So, you want to play like the big boys, huh? You haven’t proven anything until you prove it with a wood bat. Metal bats are the most common type used outside of professional leagues, but that tinny ping just can’t compare to the crack of an authentic wood baseball bat. Man, it sounds so good.
The sense of accomplishment you feel when you drive one over the fence with a wood bat is like no other. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the little leagues, high school, or the men’s league that plays on weekends; wood bats are for everyone and something every ballplayer should experience.
Before we continue, here’s something for the curious minds. It’s a video from How It’s Made showing the magical journey of a simple piece of wood and how it ends up as a perfect baseball bat.
TYPES OF WOOD
Several different types of wood are used to make bats. There is no single “best” wood. If there was, that would be the only kind anyone makes. There are certainly more popular varieties, but it ultimately comes down to what exactly you’re looking for in a bat.
Whether you want something with the most pop, the toughest durability, the lightest weight, or the fastest swing, it all makes a difference with the kind of wood you need. It’s the very first thing you should consider when you’ve decided to purchase a wood bat.
Ash was once the most popular choice of wood for bats over several decades. It’s not as dominant as it once was, having been overtaken by maple, but it’s still in high demand.
Ash is considered to be a very balanced and well-rounded material to use for bats. It has some flexibility, which allows the batter to “whip” the bat through the air to create more speed through the zone. It’s also reasonably lightweight, which is another important factor for those looking to maximize bat speed.Ash is perfect for contact hitters because it’s weight and speed grant you a tremendous amount of control.
The downside to ash bats is their durability. The wood itself is durable, but the weak spot is along the grain. They will still last a long time if used properly, however. The logo on ash bats is crucial. Anyone who uses an ash bat needs to be aware of the “logo up” rule. Logos are placed in such a way that when they face up during a swing, the ball will strike the “edge grain” which is the strongest part of the bat. If the ball hits an ash bat on the face grain (logo forward), it has a higher probability of splintering.
Maple is the most widely used baseball bat wood, at least at the pro level. Low estimates place maple usage at 70% among MLB players. It’s one of the hardest of all bat woods, meaning it’s also one of the heaviest. It might not be the optimal choice for a beginner because the weight makes it a bit harder to control, and the “sweet spot” is a lot smaller than other types of wood. Maple is also very stiff and has no flex, making ideal bat speed harder to achieve.
With that said, it has the most “pop.” Balls fly off of maple faster and further than anything else. A solidly hit ball off a maple bat will travel fifteen feet more on average. That could be the difference between circling the bases and popping out. It’s easy to see why it has become the dominant bat choice in just a short amount of time.
The first thing to mention about bamboo bats is that they’re not eligible for play in the MLB. Bamboo is technically a grass, not a wood, but that doesn’t appear to be the primary reason they are not allowed. The MLB has a rule which states that all bats must be made from a single piece of wood. Bambo bats are made from several strips fused together.
There are still plenty of reasons to pick up a bamboo bat, though. First, it’s unbelievably durable. Its tensile strength is even greater than that of steel, and it holds up to repeated impact exceptionally well. Bamboo’s durability makes it a top choice for practice bats because you don’t have to worry about breaking a game bat.
Bamboo is one of the lightest wood bats you can get, making it one of the easiest to control during your swing, and also one of the fastest.
Birch bats include many of the positive features seen in ash and maple. They’re very hard like maple and have flex just below that of ash. It’s even a little bit lighter than maple. Birch has recently become the second most popular choice among pros because of this.
The more you hit with a birch bat, the harder it becomes. Some refer to this as a “break-in” period and can be considered an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. You don’t get its full potential on the first hit, but it will become a better bat over time. It also tends to last longer without breaking than both birch and maple.
Hickory was the most popular wood bat in the early days of baseball. Its use began to drop off when players and teams began to pay more attention to bat speed. Hickory is an exceptionally heavy wood and, therefore, very slow through the zone. Flex is also non-existent, which only adds to hickory’s obsolescence.
Hickory still has a nice pop to it, and it could be worth a look, especially if you have a muscular build to help get the bat around in a hurry.
Composite wood bats are not legal for professional use because they are not made from a single piece of wood. These bats commonly use wood shavings or dust combined with glue and plastic to form the finished product. You can still use them in most high school and college leagues as long as they’re BBCOR certified. BBCOR simple means the “trampoline effect” is regulated to ensure the ball speed off the bat stays at a reasonable level.
Composite bats are a popular choice in BBCOR leagues because they’re more durable than wood and lighter than aluminum. Reduced vibration to combat hand sting is another considerable advantage of these bats. As with bamboo, composite bats work well for practice because they’re so hard to break. Just don’t use them in freezing cold weather, or they’ll be prone to cracking.