Since our blog post about wood bats versus metal bats back in 2009, more changes have occurred in metal bat standards—especially at the high school and college level for baseball and softball, where metal bat makers have been forced to “de-juice” their bats.
At the time the initial blog was written, the differences between metal and wood bats boiled down to 3 main areas: performance, safety, and affordability. These same categories ring true today. And, seven years later, the evidence still holds true: if you are serious about improving your game, a wood bat is the only choice for any baseball or softball slugger.
Single piece wood bats are made from solid wood (unless corked, which is definitely illegal for game use!), putting it at a disadvantage for weight distribution, overall drop weight (length - drop weight = bat weight), and size of hitting area. But, let’s dig a little deeper to analyze the differences and if they are real disadvantages.
The hollow center of metal bats and metal composite bats will always allow for a wider hitting area. Whereas the optimal area to hit on a wood bat, known as the sweet-spot, is typically 2”-6” in from the barrel end. How long it is varies by wood type (ash having the largest area and maple having the smallest) and by length of the bat. In metal and composite bats this area can be elongated, as barrels can stay more uniform in shape longer.
The real change has been in the power that metal and composite bats can generate. For such bats, a change in standards for high school age and beyond, known as BBCOR (bat-ball coefficient of restitution) has “dumbed down” their power. It has addressed exit velocity and has leveled the playing field for the drop weight all bats at the high school age and up must adhere to (length – drop weight = bat weight). This has allowed wood bats to regain their dominance in the power a bat can deliver.
When a player learns how to hit with a wood bat, nothing will beat it for distance and trajectory. This applies to baseball, softball, and youth. Big hitters will still be the big hitters--they'll just get more hits. Yes, this means that those who used to rely on technology will return, fairly enough, to who they are: singles/contact hitters or extra base hitters. More balls find the gaps, yielding higher batting averages and more RBIs.
A similar standard was added to metal and composite softball bats. The standard for exit velocity is known as BCT (barrel compression testing). If any of you have pitched or played the hot corners (first and third base), you can appreciate this change. Metal bats continue to dominate the world of female softball as the windmill pitching speeds, coupled with ball diameter, make it near impossible to craft a wood bat that will hold up. So, wood softball bats are primarily used in men’s and co-rec leagues.
We are seeing more high school aged and older female players using wood as a very effective training tool. The benefits of learning where to hit on a bat to maximize power (regardless of material type), of strength building, and of hand-eye coordination are yielding improved batting averages in metal bat games the following season.
Performance related benefits extend into batting practice, hitting lessons, and games. Metal and most composite bats lack the feedback to help you become a better hitter. The cheap hits off the hands and getting away with bad form do not help instill the discipline needed to maximize power. They become a negative reinforcement. With wood, if you hit it wrong, your hands will sting, giving you tactile feedback. And, the ball won't go very far. Get it right and watch it go. And it's not a two-way street: you can't become a better wood bat hitter by swinging metal...but you can become a better metal bat hitter by swinging wood.
One thing that players like with metal and some composites: big end-weighted barrels at light weights. Nothing has really changed there in the shape of any of these bats, even with the BBCOR and BCT standards. This is especially true of youth metal and composite bats, where the weights get extremely light and the barrels too large. The same rings true for metal and composite softball bats, where drop weights range from -8 to -12. The results of swinging these big barrel/underweighted bats? Golf-like swings (from low to high) that create more fly balls due to the poor trajectory created when striking the ball. A properly weighted, single piece wood bat helps level out your swing. Watch as metal/composite bat fly ball outs become singles, doubles, and more with your properly weighted wood bat. Even if just training with wood, proper hitting technique will yield better results at the plate – in metal, composite, or wood.
As mentioned above, safety of fielders has taken a jump to the forefront in recent years. Anyone who plays third-base, first-base, or pitches can tell you a story of a ball rocketed at them from a metal or composite bat that nearly took their head off. In youth baseball there have been extreme cases where such strikes have resulted in deaths. Fortunately, the implementation of the BBCOR standards for metal and composite baseball bats, and the BST standards for softball bats on bat manufacturers, have removed a lot of the dangerous bats. Lowering exit velocity off a bat means greater reaction time for fielders.
The remaining issue with many metal and composite bats? The ability to modify these bats upon purchase has not gone away. Shaving the inside of a metal or composite bat, to create more trampoline effect for greater energy transfer to the ball, is hard to detect. So for example, while softball umps get updated rating sheets every two weeks for bats, it still requires the ump having the knowledge and eye to spot and catch illegal bats. Yes, there have been some very well-known 4 and 5-letter amateur governing bodies for softball and baseball that require their stamp to be game legal, but our experience has been that these bodies do zero testing of the bats themselves. Draw your own conclusion on where these certification fees go!
Wood bats are not without their own concern as there is no doubt they are easier to break when miss-hitting occurs. Some of the miss-hit singles on metal and composite bats become bat-breaking outs with a wood bat. At the pro level, wood bats (especially maple bats) took a rap for “excessive” breakage and for the occasional barrel head going flying in to the stands or in the field of play. Never to let the facts get in the way, the self-proclaimed experts in sports media, especially those at the “World Wide Leader” in sports, were all over this subject. News flash: big barrel, thin handle is a bad durability equation. And, to get to some of the drop weights players were requesting, there were bat manufacturers who were using sub-standard species of woods or using billets (the tubes of wood we make bats from) that were too light to support reasonable durability. We even see this at the amateur level. In reaction, the Commissioner’s Office in pro baseball did implement some solid changes. This included clamping down on billet weights that can be used for certain players, based upon years of play in pro ball. With these changes, bat breakage is way down at the pro level, proving there is nothing inherently dangerous about wood bats.
Still ringing true after all these years, the in-demand metal and composite bats run about 3 to 4 times the cost of a good wood bat. With many players replacing their metal and composite bat every year at a cost of $300-400 (due to dead spots developing, falling out of compliance or out of popularity), wood becomes more cost effective. When you add in the pop you get from a wood bat over a metal or composite bat for in-game use, the affordability extends beyond price and on to power.
Ultimately, wood bats should be the way of the future. While the “sweet spot” may be more difficult to find—when a player does find it, nothing can beat their distance and trajectory. If a wood bat is properly weighted, it can help players turn pop-up outs into base hits. And perhaps the most important consideration of wood bats—they’re safer. It’s not uncommon for in-field players to narrowly avoid a ball flying at their head from a composite bat, especially if it’s been illegally modified. Finally, you could argue that wood bats break easier, but they’re much less expensive to replace than metal or composite ones. As we tell our customers that visit our showroom outside of Columbus, Ohio, if you are following our hitting tips and still breaking 3 to 4 bats during the year, take up lacrosse!