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Thursday, April 2, 2009
How to Pick a Baseball Bat
By Kenny Buford
Simply choosing the right bat for a player can make a huge difference in how they swing and what kind of results they get. The bat determines the velocity of the swing, the strength of the impact with the ball and how far the ball will go. It also controls the aim of the ball and affects the beginning of the batter's sprint to first base. Because the bat affects so many aspects of the game, having the right bat is essential.
There are two main characteristics to look for with a bat: length and weight. A bat that is too short will not allow the batter to hit all the balls in their strike zone, even if the batter knows they should be able to reach it. It might cause them to reach for the ball, which throws off their stance, rhythm, and ability to get behind the ball with real power.
A bat that is too long is often also too heavy. This will make the swing slower and the motion clumsier. A bat that is too long also puts the batter at danger for hitting the ball with the wrong section of the bat, making the ball go in a different direction than intended.
To pick a bat that is the right length for the player, batters should stand in the middle of the batter's box and place the bat against the inside corner of home plate. The knob of the bat should come to the batter's palm. If the bat is too short, it will only reach to the fingers. If the bat is too long, it will go up to their wrist and beyond.
A bat's weight is extremely important to the overall swing and success of the bat. For example, think of the past baseball scandals where major league players have been caught with cork in their bats to make them lighter and easier to swing. There is a reason these things are illegal in the game-they give the batter an unfair advantage by giving them a bat light enough to swing extremely hard, which gives the batter a higher chance of hitting a home run because of the added power behind the ball.
Normal bats are 8-10 ounces less in weight than their length in inches. So, for example, a bat that is 30 inches long will probably weight about 20 ounces. A bat that is too heavy will slow down the swing and make it very difficult for batters to maintain proper form during the stance and swing. Starting with improper form only leads to improper form in swinging, which reduces the chances for a well-hit ball that will result in a base hit.
A bat that is too light will cause batters to swing too fast, which also affects rhythm and keeps the batter from doing their job. A light bat also sometimes causes the shoulders to get ahead of the hips. In an effective swing, the hips should lead the rest of the body. If the shoulders get around too quickly, the swing will not have proper power, as much of the batter's power comes from the action of the hips, which lead the lower body.
Aluminum vs. Wood
The composition of the bat is also worth noting and discussing. Depending on league or association rules, your batters may not have a choice in what type of bat they choose. However, for other teams, this will be a matter of serious consideration.
Aluminum bats are the newest technology in hitting and have changed the way many batters do business. They do not require the same kind of perfect mechanics that a wood bat requires because they are lighter and have a different location of balance, which can lead to poor technique if not taught properly.
The main difference between an aluminum bat and a wood one is the weight. Aluminum bats are much lighter than wood bats and can be a big help in letting batters swing faster and hit the ball farther.
Because the aluminum bat is lighter, players can make last minute adjustments to the swing better than they can with a wood bat. Once a wood bat gets going, it is hard to make adjustments, while an aluminum bat allows this freedom. An aluminum bat is also easier to get moving because of its reduced weight, so players can take more time deciding whether or not to swing, and if so, how to swing.
However, a wood bat has the potential to hit the ball farther because of its density and weight. A wood bat moving at the same speed as an aluminum bat will hit the ball harder because of its composition.
For some, aluminum bats are better because they are generally easier to swing. This does not mean they are lighter; while most are lighter, some heavier aluminum bats are easier to swing than their lighter wood counterparts simply because of how the weight is distributed within the bat. The closer the center of mass is to the handle, the easier the bat will be to swing. In general, the center of mass is much higher in aluminum bats than wood bats.
Wood bats also absorb more of the power of the ball, leaving less to be projected forward as the ball leaves the bat. Aluminum bats have what some call the "trampoline effect," where the ball hits the bat and is thrown back out like a trampoline spring compressing and releasing.
With aluminum bats becoming more popular and allowing batters to hit faster, longer balls, many associations and leagues have developed rules regarding the use of aluminum bats. Make sure that you and your players are aware of all rules governing your team's play so that you do not cause a problem by using the wrong bat.
For most high schools, the length-to-weight ratio determines a bat's usability. The length-to-weight ratio is determined by taking the length, such as 32 inches, and subtracting the weight, such as 29 ounces. In this example, the length-to-weight ratio is a -3. Negative three is the common accepted ratio for high school play.
Anything with a -4 ratio or higher is simply too light for play in high school or equivalent teams. Batters with the ability to swing that fast and that hard pose a risk to other players. Be sure to know the proper ratio for your players based on their age, height, and weight, so that you can find the proper bat for them.
Try Out Bats
No player is going to know right away which bat is best for them. Comfort is more important than almost anything else when choosing a bat, and both players and coaches should recognize the necessity of trying out several bats before choosing a favorite.
Just as hockey players would not choose just any pair of skates, batters cannot pick up just any bat. It must feel right in weight, size, and during the swing. Players should do whatever they can to simulate a real swing so that they will know what bat they are most comfortable with.
Kenny Buford is a baseball coach with over 20 years of experience and a founding member of Baseball Inner Circle. Discover the ultimate source for baseball drills, videos, and coaching tips that will immediately improve your players' skills and win more games for your team:
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