While baseball and softball share few similarities in game play, there are notable differences between the two. One of the main differences being the types of bat used in each sport. This guide will help you differentiate between the types of bats used for each.
What Makes Baseball Bats Unique?
Baseball bats come in a wide variety of models, normally specified by weight for hitting profiles. To illustrate, a batter who aims to make contact/hit singles will prefer a lighter weight bat whereas those who want power in their swing will opt for a barrel weighted and heavier bat. With wood bats, unlike metal bats, the more barrel you have, the heavier the bat will be.
All wood baseball bats for high school age and above must have a 2.5" or larger barrel and can be no lighter than a -3 length to weight ratio. This length-to-weight ratio is referred to as "drop" weight. So, a -3 drop bat that is 32" long will weigh 29 ounces (32 - 3 = 29). The difference in drop weight between a singles hitter and a power hitter for wood baseball bats is just one ounce. So, unlike metal bats, you cannot have a big barrel and the lightest weight. In the pros, players may only use single piece wood bats.
Special Considerations for Softball Bats
Wood softball bats, like baseball bats, are designed for hitting profiles. Just like baseball bats, the power hitter bats will be heavier, and typically more end-weighted than singles or extra base hitters' bats. When selecting a softball bat, it’s important to determine if it’s going to be used for slow-pitch, for fast-pitch or for training.
Today, the majority of wood softball bats used for game play are for men's slow pitch leagues to help make the game safer. With a wood softball bat, hitters return to who they really are. The power guy will still be able to jack it out of the park, swinging a barrel-heavy bat and/or one with a length to weight ration of -3. The smaller guys return to being contact hitters or extra base hitters as technology is removed from the equation. Thicker handled bats will hold up to men's fast pitch leagues as typically a softer ball is used to compensate for pitch speed. But the windmill, high velocity pitching and harder ball used by females in high school and adult games does restrict the success of using wood softball bats in their games.
Where female softball players are excelling with the use of wood softball bats is in training. Wood softball bats, just like wood baseball bats, promote good swing technique, leveling out swings. This promotes more drives in to the gap and beyond. They are also great for hand/eye coordination and for strengthening the wrist and forearm areas. An early adopter of such for training, a university in northern Iowa has seen the results of such training on the field. More and more progressive instructors and programs are taking up wood softball bats and wood softball training bats.
In either case, wood softball bats are made of higher density pieces of wood. These bats help transfer more energy to the softball upon contact. To help with the transition to wood, some wood softball bats feature straight transition from handle to knob, resembling the feel of a composite or aluminum bat. But options in balance, weight, handle size and knob feel exist to meet every players need.
Differences Between Baseball and Softball Bats
There are a number of differences between the wood bats designed for baseball and softball use. Notably, it begins with the design specifications of each. For example, baseball bats, at their thinnest, have a minimum 2.5” diameter barrel. They can range up from there, with the largest diameter coming in at about 2-17/32". ASA compliant softball bats, on the other hand, have one size barrel: 2.25”. Along with thinner barrels, softball bats are typically longer barreled than baseball bats.
There are significant differences in length to weight ratios between wooden baseball and softball bats. As mentioned above, wood baseball bats have length to weight ratios (referred to as "drop" weight) of -2 to -3 ounces whereas softball bats have a drop of -3 to -5 ounces. So the difference between contact/singles hitter versus extra bases/gap hitter versus power hitter in the world of wood baseball bats is just 1/2 ounce between each. For wood softball bats, that spread grows to 1 ounce.
Handle diameters tend to be slightly thicker and transition from barrel to handle tends to be at a more gradual slope for wood softball bats , due mostly for durability as softball players are hitting a larger diameter ball. Most baseball players of today prefer a slightly smaller diameter handle and faster transition from barrel to handle to create more bat speed. The difference between a wooden softball bat and wooden baseball bat may only be 1/16", but in the world of bats, that is noticeable. It is also a reason that wood baseball bats tend to break more often. Simple physics: the more the weight is not evenly distributed, the more stress is put on the wood when not hit in the proper area.
How Hitting Differs Between Baseball and Softball
One difference lies with the trajectory of the ball approaching the plate. A baseball will arc downward due to the throwing motion of the pitcher whereas a softball thrown hard can arc up as it approaches the plate, making it more difficult to hit. Add in slow-pitch softball with it's slow arc down.
Along with trajectory, softballs have a bigger surface area, meaning while it’s easier to hit them, it’s hard to hit them further as the energy transferred from the bat gets dispersed over a larger area. The inverse applies with baseball hitting.
Training Benefits Gained with Wood Bats
One of the main training benefits of wood bats are their smaller sweet spots. Due to this, it forces the hitter to employ a faster, more fundamentally sound swing to achieve maximum contact.
When selecting a type of wood for the bat, a hitter’s style and experience level will be primary factors to consider. Yellow Birch is excellent for hitters looking to develop a familiarity with using wood bats while power hitters will love the pop Rock Maple bats provide.
Overall, there are vast differences between softball and baseball bats. In each case, knowing the hitter’s preferences will play a huge role in finding the best bat for their needs. When selecting a bat, wood ones are best, because they force the hitter to develop proper swing discipline.
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