How to Buy a Softball Bat

by on March 7th, 2015
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A key component of the game of softball is the bat. Many softball parents and players, however, find it difficult to decide what kind of bat to purchase. So what does a beginner look for when buying a softball bat?

I’ve been playing recreational softball for 25 years and now have a daughter who is entering the softball world, too. I’ve purchased countless softball bats throughout my playing days and have had to navigate the terminology and specifications involved in that process.

I’ll assume that you’re reading this article because you or your player is a beginner, so based on my experience, here are the factors to consider when buying a beginner softball bat, starting with the three most important factors: length, weight, and certification.

Length

Softball bat length is measured in inches, most often ranging from 24 to 34 inches. While you can get a general idea of how long of a bat to purchase based on the player’s age, it’s better to choose a length based on the player’s height and weight, instead. Here is a good chart to assist with that.

Where do you find the bat’s length? Sometimes it’s printed on the bat’s barrel–the part that connects with the ball during play. Usually, though, you can find the length and weight printed on the knob of the bat–the protrusion on the end opposite of the barrel that helps keep the bat from flying out of the player’s hands when swinging.

In general, when you stand the softball bat up against the player, it should rest against the player’s hip. As players get more experienced, they may choose a slightly different length of bat, based on their hitting abilities, but for those just starting out, these are good guidelines to follow.

Weight

Softball bats weights are measured in ounces, most often ranging from 10 to 34 ounces. Determining the proper bat weight is based entirely on the player’s strength and hitting style.

Heavier bats are the preference of the bigger, stronger power hitters. Lighter bats are for those learning how to swing, those who aren’t as big and strong as the power hitters, and those who place-hit or hit with finesse rather than power. Lighter bats allow for a quicker swing and more control.

For kids in the beginning stages of learning how to play softball, you’ll want a lighter bat. It’s best to find the correct length of bat first, and then try out the variety of weights within those lengths.

Have the player hold the bat out in front of his or her body for several seconds with the non-dominant arm. If the player can hold the bat steady, it’s a good weight. If the bat is shaking or dipping down, it’s too heavy.

Then have the player swing the bat. If you can hear the air “whoosh,” it’s a good weight. If the player can’t swing the bat quickly enough to make the air “whoosh,” it’s too heavy.

Certification

It’s very important to know the sanctioning body of the softball league in which you or your player are participating. A common sanctioning body is ASA, or the Amateur Softball Association of America, but it’s certainly not the only sanctioning body, so make sure you know which one impacts you.

Then check that sanctioning body’s website for a list of approved and/or illegal softball bats. The ASA’s list can be found here.

Why is this important? Because some bats are considered illegal with some agencies–for safety reasons, competitive reasons, or both–and the last thing you want to do is lay out a bunch of money for a softball bat you can’t use.

Here are some other less-important factors and terminology you’ll likely encounter during your search for a softball bat.

Drop

You might notice that there is a negative number printed on the barrel of the bat. That is called the “drop” or the weight-to-length ratio and is, quite simply, the bat’s length minus its weight. So a 34-inch bat that weighs 28 ounces will have a -6 drop. A 25-inch bat that weighs 13 ounces has a -12 drop. The ratio allows for a quick eye-balling of how heavy the bat is. If a -6 bat in the appropriate length is too heavy, try a -8 bat or a -10 bat, instead.

Walls

Walls are the number of layers of material within the softball bat. Single-wall or single-layer bats are generally less expensive, but double-wall or double-layer bats provide more power and durability.

Barrel Size

This term refers to both the length of the bat barrel and its diameter. A longer barrel size provides a bigger hitting surface or “sweet spot”–the optimal place on the bat to make contact with the softball during a swing. This is simply a matter of personal preference, as a longer barrel also increases the bat’s weight.

The standard barrel diameter for a softball bat is 2.5 inches. For fast pitch softball, it’s 2.75 inches.

End-Loaded vs. Balanced

You may come across a softball bat that is end-loaded. This has to do with the how the weight of the barrel is distributed. End-loaded bats are heavier at the end, adding more power to a swing. Balanced bats have their weight distributed evenly throughout the barrel.

Beginners are perfectly fine with a balanced bat. You don’t need to start worrying about end-loaded bats until you or your player are much more advanced.

Materials

Most softball bats are made of aluminum. Some are made with graphite, titanium, or some other alloy. Very few are made with wood. Just go with an aluminum bat. Any discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of graphite, titanium, or other alloys is unnecessarily complicated at this stage.

Taper

A softball bat’s taper is the diameter of its handle–where the player grips the bat. As with graphite and titanium, any in-depth discussion of taper is unnecessarily complex for beginners. If the player can comfortably grip the bat, the taper is fine.

Grip

Softball bat manufacturers use a variety of substances to wrap around the handle, creating a tacky surface that allows the player to hold on to the bat batter. Again, for beginners, if it feels right, that’s about all you need to know about variations of grip at this point.

Price

Most youth bats range in price from $15 to $50. Most adult bats range from $50 to $500. If you or your player is a beginner, go toward the lower end of the price range. It’s foolish to buy a top-of-the-line softball bat for a beginner. It’s like learning to how to drive in a Lamborghini.

In summary, focus on length, weight, and certification first when purchasing a softball bat, and try not to get overwhelmed with everything else. The other terminology and specifications should make a little more sense now, but beginners shouldn’t get too caught up with obsessing over the details. Let the more advanced players worry about that stuff.


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