Choosing a Softball Bat
The bat is the most important tool in a hitter’s arsenal. Like an Olympic athlete choosing the right pair of running shoes, you want a bat that fits your style of hitting. From major league players to Little Leaguers, not just any old bat will do. When choosing a bat, consideration must be given to weight, length, balance, material, and league requirements. Most importantly, you want a bat that just feels right and gives you confidence at the plate.
Hitting a ball hard involves three factors: bat weight, bat speed and your swing mechanics. A bat that has more weight to it will hit a ball harder and farther than a lighter bat swung at the same speed. But a heavier bat is not as easy to control, so you may get sloppy with your mechanics and lose a little control. The general rule of thumb to follow is this: The stronger the hitter, the heavier the bat. The only way to know for sure is to test out a variety of bats to see how they feel. Slowpitch bats vary in weight from 25-30 ounces. Stronger slowpitch players often choose bats that are 28 ounces or more. Average-sized players usually stick with something in the 26-28 ounce range. Fastpitch bats are typically 18-26 ounces.
Slow pitch bats are all 34" long. Fast pitch bats range in size from 26-34" long. Length factors into your decision similar to how weight does. The shorter the bat, the easier it is to control, but the longer the bat, the more whip and potential power – as long as you are strong enough to control it. Again, swinging multiple length bats to see how they feel is the best way to see what suits you.
Balanced vs. End-Loaded
Slowpitch and fastpitch bats come in two styles: balanced and end-loaded. A balanced bat distributes its total weight throughout the bat while end-loaded bats pack more weight into the very end of the barrel. The greater the end-load, the more whip during the swing. If the batter already has a fast swing speed, an end-loaded bat may be preferable to maximize power in the swing. Balanced bats are easier to control and some players just like that feel. They are also great for new and smaller players who often use them until they are strong enough to control the heavier feel of an end-loaded bat. Keep in mind that even a half ounce end-load greatly affects the feel of a bat.
Drop or Length to Weight Ratio
Drop weight is the difference between the length and the weight of the bat, so a bat that is 34" long and weighs 25 ounces will have a “drop” of -9. Fastpitch bats range from -8 to -13.
Softball bats are all 2¼” in diameter.
Bats are made of metal/alloy or composite material. Alloy bats are ready for the field right out of the wrapper and are typically less expensive than composite bats. Composite bats also tend to have larger sweet spots than alloy bats. They take a little time to break in (50+ swings) and are usually more expensive.
One-Piece vs. Two Piece Construction
One-piece bats are stiffer due to the single piece construction. Two-piece bats allow for more flex during your swing and the sting from mis-hit balls is felt less. There are conflicting viewpoints on which style is better for power hitters vs. contact hitters. Some power hitters think that they lose power with two-piece bats while others feel that the flexible “whip” provides more power. The only way to know which style works best for you is to try them out and see what feels better.
Bats are tested and then certified to be approved for play in specific softball associations. They are marked with an approval stamp so you can see which bat has been approved by which governing body. League rules vary, so be sure to know the rules for your league before you select a bat. The five major associations that govern softball regulations are: American Softball Association (ASA), Independent Softball Association (ISA), United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), International Softball Federation (ISF), and the National Softball Association (NSA). Remember that not all bats are approved for all associations.