Our Mizuno Batcast dove deep into BBCOR and BPF testing with a former employee of the Sports Science Lab of WSU, Brendan Kays. After testing bats during his graduate work, Brendan Kays was hired by Mizuno. We discuss his travels and insights into bat testing and how he has converted that knowledge into a very competitive series of bats produced by Mizuno in the USA market. Links to the podcast are found here. Below is the paraphrased transcript.
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Brian: Welcome Max. How’s the Weather.
Max: Good Weather. You?
Brian: Last week it was 60, today there is 8 inches of snow on the ground. Welcome to the Rocky Mountains.
Brian: Today’s topic is Mizuno. 4 years ago these folks were not in the bat business. That is, not the metal or composite bat business, they made bats for Peter Rose and Ichiro Suzuki. But not metal bats. Do you see people asking for thier Mizuno bats?
Max: Not really. We really see folks asking for their gloves, but no so much their bats.
Brian: It is strange to see them jump into a very difficult space. In a market where there is consolidation it is interesting to see Mizuno put so many resources into bats. Maybe there is room to get better?
Max: I would compare Rawlings and Mizuno very similarly. Not too many years ago Rawlings had no effort into bats. But, now, Rawlings makes legitimate bats that are used a high levels in the space. I think Mizuno is using that model to drive business to the metal bat business. Will be interesting to see if Mizuno becomes that group that sepertes themselves from the pack.
Brian: Brendan is a really interesting guy to know. He is the product testing engineer at Mizuno. He brings some insight that no one else on this podcast has really done. Nothing I’ve ever seen. Brendan actually worked at WSU who worked at the lab that got all the BPF and BBCOR testing done. Mizuno went out and hired this guy.
Max: He knows where these bats need to be.
Brian. For sure. I think Mizuno has built a lab just like the testing folks. Should we get him on the line?
Max: Let us do it.
Brian: Hey Brendan, Tell us about your background. Not just with Mizuno, but before that as well.
Brendan: At Mizuno I am an R&D engineer. That includes bats and protective gear. Mizuno hired me becuase of my connection with bat testing before. I was a research assistant for bat testing at WSU. That is my background. I was hired as a test eingineer and now it has morphed into part of a design role.
Brian: You came from WSU. Is only the testing done there? BPF, BBCOR, USSSA?
Brendan: No. All the USSSA testing is done by Richard Brandt in New York. But the USA baseball standard and ASA and BBCOR are done at WSU. I was working in the test lab testing bats.
Brian: You gotta walk us through what that involves. We’ve seen video, we think. Maybe, walk us through how that works? What is the process like to do the testing during BBCOR? Can I send a bat in?
Brendan: You need to have an agreement with an association to send in a bat. After that you contact WSU and their sports science lab. Send in bats, pay the fee. The bat testing in my eyes is pretty simple. You clamp the bat in. The bat is sits still and the bat can rotate. You fire a ball at a really high speed and then measure the rebound speed off of that. The idea is that an incoming pitch speed and bat speed makes the same collision. For BBCOR they are using around 140mph.
Brian: What are they looking for in a rebound speed. 140mph on the rebound.
Brendan: Dead center on the barrel it is 136mph. And it depends on where we are in the barrel because the speed changes. And the exit speed is much lower than that. Something like 40mph. But once you know the rebound speed and other things, like MOI, then you can calculate the bat ball coefficient of restitution.
Max: Is there a limited amount of time the approval is good for.
Brendan: The NCAA or USSSA can buy bats whenever they want and test them. They also do random testing at places like the College World series. They are pulling bats and sending them into the lab trying to make sure they are going to meet the standard.
Brian: Is there any break in period for the tests? Does the ABI testing (accelerated break in) change things? How does that work.
Brendan: ABI was a big deal when it came out. Now, since bats were getting hotter, Initial break in process by rolling it and getting a certain stiffness change. The softer a barrel the better performance to a certain point. They break it in and then test it. It has to pass. This makes it difficult for bat manufacturers because they need to design for a broken bat or a bat that lowers BBCOR. Not one that gets hotter.
Brian: Not to jump ahead, but I will. How does this work with the MAXCOR BBCOR bat that has a soft barrel to begin with?
Brendan: I was at the lab when the MAXCOR bat came into the lab. It blew my mind. This soft barrel idea. Mizuno had to take that bat to the NCAA and explain the details, break in and materials to do an ABI process to show it would not get hotter. The MAXCOR is actually an aluminum because it does not break in. You can therefore start the bat at the top of the scale and you don’t have to worry about the ABI testing process when you are getting it to the limit.
Brian: It obviously worked.
Brendan: After Mizuno did all the testing the NCAA gave the approval. They don’t have material bans they just have standards and ABI testing limit bans.
Brian: I have a lot of questions about the MAXCOR. But before I jump into it, Mizuno did not make aluminum and composite bats in the US. Now we’ve seen a lot of compromise in the market and consolidation in the market. Why did Mizuno see a reason to actually get in a market that feels like it is constricting. When I think of Mizuno I think of a Japanese company. How does it work being a USA arm for a Mizuno company?
Brendan: Mizuno USA is a sales and distribution center. R&D wise, we have an entire socket designer group that produces out of Mizuno corporation of Japan. We are still a support role for Mizuno USA. Somewhat of satellite campus in the US to deal with regulations in the US. The market is so different that they need that group in the US to bridge the gap. We were the first to produce a high performing composite bat. Mizuno has had fastpitch and softball bats for a long time. We were founded in 1907 and all this knowledge on bats from the beginning. Huge market that is twice as big as softball. We should bring that information to the metal and composite baseball space.
Max: What makes Mizuno different then an Easton or DeMarini?
Brendan: No bat can go higher than a .50 BBCOR. We think we have the advantage that our bat gets a .50 BBCOR measurement across a longer length of the barrel. We are really talking about a sweet spot length. Our big advantage is that length of the sweet spot.
Brian: Let’s say Brendan is up to bats. What bat does he take if his intent is to hit the ball the hardest. Among the MAXCOR, Generations and Covert. Knowing that you have data. What bat do you grab and why?
Brendan: I can see all of the data. I can see how every bat performs. We should make decisions based on that. From what I know I would use MaxCor. A couple reasons. One: we have Cortech. It is a variable wall thickness. Two, the MaxCor has a this rubber sleeve. I know that the faster the pitch speed the better our bat will perform. The MaxCor just performs so differently than a BP sleeve. This means it has some rate dependence. The MaxCor has some rate dependence that makes it performance.
Brian: Increases in Rate performance. Is that the speed of the impact??
Brian: Is the two-dimensional speed spot the reason for the rate dependence? More smashing makes for a wider sweet spot at impact.
Brendan: Yes. The liquid material is more effected by the higher the exit speed.
Brian: You have a lab there at Mizuno, right? Did you create it there?
Brendan: Yes. We basically replicated the certification lab here at Mizuno.
Brian: You can go wherever you want and buy whatever bat you want. So, since you have tested every bat cant’ you tell that every bat is at max performance. Because every bat manufacturer claims this is true. If BBCOR does in fact constrict our ability to produce trampoline effect, is it fair to say, sure all you folks figured it out. But there really is no difference between one brand to another. Therefore do I buy the Covert or do I buy the VELO? Is the real honest answer that it just doesn’t matter because it is the same standard.
Brendan: I will say, at one point on the bat pretty much everyone is at the limit. There are some exceptions to that. How difficult it is for Composite bats to reach ABI levels on composites. But if you are talking aluminum bats coming out of the wrapper the bat is really close to .500 BBCOR. The big differences are where is that on the bat? Some manufacturers put a ring on the bat that moves the sweet spot. This does not make sense if you want to reach max performance. It moves the sweet spot. Mizuno has the advantage we are up and down that barrel. Off center hits still reach .50 on the bat speed.
Max: Has the ring moved around over the years?
Brendan: We have ring free technology so the way we design our bats there is not a ring. Other companies do and they have become more clever as to where to put that. The idea is to stifen the barrel and it will shift the swing bats.
Max: Did Mizuno ever put in a ring?
Brendan: No we never have.
Brian: Cortech is the tapered barrel, right
Brian: We want you to talk about it, but I still want to keep you on the hook here. If MaxCor is the most amazing bat in the world, why is not a drop 8. Where is that bat? If it is the best then let me buy it!
Brendan: Well, we are working on it. Stay tuned. The MaxCor technology is two layer bat. That increases swing weight and makes it hard to make a really low drop weight. You’ve increased the amount of material. For a BBCOR bat it makes speed since more material makes more sense. Hopefully in a few months we have somethings to report on that.
Brian: I have one more question on the soft barrel bat. When it first came out, but there was the idea that backspin on a hit ball can make it fly further. But too much back spin isn’t particularly the best thing. But backspin does matter. One of MaxCor’s original claims was that the backspin was optimal. But how do we verify that backspin increases is a real thing and that it is optimal and not just making it worse?
Brendan: Japan has a lot of great data. They have a swing robot. We have seen that data and seen increases in backspin. There are a lot of assumptions going into a hit that need to go right to make back spin optimal. Dead center hits there are no back spin so it will not work. But at launch angles of 20 to 35 degrees you see on average about 1000 RPM increase. Which may be from a 2500 rpm to 3500 rpm in MaxCor. That 1000 RPM is a significant increase. Too much spin can hurt. But 1000 RPM on a 2500 spin is helpful for total distance.
Brian: I once used a calculator by Dr. Alan Nathan that helped you estimate the distance of a ball hit. At some point the right backspin does increase it significantly. Max, you have any more questions the soft barrel?
Max: Looking forward to seeing more of the MaxCOR.
Brendan: Our hope is to see kids use it in game and really get a feel for it. We think its a great change in the industry. It is our favorite bat.
Brian: It is lighter now too. That 2015 bat was sort of an endloaded shorter barreled bat that is a little more balanced—probably still is sizing for us. There are no small sizes; no Senior Barrel sizes; no 30 inch BBCOR. But from an engineering standpoint we get it. Hard to make a light swinging bat with so much going on in the barrel. It is not more ingenious than a spinning handle. Makes more sense.
Max: Tappered inner barrels are used by Rawlings, Boombah, Axe is the tapper any difference any different? What’s the point of the taper?
Brendan: The whole point of the taper is to increase the COR outside of the sweetspot. To meet the BBCOR bat the center of the bat needs to be thick. So, the thinning of the barrel on the insides as you get away from the traditional sweet spot to be able to increase your BBCOR. Mizuno has been very aggressive on wall thicknesses. It is at the limit. There becomes some durability issues when you get to thin. It is hard to get that optimal balance to get wall thickness thing enough for a good swing weigt but still keep the trampoline effect.
Brian: Yes. Variable wall thickness in an aluminum bat is one of those things that we think: why didn’t everyone think of that? It is probably very difficult to manufacturer.
Brendan: It is. I feel like that is where we have the advantage and there are not many factories that have that ability. To be able to do this without having inconsistencies and pushing manufacturing capabilities is where we see the benefit. We have more zones in Cortech than other people.
Brian: We also talk about how aluminum gets less hot and the composite gets more hot. For example, the Covert should only be used for the game because it may lose some of its coefficient of restitution. Is that accurate.
Brendan: To a certain point. If you put thousands and thousands of hits on a bat then you start to see metal fatigue. But we have given bats a durability tests and after thousands of hits we have yet to see any depriciation in BBCOR results. We saw it more in the BESR days because the walls were so thin. But with BBCOR there is less fatigue stress. The short answer is, it would take a lot of hits to depriciate the BBCOR standard.
Brian: Okay. So now we know. It’s okay to hit your aluminum bat in BP.
Max: But make sure you buy a bat next year. Ha.
Brendan: Of course there are lot of small things that can change a bat dramatically. And we keep getting better year after year.
Max: What happened to the Nigthhawk bat?
Brendan: Last year we had a Nighthawk fastpitch bat and a nighthawk baseball bat. But the fastpitch bat was a two composite and the baseball version was a two piece hybrid. So, we rebranded the name on the new Nighthawk to Covert.
Brian: We like the Covert. Great bat. Our son uses it. Tell us about USA Bats. Does not seem like Mizuno hasn’t pushed very hard in the youth bat space. Will the USA bat standard change that? Also, any insight you might have on the USA bat standard.
Brendan: We are going after the youth market pretty hard. A new standard gives challenger brands a chance to showcase their technology. It happened with BBCOR and a few companies really rose from that. We see Mizuno making that same push from the new USA bat standards. We want to be in the youth space. Mizuno wants to win it and believe we’ll have the best performing USA bat on the market. Not sure how much we are able to share based on our contract with USA baseball but it will definitely be a decrease in performance. The real battle will be keeping the weight down. We have focused on new technologies and lightweigth materials. And that is about as much as I can say for now.
Max: We give you the floor to sell on on Mizuno. What is the coolest thing coming down the pipe.
Brendan: For me, the coolest thing I see is our new partnership with the Atlanta Braves. Here we will build and all decked out in Mizuno and you can hit in our bat simulator. All of our product is here. One thing we have better on the bat side is the BIOS (Bat Interactive Operating System) where you can get a bat fitting for the right MOI and length and type. Gives you a chance to get everything out of your swing. Our partnership with an MLB team is exciting for us. In terms of technology we think we have some of the coolest stuff coming down the pipe. New stuff that can create a the lightest swing weight, barrel size and max performance. Those are all things you should expcet form Mizuno down the road.
Brian: We are looking forward to seeing it happen. Fun to see a new player with a lot of R&D to see if they can’t dethrone some of the beheamoths.
Brendan: We are excited for everything to take off. People will start to notice how good the product really is. Should be fun. Join us next week on the Same Bat Time, the Same Bat channel.