Choosing a Youth Baseball Bat
Jan 14, 2002 (Updated Jun 13, 2002)
Popular Products in Sport and OutdoorThe Bottom Line "CU31? C405? Scandium? Do I need a degree in metallurgy to choose a Little League Baseball bat?"--NOT IF YOU READ THIS FIRST.
First, three words about bats:
Lighter Is Better!
Barry Bonds, who weighs 195 pounds, uses a 28 ounce bat! A light bat is easier to control, and, contrary to old-school thinking, you can hit a ball harder and farther with a light bat than with a heavy bat because you can swing a light bat much faster. As acceptance of this fact has grown in recent years, the overwhelming trend in both baseball and softball has been to lighter bats.
In case you need convincing, consider that NCAA and high school sports bodies have rules prohibiting baseball bats from being more than 3 ounces lighter in weight than the length of the bat in inches. This was done for safety reasons—it was thought that big, strong players swinging ultralight bats hit the ball so hard that infielders were at risk.
In Little League, however, light bats are not considered to be unsafe for defenders, because the players aren’t nearly as big and strong as their older counterparts. Even using an ultralight 19 ounce Little League bat, a typical 90 pound kid won’t be able to make up for the disparity in size and strength between himself and a college player. In fact, to have any chance of swinging with proper technique, most Little League players need an ultralight bat.
It’s a bad idea to get a bat that’s too heavy for your Little Leaguer with the thought that he or she will “grow into it.” Instead, your kid will learn bad habits trying to swing a bat that is too heavy. When in doubt about two bats, go with the lighter bat.
Little League bats must be 32” or less and have barrels no more than 2 ¼ in diameter. The bat must also be made of an approved material, but need not actually say “approved by Little League” on the bat. In practice, every major manufacturer uses approved materials.
LENGTH AND WEIGHT
Manufacturers typically print the bat’s length in inches on the barrel or the handle. They also print the weight, either in ounces, or as “- something.” The “-“ stands for weight in ounces less than length in inches. In other words, a 30 inch bat designated as “-10” weighs 20 ounces.
Weight: In general, buy a bat that is “-10” or lighter.
Length: The best way to get the right size bat is to take your kid with you and select a bat that is the longest bat he or she can swing hard without straining.
The table below probably covers 80% of the players in a given division, but, as they say, “your mileage may vary.” Some kids are bigger than others; some are strong for their size; some have already developed good technique. The best any article can give you is a rule of thumb.
Division (age).............Bat length, weight
Farm (7-8)..................26” or 27”, -10 or lighter
Jr. Minors (8-9)............27” to 29”, -10 or lighter
Sr. Minors (9-12)..........28” to 31”, -10 or lighter
Majors (10-12).............29” to 32”, -9 or lighter
Wood is out—has been for years. Wood bats are heavier, less durable, and have less “pop” than aluminum bats. Leave wood to the pros.
Most modern bats are made of aircraft-grade aluminum supplied by Alcoa or Kaiser. Variations in the alloy formula have resulted in stronger alloys, allowing the manufacturers to design bats with thinner shell walls, which in turn corresponds to lighter weight. All of these advanced alloys are known by trade names (usually a number), as well as brand names (sometimes the same grade will be marketed under a different brand name by different bat makers). The brand names are heavily hyped: you can be sure that if a bat is made of an advanced alloy, that fact will be trumpeted somewhere on the bat, usually in large bold letters. By the same token, you should beware of bats -11 or lighter that do not state the type of alloy used. They will probably be made of an alloy that is too weak to support the thinner wall required for the light weight.
Standard aircraft aluminum is designated in the trade as “7046.” Most budget bats are made of this grade. “7050” grade alloy includes a small amount of copper, and is about 33% stronger than 7046. About 12 years ago, Alcoa branded its 7050 grade “CU31” and began marketing it in Slo-Pitch bats as the first high performance alloy. The “CU” designation refers to the addition of copper to the alloy.
Alcoa’s “C405” is the next higher grade, supposedly about 10% stronger than CU31. C405 was introduced 8 or 9 years ago, quickly followed by C405 Plus and C405 Ultra, which are the same alloy manufactured under difference processes. The strength difference between C405 and C405 Ultra is only about 5%. C405 Ultra is, therefore, about 38% stronger than standard aircraft aluminum. “7075” is a new alloy by Kaiser that is claimed to be equal to or better than C405 Ultra.
Kaiser’s Sc500 Scandium, and Alcoa’s C500 and C555 represent the next level up. C500 and Sc500 Scandium are about 3-5% stronger than C405 Ultra, respectively. C555 is claimed to be about 7% stronger than C405 Ultra, or about 40% stronger than standard aircraft grade aluminum.
The current king of the hill is Sc777, made by Kaiser. While the other exotic alloys only offer incremental strength gains over CU31, Sc777, if the claims are true, represents a truly big leap: about 50% stronger than C405. This means that Sc777 is nearly twice as strong as standard aircraft aluminum.
WHY ALLOY GRADES MATTER (AND WHY THEY MAY NOT)
There’s a lot of hype out there about the various alloys. Here’s why alloy grade really matters. Manufacturers use advanced alloys in order to be able to make the walls of the barrel of the bat thin while still allowing the bat to be strong enough to resist denting. Thin walls equal light weight. Thin walls are also claimed to contribute to a “trampoline” effect, or rebound, when the bat strikes the ball. The rebound effect enhances power, and therefore, distance, given the same swing speed. Think of throwing a baseball against a wall made of superball material, then against a wall made of concrete.
Other than allowing for thinner walls, however, there is little power to be gained from the exotic alloys themselves. The various alloys have virtually the same specific gravity, so the walls of a –11 CU31 bat are likely to be the same thickness as those of a –11 Sc777 bat. There may be some difference in the trampoline effect, but it is negligible. (Anyway, it is possible that the ball might rebound better off the softer bat—that’s the whole idea of the trampoline effect!) Thus a –11 bat that is made of CU31 will probably hit a ball just as far as a –11 bat made of Sc777. Until, that is, the CU31 bat dents, in which case it won’t perform well any more and is even likely to be ruled illegal by an alert umpire (especially in All-Star play, where they check the bats before the game.) Denting can be a major problem in ultralight bats, especially if they are used in cold weather. The stronger the bat, the less prone it is to denting. Thus, what the exotic alloys do is allow a bat of a given wall thickness to be stronger, and therefore, more durable, given the same bat weight.
A good rule of thumb: stick to bats made of CU31 or 7050 alloy or better for –10 bats, at least C405 for –11 bats, and C500 or better for –12 bats. If your child is 11 or 12 and uncommonly large and strong, consider Sc777. If the bat is –9 or heavier (I do not recommend bats heavier than –9 in Little League), alloy grade is not that important.
OTHER DESIGN FEATURES
In addition to advanced alloys, manufacturers also tout special features or manufacturing processes that supposedly increase the durability of their high-performance bats. Easton C-Core and Z-Core bats have carbon fiber bonded to the inside of the barrel walls for increased strength and durability. Easton C-Core and Z-Core bats do have a reputation for durability; whether their durability derives from the carbon fiber is anyone’s guess. Worth puts out several bats that hype a “cryogenic” manufacturing process. Testing by B&N Softball, an independent tester of Slo-Pitch bats, has shown that “cryogenic” bats offer no strength advantage over non-cryogenic bats of the same alloy. (Admittedly, this testing is now 3 years old; perhaps Worth’s newest “cryogenic” bats do offer some advantage. Personally I doubt it.) Worth also makes bats that employ variable wall thickness. This supposedly allows stronger, thicker areas to be adjacent to thinner areas, somehow making it less likely that the bats will dent. Louisville Slugger “Air” bats and some Nike bats are filled with pressurized nitrogen to keep the bat from denting. Seems to me that this would affect, and maybe even compromise, the trampoline effect, but I don’t know of any testing on the subject.
The final development is “double-wall” bats. DeMarini, now owned by Wilson, pioneered the concept several years ago and immediately became one of the biggest names in Slo-Pitch. To my knowledge, double walls have not migrated to youth baseball bats yet, but it seems only a matter of time. Double walled bats have already appeared in Fastpitch bats by DeMarini/Wilson and Worth.
Double walled bats are a variation on the trampoline effect. The barrels of these bats consist of two ultra-thin walls spaced very closely together. The idea is for the inner wall to reinforce the outer wall, but only after the outer wall has bent inward upon impact with the ball, maximizing the “trampoline” effect. The bottom line here is performance vs. durability and cost. Independent testing of Slo-Pitch bats, again by B&N, has shown that double wall bats definitely give a performance edge, but they are expensive and tend to dent.
Not all bats with the same brand names are made of the same materials from year to year. Some manufacturers are not averse to establishing the reputation of a line of bats using a high grade material, then switching to a lower grade a year or two later. Easton’s Redline fastpitch bat was made of C500 in 2000, while the 2001 model was C405. Similarly, Easton’s popular Reflex youth bats, were originally made of C405 or C405 Ultra in a –10 weight. I recently saw a –11 Reflex bat that had no alloy description at all. Presumably, it was made of basic 7046.
Watch, too, for different bats with similar names. Worth “Copperhead” bats come in 3 flavors: Copperhead –12 (CU31, not recommended) Copperhead –11 (C-405, recommended) and Copperhead VT –12 (C405, not recommended). If you can still find them in the sale racks, in ’99 Worth made Copperhead bats of CU31, -10.
REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE
Here is the experience of my kids and their teams over the last few years:
Rawlings Mac Attack, 7046 Alloy, -10, 28” Used by smaller members of my son’s Sr. Minors team for 1 year with no problems. The second year, the end cap blew out the third week of the season.
Easton Reflex, C405 Ultra, –10, 29” Used by my son and half his team in the Jr. Minors, then the next 3 years by the smaller members of his teams in Sr. Minors and Majors. No dents; everyone loved it.
Louisville Slugger TPX, CU31, -10, 30” Dented and eventually broke in 2 seasons of occasional use.
Louisville Slugger Omaha Gold. C405 Plus, -12, 30” Somehow made it through a season used by two smaller members of our Major division team. Use at your own risk.
Easton Redline, C500, -11, 30” Used by several team members for 2 years in the Majors and in All-Stars. No dents, probably the most popular bat on the team.
Worth Copperhead, CU31, -10, 30” Used extensively by average sized 10 and 11 year old players in Sr. Minors; held up over the course of a season.
Worth Copperhead, CU31, -10, 32” Used by two 12 year old power hitters in All-Star competition. Dented easily.
Louisville Slugger Air Attack 3, C405 Plus, -12.5, 32” Used by the bigger 12 year old members of the team last year in the Majors. No dents, big sweet spot. Didn’t let team members use it for batting practice, though.
Easton Connexion Zcore, Sc500, -9, 32” Used for a year by a 12 year old power hitter, including through a long All-Star summer. No dents. Most players didn’t like the balance, though.
Easton Zcore Titanium, Sc777, -12, 32” Easton had not released this bat in a Little League version the last year my son played Little League, but my 14 year-old daughter got ahold of one for Fastpitch and it performed wonderfully. (By the way, Fastpitch bats up to 32” are legal in Little League baseball! They have longer barrels than Little League bats and thus bigger sweet spots. The diameter and materials are identical. The only problem is getting your son to use a “girl’s” bat.)
SHOPPING FOR A BAT
You can expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $200 (yes! $200 for a kid’s bat!) for a Little League bat, so it pays to shop around, including on the Internet. But before you buy, at least take your kid with you to try out a few sizes and weights.
As bats become more and more of a status item, like skis, manufacturers come out with new designs, or at least new paint jobs, every year. Sometimes you can find last year’s model for a lot less than the current model, and sometimes last year’s model will actually be better.
Another good way to save money is to buy a "cosmetic blem." Cosmetic blems usually have a slight mar in the paint, but are otherwise identical to a regular bat except for in price, which is typically ¼ to 1/3 lower. After the first batting practice, no one can tell the difference anyway, so why pay more?
Other Baseball Equipment reviews by alamedasims:
Worth 3DX: Powerful and Expensive
The Easton Triple 7: A Hot Bat (While It Lasts)
Wilson A2000 Baseball Glove: Still Worthy of Its Reputation?
Youth Baseball Glove Buyers' Guide