Pro Bats FAQ’s.

What is the History of Baseball Bats?

From the very beginning, the game of baseball was played with wood bats. Specifically, they were made of ash.  Baseball bats in those days were very heavy and sported big thick handles.  In the 1850’s most players made their own bats.  There were no restrictions on size or shape in those days.  In fact, some players actually used a bat with a flat surface when they were bunting.  Restrictions on bat shapes and sizes first appeared in 1859 when a rule was made that the diameter of bat barrels could not exceed 2.5 “.  This was followed in 1869 with a rule that restricted the length of a bat to 42” (the same maximum length allowed today).  The next time bat dimensions were addressed by the baseball rules committee was in the 1890’s.  The end of a bat must now be rounded rather than flat, and the barrel size was increased to 2.75” in diameter.

     The basic shape of wood bats has not changed very much at all since those early days.  The biggest difference in the wood bats being used today is the size and weight.  Babe Ruth was reported to swing a bat that weighed 46 ounces.  A few years back Mo Vaughn swung a 36-36 and Alfonso Soriano used a 35-35.  Today most Pros swing a bat with a thin handle that is 34” long and weighs 32ozs. 

     In my opinion, the biggest change in the game of baseball started way back in 1924 when William Shroyer was issued a patent for the first metal bat.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the first metal bats appeared in a game.  They were intended as an economical and ironically, safer alternative to wood.  The thought process was they would not break as easily as wood thereby reducing the cost of replacing broken bats, as well as eliminating the possibility of a player or fan being injured by a piece of flying lumber. 

Not a bad thought at the time, however we all know the sequence of events that followed.  Bat manufacturers tapped heavily into modern materials and manufacturing processes to produce ever more powerful and dangerous metal bats.  The game was changed forever as routine fly balls turned into home runs and balls hit two inches up the handle became bloop singles.  More importantly, pitchers and third basemen became human targets for baseballs traveling more than 100 mph.

     As metal bats became more powerful year by year, injuries rose dramatically until things finally came to a head in 1999.  The NCAA decided to stop the madness and began testing aluminum bats.  Specifically, testing the speed a baseball exited metal bats under very strictly controlled conditions.  Their goal was to develop a performance standard in metal bats that mirrored that of the best northern white ash wood bats.  This standard became known as the BESR which stood for Ball Exit Speed Ratio.  They determined that metal bats could not exceed 2 5/8” in barrel diameter, must be no more than -3 in length to weight ratio, and must meet the BESR standard for ball exit speed.  The result was a bat that was less lethal than its predecessors. The National Federation of State High School Association adopted these standards for all high school participants in 2001. A few years later the metal bats were once again tuned down.  This time they were labeled BBCOR “Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution.”  The result was an aluminum bat that generated just a bit more ball exit speed than a wood bat.

          Just about the time high school teams made the switch to the BESR standard, wood bats began to make a comeback.  Most people attribute the surge in wood bat popularity to the introduction of hard maple as a viable alternative to ash.  Barry Bonds was the first big name player to make the switch, and the rest is history.  Soon Major Leaguers were jumping on the maple bandwagon spawning a huge increase in the number of bat manufacturers producing maple bats.  Small companies like my own (Pro Bats) sprung up across the country.  Modern technology was applied to the manufacturing process of wood bats making it possible to produce an extremely high quality product.  For the first time, we were able to put the exact bat used by the big-name Pros into the hands of amateur players at an affordable price.  This was not the case with ash bats.  The best quality went to the Major-League players with the rest filtering down through the Minor Leagues. The bats we purchased at the local sporting goods stores were not very good at all.  They broke easily, and you never knew how much they weighed.

     So, there you have it.  That’s how we got to where we are today.  I hope you gathered a little knowledge and insight that will come in handy down the road    

How Do I Select a Wood Bat?

You open your e-mail and discover that your league will be converting to wood bats this season.  Either you have never hit with wood, or it has been a long time since you last picked up a piece of lumber.  I literally get this phone call or e-mail almost every week.  Players have seen my bats on the website, or know someone who has one, and now they need to pick my brain.  I think one of the most exciting things about wood bats over aluminum is that they are a very personal piece of your game.  You have the ability to completely customize a bat to your particular needs.  Your choices include model, length, weight, color and engraving.  I just love fine tuning bats for my customers.

The bottom line to bat selection is to find one that just feels right.  You will know it when you swing it.  The light bulb will click, and you can’t help but get a silly grin on your face when it happens.  Technical descriptions about the bats, and labeling models as made for power hitters or line drive hitters is a good place to start, but only you can pick the bat that will fit you best.  The first order of business is to be honest with yourself when analyzing your style of hitting.  Do you spray line drives around the diamond, or are you pulling moon shots down the line?  Be honest about your bat speed.  Can you wait on the ball no matter how hard a pitcher is throwing, or do you feel the need to get the bat started early against the harder throwers?  Do you stay closed at the plate with your hands inside the ball, or do you have a tendency to open up, bar arm, and drag the bat through the hitting zone? Once you have categorized your style of hitting, you need to discuss this with someone who has the knowledge to get you on the right track.  I’ll address this part of the equation later in the article.

What you need to understand about wood bats, is that they feel much different than an aluminum bat in terms of balance and weight distribution. An aluminum bat that is 33” long and weighs 30ozs will feel much different than a wood bat with the same dimensions.  This is a direct result of the materials and the manufacturing process used to make the bats.  Many variables can be manipulated during the production of an aluminum bat.  Obviously, as with a wood bat, the length, weight, handle and barrel diameter are designed, but the hollow shape allows the manufacturer to very precisely control the weight distribution.  The thickness of the walls throughout the entire length of the bat dictates the balance and feel.  Wood bats are turned on a lathe.  They can be manufactured in many different shapes and sizes, but it is a solid piece of wood, and as such has limitations.  The point of all this is that it is not easy for a player to convert from aluminum to wood.  You really need experienced help to get started.

I think the most logical place to start in selecting a bat is at the handle.  Most wood bat companies offer a variety of handle sizes.  Here at Pro Bats, we offer six different handle sizes ranging from 0.9 “to 1.03”.  We also offer a variety of knobs and flares leading into the knob.  Pick a handle that feels comfortable.  This is your connection to the bat, and is a very important piece of the puzzle.  Next is the transition from the handle to the barrel.  Some models have a pretty radical transition, where the handle stays thin for quite a while as it approaches the barrel, while others have a smoother transition gradually increasing in diameter as they connect with the barrel.  This section of the bat plays a very important role in how balanced the bat will feel to you.  Last is the barrel itself.  Bigger is not always better.  Once again you will have a variety of sizes available to you.  My company produces fourteen models of bats.  The barrel dimensions run from 2.45” to 2.57”.  This may all seem like splitting fine hairs to you, but you have to understand that in the world of wood bats, a very small variance in any of these dimensions makes a big difference in how the bat feels to you.  A very simplified system is to reduce the length and ounces of the aluminum bat you use by 1” each when you convert to your first wood bat.  If you currently hit with a 33” – 30 oz  aluminum bat I would suggest picking out a well balanced wood bat that is 32” long and weighs 29ozs.  I have included a size chart at the end of the article as a reference point.  It’s not the bible by any means, but it has some merit.

The biggest question you have to ask yourself is where to buy your bat.  The choices today seem endless as more companies jump on the wood bat bandwagon.  I feel very strongly that you should purchase a maple bat over ash.  The durability and pop far outweigh the added cost.  If you purchase a maple bat from the right company, you can have the same bat in your hands used by Major League players.  That is impossible with ash.  Do you buy from a big-name company, a small company where bats are made one at a time in a garage, or somewhere in between?   By now you know I own a maple bat company so I will try to give you the best advice I can without making this an advertisement for Pro Bats.  In the business, there is not necessarily a direct correlation between price and quality.  The most expensive bats are not always the best quality.  Look for a company that is fairly small and has not lost touch with the players.  You are looking for personalized customer service from someone who has intimate knowledge of the game and the product.  From a production standpoint, high quality wood bats are very difficult to produce on a consistent basis.  Almost all maple bat manufacturers use hard maple in the production of their bats. You might hear several different names like rock and sugar, but it is all hard maple.  What separates the truly outstanding companies from the rest is their willingness to discard large amounts of wood billets due to defects and heavy weights.  The name of the game in the business right now is wood supply.  You need to have access to high quality wood and the money to pay for it up front to stay properly supplied.  This is the biggest challenge for the smaller companies.

Look for a company that will customize your bat to your exact specifications.  How can you purchase a bat that you know is 33” long but you have no idea how much it weighs?   What happens if your bat breaks during your first at bat?  Will the company stand behind it?  Most importantly, find a company that will take the time to answer your questions.  Customer service is the name of the game.

Hopefully by now you understand there are many variables that go into selecting a bat that is right for you.  It is a highly personalized choice.  Remember the bottom line is feel.

Why do Bats Break?

I’m frequently asked about label placement on wood bats, which invariably leads to a discussion of grain.  I found a very informative article on the woodbats.org site.  It not only clearly illustrates the different types of grain and how they impact the integrity of a bat, but also discusses the many reasons bats break.

Once you read the article, a couple of questions will come to mind.  Why did we choose to keep the label in the traditional spot, and why don’t we ink dot our bats.  The answer to the first question is contained in the article.  Our wood is split not sawn.  As such, the difference between making contact on the edge grain or tangential grain is, in our opinion, negligible.  Being a traditionalist, and looking at the data I decided to keep the label in the traditional place.  Unlike ash bats however, the label need not be facing skyward at contact.  Pop and durability will not be significantly impacted either way.

The answer to the ink dot question is fairly simple.  Our wood billets are the best money can buy.  Again, they are split not sawn.  We feel, after careful inspection of each wood billet, there is no need for an ink dot.  The feedback on the durability of our bats from our customers reinforces our decision.  Of course we could of course ink dot them, but it would needlessly increase the cost of our bats due to the extra labor involved in the process.

To read the entire article click this link: Why Bats Break.

Where Should I Position the Label?

This is an excellent question that needs some explanation.  Traditionally we were taught the label should be facing skyward at contact.  A previous article I wrote “Hitting with a Wood Bat” details the reasoning behind the traditional positioning of the label.  This still holds true for ash bats.  This thought held true for many years with maple bats as well, until they began to break at an alarming rate at the Big League level and flying all over the diamond.  MLB did a major study and discovered what most bat manufacturers already knew.  Maple had less flex than ash.  Maple bats would flex to a degree and then snap violently.  See my article “Why Bats Break”.  Based on the results of the study, the wood bat companies that paid the big bucks to be pro approved, changed the position of their label.  They rotated it 90 degrees so the ball would be hit on a different side of the bat when contact was made with the label facing skyward.  After reviewing the study, I concluded that we would keep the label in the traditional spot.  I did not feel the study properly replicated actual hitting, and as such, was not as valid as I would like to see.  With the new label position, the theory was the bats would flex a bit more before breaking avoiding the violent destruction of the bat.  I think this is most likely a valid point, but the difference between the two label positions and how it corelated to breakage was in my opinion minimal.  The durability of our bats has always been outstanding.  I see no reason to change things now.  The facts back me up as our bats continue to lead the market in durability as verified by our many testimonials.

I hope this helps, and as always feel free to call or email if you have questions.

To Cup or Not to Cup?

  I am asked about cupping a bat on a weekly basis.  What exactly are the pros and cons?  I consider myself an “old school” player and as such never cupped my bats.  The longer I was in the bat business, and the more I understood, it became apparent to me that there were some advantages to cupping a bat. 

  First, cupping a bat changes the balance by reducing the weight at the very end of the bat.  This creates a better-balanced bat making it a bit easier to get through the hitting zone.  Secondly, it allows us to start with a heavier wood billet, as we know that the cupping process will reduce the overall weight of the bat.  How much? Maybe one quarter to one half ounce. This is factored in when we select the wood billet for your bat.  We guarantee the weight within one half ounce, so your bat will weigh what you ordered weather you cup it or not.  Yes, we are that precise.  The slightly heavier billet adds pop and durability.  Although it is only a half-ounce, the heavier billet does make a difference in these two categories.  I think this is a big pro in the cup or no cup discussion.

What are the cons?  Several hits on the very end of the bat may eventually crack the cup. It will chip and can cave in.  This doesn’t mean your bat is headed to the graveyard.  It can be cleaned up and trimmed, but it is a concern.

As always with wood bats, these are very personal choices.  Do you like balance or end weighting?  Each model will provide a different feel as will a cup or lack of a cup.

I hope this helps.  I’m always available to answer your questions.  Call or email and I will be sure to get back to you.