What type of wood is best for my game?
10-13-2015 / By:
There are more choices for wood types for baseball bats now than there were in any time since the 1930s.
In the early days of the game, bats were much better balanced and players grew stronger by swinging heavy wood bats from the time they started playing baseball. Bats had much thicker handles for bat control and smaller barrels which gave them better balance and made them feel lighter to swing. Hickory, elm and oak were used by many players before the 1950s. It was not unusual for players to swing 35 ounce bats right up into the 1980s. Players grew up swinging wood bats and wood bats were heavy in those days. The ball jumps off a heavy wood bat like a non-metal bat but players feel that bat speed is more important that physics and the mass behind the ball.
Non-wood bats have allowed many players to play the game longer than they would if they had to use wood bats. Instead of kids getting stronger by swinging a 29 inch, 29 ounce wood bat and building up the strength in their hands, wrists and forearms, kids today swing 29 inch 17 ounce bats. These super light non-wood bats have hollow barrels and sweet spots 6-8 times the size of wood bats. They are easy to swing because the weight is in the handle (hollow barrels don’t weigh much). This enables players to compete through high school with a diminished skill set. These super light bats have huge barrels and super thin handles. Wood bats made in this shape would be so top heavy that only strong adults would be able to swing them. Non-wood bats in baseball are another part of the “everyone gets a trophy for trying” era today’s players grow up in.
Eventually, players want to develop their skills to play at the next level, be it high school, college or beyond. This is when they start training with and swinging wood baseball bats. The trend lately has been for younger and younger players to start training and playing with wood. Most parents and coaches are against using wood bats in games because they believe Johnny can hit the ball farther with a hollow barrel super light non-wood bat. It’s more important for Johnny to be the best 10 year old instead of developing into the the best 18 year old or 22 year old. This is one reason Johnny ends his baseball playing career at 12. The quick fix," I want to be a good hitter now", mentality doesn’t help young players develop the consistent reliable swing, the bat speed and the hand eye coordination to square the ball up on the sweet spot time after time. A ball hit squarely on the sweet spot will travel faster and further than a ball hit with a BBCore non-wood bat but it takes hours of practice to develop the skills to do this over and over, at bat after at bat.
The most popular wood types for baseball bats today are maple, birch and ash, though many bat manufacturers are experimenting with a myriad of exotic wood types. Ash is the oldest “ technology but the least dense wood type of the three, also, the softest and the most flexible. Some players who grew up with ash like the flex they “ eel" in the bat when they swing. These players sacrifice performance and longevity for “feel”. Fewer players are swinging ash in the 21st century because they grew up with non-wood bats and never developed the “feel” for the flexibility that the ash wood bat advocates want.
Maple is the choice for most players in the big leagues. It is the hardest of the three wood types and has the best performance and outlasts ash 3-1 with it’s very tight grain structure. Maple is the most dense and the least flexible of these wood types. It’s at it’s peak strength for hitting baseballs at 10-12% moisture content. Unfortunately, at 10-12% moisture content, only about 15% of hard maple billets will make bats light enough for modern players to swing. The economic thing for bat manufacturers to do is to lighten the wood to increase yield. The wood is over dried to below 5% moisture content to enable the business to utilize more wood. Because maple is so stiff, it becomes very brittle when over dried. The result is premature breakage and lack of performance. 80% of maple bats sold to the public today have less than 5% moisture content. Bat makers save their prime maple billets for the pros. The customer suffers but generally doesn’t know any better. X Bats is the only company that sells the same grade of wood to every customer as they make for the top major leaguers. The result is 40% of the wood won’t make the grade to make a quality major league quality bat but their are plenty of furniture manufacturers who can use these billets for chair backs and legs, table legs and newel posts. Bette to sell these billets at a small loss than try to sell them as premium bats to customers who rely on our integrity.
Birch has become more popular over the last 10 years as a compromise between the flexible but soft ash and the hard but stiff maple. It has become very popular with younger players in the major leagues because the rules for young players using maple results in 34” 33-34 ounce bats to meet today’s MLB standards. Birch can also be over-dried but it still has enough flex to perform and last despite compromises in the manufacturing process. It is more forgiving than maple and out performs and out lasts ash.
A top quality maple bat with a minimum of 8% moisture content is the best choice for performance and longevity. Birch is a good compromise for players who like a little flex and for wood that may be slightly over dried. Ash breaks more easily and the grain splits with use (think of a wood floor cupping after it gets wet and dries out), but the moisture content is less critical and light ash wood bats perform almost as well as light maple bats. Maple should be heavy so as to take advantage of the dense wood properties. Light maple is not good maple for bats (and it is only found in about 5% of the maple billets anyway). Maple bats perform best at -2 weigh differentials or heavier.