By David Morgan of ThePlanetofBaseball.com
Finding the right youth baseball bat is a very difficult process, and it is very possible that the perfect youth baseball bat for you may be different than a bat for someone else. The factors that different individuals are considering will vary and are always subjective, meaning two players can come to very different conclusions about the same bat. This article will go over seven things for you to consider before buying a youth baseball bat. By the end of this article the hope is that you will feel much more comfortable about buying a bat and know the main things to factor into your decision.
1. Size and weight of the bat
One of the most important things that you need to pay attention to is the desired size and weight of the bat. The weight of youth baseball bats generally have a drop ratio anywhere between -10 and -13.5. This represents the difference between the bat length and the bat weight. A higher drop ratio will mean the bat is lighter, while a smaller drop ratio will indicate the bat is heavier.
If you are a bigger player, you may prefer a heavier bat to generate more power. A smaller batter could choose a lighter stick so that they can swing it faster. A good rule of thumb to follow is that you should try to swing as heavy a weight as you can without losing any bat speed. Once you recognize that in moving up a weight you will begin to lose bat speed, you should stop and use that weight. This results in the maximum amount of power generated without sacrificing any speed at which you can swing the bat.
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2. Association rules
The type of youth baseball bat you buy is also largely dependant upon your league association's rules and regulations about what types of bats are and are not permitted. Before committing to a purchase of a youth baseball bat, you should review your league rules to see if it is eligible. ASA, USSSA, Babe Ruth and Dixie Youth and Little League baseball are all different types of leagues that offer different bat standards. With the introduction of USABat Standard on January 1, 2018, there will hopefully be some standardization of bat standards that will serve the consumer well as many of the bats they buy going forward will be suitable for multiple types of leagues.
3. Barrel Construction
The material of the barrel is also a factor to consider before making a purchase. The most common choices are composite construction versus aluminum alloy construction. Composite bats use carbon fiber sleeves to create a trampoline effect when contact is made with the ball. The barrels made using composite material are usually stronger and can hit the ball further. The sweetspot accordingly is also generally larger. The downside is that you have to pay for this premium, as composite bats cost more than aluminum alternatives.
Aluminum bats, on the other hand, have been around much longer and are less expensive that composite bats. They tend to last longer than composite bats as well, and at times they can be more durable than composite bats. They do, however, dent easily but it is rather difficult to crack an aluminum bat. The sweetspot is much smaller on aluminum bats and the barrel offers less pop, even when good contact is made. The bat also stings the hands a bit if the ball is not hit properly square on the barrel.
A good alternative is a hybrid approach, which offers some elements of both composite and alloy construction in the barrel. These generally run middle-of-the-line in terms of price and can offer the best of both worlds.
Image Credit: Rob Slaven
Another factor to pay attention to is the durability of the youth baseball bat. Most bats these days do come with a warranty period in which the bat may be returned, but generally this only lasts a year or so. After the warranty period is done, you are out of luck if the bat breaks or cracks. If you do manage to send your broken bat in and receive a bat in return, this one will be marked as NR or no return.
A good way to make sure your bat lasts for a long time is to avoid using it in sub-optimal conditions such as cold weather. Composite bats should only be used in warm weather and should be kept in the bat bag for fall baseball. By doing so, you’ll ensure the bat lasts much longer.
Another way to take care of your baseball bat is to keep it in a bat bag when not used, to avoid getting it scratched with your other gear. Of course, other tips such as leaning your bat up against the fence carefully, not throwing it, etc. will all prolong the life of your bat.
5. Break-in Time
Image Credit: Jonathan
When buying a new baseball bat you want to make sure you leave enough time to break in the bat. Thus if you are looking to buy a bat for the new baseball season in the summer, you will likely wish to buy one by early April or May. This will leave you enough time to make sure the bat is ready for use by the time the season starts. Some bats are broken-in before you buy them, which will be described as ‘hot out of the wrapper’. These manufacturers use an accelerated break-in process to loosen up the carbon fibers in the barrel. There are pros and cons of this approach, obviously. This means that the bat is ready for use from day one, but it also means it is more susceptible to cracks and fractures.
Bats that are not broken in by the manufacturer must be broken in by the player upon purchase. When breaking in a bat, it is important to rotate the bat a quarter turn (or 45 degrees) every time you hit the ball. This method ensures the barrel is evenly broken in and that the sweetspot is equal on all sides of the barrel. This can be done at practice and should only be done using real baseballs, no rubber balls (which can damage the bat).
Once a bat is fully broken in and considered ‘hot’, it should no longer be used in practices and should only be reserved for games and tournaments. The reason for this is that you don’t want to waste all your ‘hits’ for practices. All bats have a useful life before they expire, so it is important that those hits come in game situations where you need the hits, as opposed to practice where it is more important for you to work on your mechanics and timing.
6. End-loaded or Balanced
The age-old debate of an end-loaded versus balanced bat has been going on for a long time. Users and advocates for both sides will swear that they see more success than the other group, but really this comes down to the individual user. An end-loaded bat feels heavier and has more of the weight of the bat distributed towards the end of the barrel, resulting in a bat that feels heavier to swing, much like an axe. A balanced bat, on the contrary, feels like the weight is evenly distributed and will swing more like a broom or a stick.
Power hitters generally prefer end-loaded bats as they find that the additional end-load helps them generate additional pop and distance. The weighted barrel helps create more of a slingshot effect upon impact and can propel the ball further. Lighter swinging hitters may choose a balanced bat as this helps them control their hits a bit better and will allow them to place the ball all over the field.
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The last (but certainly not least) factor to consider before purchasing a youth baseball bat is the price you are willing to pay. Setting your budget before shopping for a bat is a great way to ensure that you stick to your commitment and do not spend more than is necessary. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to spend more on composite bats as opposed to alloy bats. Even when dealing within composite or alloy bats, you will find that higher grade aluminum alloy or premium composite materials will cost more than their cheaper counterparts.
Do not think that you need to spend the most money in order to get the best bat. There will always be a better bat out there that you are interested in, and you will get stuck in a vicious cycle. It is better to ascertain what you need based on your swing type, your desired results and your budget. This will make sure you find the right bat for you. It is very likely that a bat that is more expensive will not perform for you as well as a cheaper alternative that better fits your swing in terms of weighting, feel, and construction.
If you keep the above factors in mind when making your purchase, you should be able to ensure a successful decision and find a bat that is right for you and that will last you several seasons. Good luck out there this season!
My name is David, I am an editor/co-founder of www.theplanetofbaseball.com. Being a software engineer by day and a baseball blogger by night, I also participated in the training activities of a youth baseball team at my hometown. I have passion with baseball, it pertains to my life from childhood until now and I love to share what is related to that passion with others. I believe in the support of other baseball bloggers like me to spread the passion.
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