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BAT FITTING: LOOKING PAST THE CONFUSION

  • Posted on
  • By Carl Lemelin
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BAT FITTING: LOOKING PAST THE CONFUSION

Shopping for the right bat can become a rather confusing experiment for most parents.

 

The collective sigh you heard as the clock reached midnight on the New Year's Eve was everyone realizing 2020 was finally behind us. For many of you and your families, there was no 2020 baseball/softball season, many opting out even if their leagues played on. That means alot of new bats will need to be purchased in 2021.

Every parent who has ever shopped baseball bats for their kid knows bat fitting is far from an exact science. You go to one place and they measure vertically, barrel on the ground, knob at hip level. Next store, bat horizontal, arm extended to the side, measured from the tip of the fingers to the sternum. Others will post a chart and follow it to the letter.

Then, let’s not forget the issue of the correct drop level (negative differential stemming from the difference between the length of the bat in inches and its weight in ounces). For example, a 30-inch bat that weighs 20 ounces would be deemed a drop 10 (or -10).

It is very easy for parents to get lost in this cacophony of varying advice they get from so many different sources. Let’s try to make sense of it all and debunk some of the widely circulated bat fitting myths out there.

WHY IS FITTING SO IMPORTANT?

To properly answer that question, we must first understand that there are two conflicting factors that affect the art of hitting: power and control.

A hitter must generate as much power as possible by swinging as fast as he can as the bat meets the ball. He also must maintain as much control as possible on the direction of the barrel in order to make contact with the ball and adjust to off-speed and secondary (non-fastball) pitches when necessary.

As a rule, the more power you try to generate, the less controlled your swing will be. The opposite is also true. The more you focus on control, the more power you take away from your swing. The secret of successful hitting is to strike the perfect balance, wherever on the line between power and control this balance point falls, matching your own natural tendency.

The same rule of thumb applies to bat fitting. The ultimate goal is to find a bat that will allow your kid to generate as much swing speed as possible while keeping complete command of the barrel. Because nothing makes a child quit baseball faster than not being able to make consistent contact at the plate.

GUIDES VS TRUTH

Let me start by emphasizing that none of the methods (described earlier) being used by individual retailers or salespersons to find the right bat for younger players should be dismissed as wrong or useless. They can all reveal clues that can be helpful in narrowing the search.

What must be highlighted however is that all they can be is a GUIDE. None of them on its own can be a “be all, end all” method to bat fitting. I would make the analogy of the foot measuring guide you find in any shoe department of a sports store. A good salesperson will always bring out at least two or three boxes after measuring your foot, because they know not every model fits the same way. The ruler is used as a guide, not an absolute truth-teller.

The salesperson who knows what he or she is doing will have you put the shoe on, lace it up properly, ask you questions about your comfort level, make sure you have enough space to ensure long term comfort, but not too much that it could affect your athletic performance. Then, he or she would have you walk and move around and watch how the shoes reacts on your feet, and ask you for more feedback.

That is how you get to the truth. That is how you find the right product for the customer you have before you. Like any other sport, baseball isn’t static, meaning no static method of fitting a bat can be definitive.

NOTHING TRUMPS THE EYE TEST

As a general rule, for any kid 12 y/o and under, absolute barrel control should always be prioritized over bat speed. Usually, younger athletes aren’t technically advanced or strong enough yet to make power their main concern as hitters. Excluding tee ball bats, the bat length range here is anywhere between 26” and 30”, with a drop range between 10 and 12 (or -10 to -12).

For those 13 y/o and above, the most developed, stronger kids among them may want to maximize their natural power by going with the heaviest possible bat that still allows them to make contact on most swings. A heavier bat allows for a stronger hitter to generate more speed via centrifugal force, creating more momentum through the ball. The length range for 13 to 15 y/o’s would be of approximately 29” to 31”, with drops ranging from 5 to 10.

Once you reach 15U competitive levels and above, for most players strength stops becoming an issue and you should start simply adapting the length of the bat (anywhere between 32” and 34”) to the type of hitter the player is and tie the final selection to either trying to help mitigate a hitter’s weakness or solidify an asset. The objective for highly skilled hitters is to get the sweet spot of the barrel through the middle of the hitting zone as consistently as possible.

Note that all players 16 and over (18U, referred to as Midget in the past) must comply with the BBCOR .50 norm, meaning the maximum drop allowed is 3 (-3). A new rule in Quebec (2021) now allows 15U (Bantam) AA players to use drop 5 (-5) bats.

As for finding the right bat for a specific hitter 13 y/o or younger, the initial guide I prefer to use is a combination of the “sternum to tip of the fingers” test for approximating length and having the child hold the bat at the knob with one arm extended to his side, shoulder high, for around 15 seconds. If he struggles at all to maintain the bat level, the drop should be increased (available youth bat drops are 5, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12).

For an initial approximation of the correct bat length and drop according to player height and weight, as well as a more detailed guide to bat-fitting, click here. Just remember these charts can only serve as guides.

The real work and evaluation is made in the cage by having the youngster actually swing the bat and observing for subtle hints. I look for any biomechanical sign of control deficiency: barrel slumping below hands on approach, lack of proper speed through hitting area, over crouching, head dipping or any loss of balance.

If none of those occur, you can add an inch of length and/or go down a level of drop (add weight). If control deficiency is revealed, do the opposite by going down one inch in length and up a level of drop (reduce weight). That is how you make incremental adjustments until you find the proper length and drop that ensure proper command of the barrel.

Don’t hesitate to use the form below if you have any comments or questions for us concerning bat fitting.

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