basis.
Almost all maple bat manufacturers use hard maple in the production of their bats. You might hear several different names like rock and sugar, but it is all hard maple.
What separates the truly outstanding companies from the rest is their willingness to discard large amounts of wood billets due to defects and heavy weights.
The name of the game in the business right now is wood supply.
You need to have access to high quality wood and the money to pay for it up front in order to stay properly supplied. This is the biggest challenge for the smaller companies. Look for a company that will customize your bat to your exact specifications. How can you purchase a bat that you know is 33” long but you have no idea how much it weighs?
What happens if your bat breaks during your first at bat?
Will the company stand behind it?
Most importantly, find a company that will take the time to answer your questions. Customer service is the name of the game. Hopefully by now you understand there are many variables that go into selecting a bat that is right for you. It is a highly personalized choice. Remember the bottom line is feel. Confidence is one of the most important parts of hitting. A bat that feels right creates confidence.