Choose a Bat in Five Steps
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This post shows you step by step how to choose a bat for your baseball or fastpitch softball player.
Click the link to view our video version of Choose a Bat in Five Steps (please like our video and subscribe to our YouTube channel – thank you!).
Also, if you have a tee-ball, beginning, or young player click on our recently updated Best Bats for Ages 9 and Under where we recommend the best bats in ten categories.
An adequately fitted bat speeds learning and helps grow confidence. As with many hitting fundamentals, choosing a bat should be reevaluated each year for a good fit.
How to Choose a Bat
Buying a new baseball or softball bat can be overwhelming, whether it’s for your 6-year-old or high schooler. Building Rome Series simplifies the process.
Here is how to choose a bat in five steps:
Step 1 to Choose a Bat – Make Sure the Bat is Legal
Recent bat safety standards make the game safer and more competitive:
Beginning January 1, 2018, several youth baseball organizations adopted a new USA Baseball Bat Standard.
This new bat standard is now in place in organizations such as Little League, Babe Ruth, PONY, American Amateur Baseball Congress, Cal Ripken, and Dixie Youth. T-Ball bats are also affected under this new rule change.
The new USA baseball bats can range in barrel size from 2 1/4” to 2 5/8”. The weight drops can vary from -13.5 all the way to -5.
USSSA did not adopt the new USA Baseball Bat rule change. The rules for USSSA bats have not changed, and they will continue to use USSSA approved baseball bats. Bats featuring the “USSSA 1.15 BPF” sticker will be legal for USSSA play. These bats vary in barrel size from 2 5/8” to 2 3/4”. The weight drops include -12 to -5. USSSA bats are no longer legal for use in leagues playing under the new USA Baseball Bat Standard.
High school and college bats must all be BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) Certified. BCCOR baseball bats use an updated measurement standard that replaced the old BESR (Bat Exit Speed Ratio) Certification. Look for the stamp on the right indicating certification.
This standard is designed to measure the bat and ball’s trampoline effect on impact, rather than just the exit speed of the ball. This makes BBCOR bats perform more like wood bats. High school and college bats should have a league-required -3 weight drop and range in size from 31” to 34”.
The league you play in will determine which bat regulations you should adhere to when purchasing a fastpitch softball bat. It is best to check your league before purchasing a bat since ASA bats are not allowed in USSSA play, and vice-versa unless it contains a dual stamp.
Step 2 to Choose a Bat – Decide on Length
Regardless of age and experience, a bat that feels good and is a good fit for the hitter helps master the High-Level swing. And critically, it increases confidence in games.
Many first-time bat buyers make a common mistake by purchasing a bat that is too long or heavy. A too long or heavy bat will result in a slow swing, loss of balance during the swing, loss of good vision (a heavy bat may cause the hitter’s head to move), poor control of the swing’s trajectory, and difficulty holding up on bad pitches.
Find the recommended length for the bat in the chart below. It is best to stay within the manufacturer’s recommendations for length.
After you’ve selected the proper bat length to use by referring to the bat length chart above, there are some additional ways to determine whether or not it is the right length:
- Choose what you feel comfortable swinging. A general rule to follow is never to go up more than an inch at a time. This makes it easier to adjust to your new bat without drastically changing your swing.
- Put the bat to your side, and as long as your palm reaches the handle, you have the right sized bat.
- Put the knob of the bat at the center of your chest with the bat facing outward. If you can reach your arm out and grab the barrel of the bat, it’s the right size.
- Be sure you measure with his/her cleats on. Stand a bat next to your child and compare him/her to the bat. The bat should reach, but not exceed, your child’s hip. If it reaches past his/her hip area, it’s going to be too long to swing.
- If your young player is between 3’ and 3’4”, start with a 26-inch bat and increase the bat size 1 inch for every 4-to-5 inches that they grow.
- Children under 60 pounds should swing a bat between 26 and 29 inches long.
- Children weighing more than 70 pounds should swing a bat ranging from 28 to 32 inches long.
Step 3 to Choose a Bat – Big Barrel or Small Barrel?
If you are a fastpitch softball player, you can skip this step since all fastpitch bats must have a barrel of 2-1/4” diameter.
One of the significant decisions for baseball players when it comes to choosing a bat is a big or small barrel.
A big barrel bat (senior league bat) has a barrel diameter of 2-3/4” or 2-5/8”. Bats with 2-1/4” barrel diameter are known as small barrel bats. These are mostly used by youth and little league players, although as of 2018, they now have a choice between small and big barrels.
Benefits of Big Barrel:
- Increased Chance of Contact.
A big barrel bat has a larger sweet spot raising the chances of solid contact.
- Increased Mass in Sweet Spot.
Given similar swing speeds between two bats, the bat with more mass generates higher exit velocity and greater distance.
Drawbacks of Big Barrel:
- Weight Not Evenly Distributed.
A con associated with big barrel bats is the weight on these bats is not evenly distributed because of the heavier barrel.
- More Difficult to Control Barrel Direction.
While a big barrel bat offers increased surface area, it is more difficult to swing and control in general.
Benefits of Small Barrel Bat:
The most obvious pro with a small barrel bat is it has better aerodynamics and is easier to control. The weight is more evenly distributed throughout the bat, which allows a faster swing speed. Your young hitter can hit home runs with his small barreled bat.
In sum, big barrel bats have a larger hitting area, which raises the chances of contact and more mass in the sweet spot resulting in a longer distance. But a big barrel bat is more difficult to swing fast and control.
Speaking specifically to the 5 to 9 age group, as relates to power and distance, the extra mass of the big barrel bat may not fully compensate for slower swing speed.
Step 4 to Choose a Bat – Decide on Weight
Choosing a bat of the correct weight provides barrel accuracy helping the young hitter square up the ball more consistently.
Bat speed is the principal creator of power and distance. But the laws of physics tell us if the hitter can swing a heavier bat, with close to the same velocity as a lighter one, the heavier bat hits the ball farther.
The goal is to find the most massive bat that the hitter can swing as fast as possible. Also, keep in mind that MOI makes a difference in both the feel and the swing’s physics.
Bat Weight Recommendations Ages 9 and Under
Player Height/Best Bat Weight
44 to 47 in. 15 oz.
48 to 51 in. 16 oz.
52 to 55 in. 17 oz.
56 to 59 in. 18 oz.
For youth baseball and softball, the taller the child, the longer the bat should be. They may not be strong enough to use a heavier bat, so choose a bat with a larger weight drop.
For kids 9 and under, use the smaller barrel bat (2-1/4” diameter). A -12 (drop) is an effective weight until the player can swing a -10 with good bat speed.
Baseball Bat Weight Recommendations
Move to a -8 and then to -5 big barrel bat later in Middle School. This will make the transition to the -3 required by High School easier.
“Big Barrel bats will have anywhere from -5 to a -12 length to weight ratio. A lighter bat with a bigger length to weight ratio, like a -10, is likely to be the choice of a smaller, younger player. The lighter swinging bat will allow you to get through the zone faster. A heavier bat with a smaller length to weight ratio, like a -5, is likely to be the choice of a stronger, older player, who is looking to get a bit more mass through the zone.” (Easton Sports, 2015)
Fastpitch Softball Bat Weight Recommendations
Heavy Bats: -8 and -9 drop bats are considered heavier and should only be used by older (college age) and strong players.
Moderate Bats: -10, -10.5, and -11 drop bats are moderate in weight and used by players with average strength.
Light Bats: -11.5, -12, -12.5, and -13 should be used by younger or smaller players or left-handed fastpitch softball slappers.
Here are a couple of preliminary tests to verify the bat is not too heavy:
- Have the player hold the bat with one hand close to the knob, then stretch their arm out, holding the bat parallel to the ground. They should be able to hold the bat level with their shoulder and steady for at least a count of twenty.
- Have the player swing the bat quickly ten times. The bat should make a perceptible swoosh sound with each swing.
Tale of Two Bats
These initial checks of length and weight should get the prospective bat buyer in the “ballpark” for the bat they need. Now comes the fine-tuning of length, weight, and weight distribution. The final choice often comes down to a personal decision between maximizing power or productivity.
The hitter should try combining what is comfortable with what style of player they want to be. If you envision yourself being a contact player, you won’t worry as much about losing inertia with your swing. But, if you want to be a power hitter and swing for the fences, you’ll want the inertia you would get from the shorter, heavier bat.
Here is an illustration of the fine-tuning part of the decision process. Two bats are compared (below) at opposing ends of the power vs. productivity spectrum. Both bats have passed the length and weight recommendations (above).
Advantages of a slightly longer, slightly lighter, and evenly balanced bat (base hit bat):
- Greater Bat Control.
A base hit type of bat allows the player to make solid contact more frequently. Reduced MOI makes it easier for the batter to make the fine adjustments necessary to control the barrel to the middle of the ball. They are also better able to wait on off-speed pitches and check swing on pitches just out of the strike zone.
- Increased Plate Coverage.
Increased plate coverage results in fewer weak hits off the cap and fewer strikeouts.
The longer bat helps players stand just a little farther from the plate. A longer bat is an essential factor at younger ages where players may be reluctant to stand close.
Advantages of a slightly shorter, slightly heavier, and end weighted bat (slugging bat):
- More power.
When the player can swing the heavier bat with close to the same bat speed as the lighter bat, power increases.
As a general guideline, stronger players may be able to benefit from increased MOI.
Final Thoughts on Bat Weight
As you can see, there are numerous factors to consider. Before making an expensive purchase, borrow a teammate’s bat to use during batting practices and games. Extended practice with a bat is an excellent way to help decide if the bat’s characteristics are a good fit.
For most accurate identification, conduct an extended hitting workout, using both a slightly lighter bat and a slightly heavier bat. Observe and measure bat speed (click on our free article Measure Bat Speed), ball exit speed (click on our free article Measure and Track Ball Exit Speed), and the percentage of hard-hit balls.
Different dead and swing weights, one or two-piece bats, length, handle, and grip gives various bats a different feel to the hitter. If the bat feels good to swing throughout a hundred or more swings in practice, this is an excellent indicator the hitter has found a bat fitting the player.
To be sure, a developing hitter learning the complex skill of hitting, using a severely under or over-sized bat, limits their rate of improvement and development of confidence. In general, stay within the manufacturer’s length recommendations and error on the lighter side.
Step 5 to Choose a Bat – Decide on Construction and Expense
Let’s compare the two most popular types of materials, alloy, and composite.
Here are the Benefits of Alloy Bats:
- They are cheaper.
- There is no break-in time as with composites.
- An alloy bat makes a loud “ping” on contact, compared to the “clunk” sound from composites. The ping can help build confidence.
- Alloys are more durable. While alloys can dent, they are not prone to cracking like composites.
- With Alloy Bats, much of the mass is concentrated in a relatively small sweet spot.
Here are the Benefits of Composite Bats:
- Less vibration than the cheaper alloy bats.
- Are the best type of bat best to prevent sting, especially two-piece constructed composite bats.
- They are lighter.
- Are more balanced as mass is spread throughout the barrel.
- Have slightly more pop.
One-piece Bats vs. Two-piece Bats
- One-Piece Bats.
Typically, one-piece bats are stiffer and more balanced. The one-piece design will often have a lot of vibration on miss-hit balls.
- Two-Piece Bats.
Tend to have more flex and less vibration.
Batting gloves allow reduced wear and tear on hands during extended practices. Using batting gloves in games should be a matter of personal preference.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!