Little League

Smart Bats, Age Changes & Hard Bats: The Future of Little League

As a writer of a blog that covers pretty much only baseball bats, we get to learn some interesting things by way of what some companies think of other companies and, maybe even more interesting, what is coming down the pipe. We are very good about holding our tongue on items coming soon (and there are some pretty exciting ones) but when we’ve been told by multiple vendors the same stories we just have to share. With that said, here are three things that will happen in the next one to three in the little league baseball space:

Big Bats & Harder Bats: What Integrity?

Smart Bats

Little League is going away from the 2 1/4 bats for the 2018 season. These new and larger barreled bats, referred to as USABats, will have a maximum standard barrel diameter of 2 5/8. The 2 1/4 barrel bats will be illegal in 2018. In other words, no more “youth” barrel bats come 2018—instead USABats with a 2 5/8 diameter. They will have no required minimum or maximum drop (like BBCOR).

Along with the change to a bigger barrel size in Little League baseball comes yet ANOTHER performance factor change. Currently the 1.15 BPF (bat performance factor) is the standard. The new standard will be similar to .50 BBCOR standards at the same time the barrels go bigger in 2018. Meaning, Little League bats will perform with less pop, hence, a harder bat and come with a different stamping the than the 1.15 current requirement.

There are a handful of reasons Little League claims as their compelling reasons for changing the bat standard in 2018. Not a single one, in our view, is compelling. You can read through their press release here.  As much as we can gather, the claim is the change in bat standards will “best provide for the long-term integrity of the game.” What that even means no one actually knows—but it sounds good for their press release.

This new USAbat standard, like BBCOR standards, will require the bats to “perform like wood” bats. Hence, we can only guess, is the “integrity” of the game little league is referring to—that little kids use wood bats? This reasoning has two serious flaws.

First, the assumption BBCOR certified metal and composite bats perform like wood bats because their trampoline effect has been harnessed fails to consider the full reason why metal and composite bats are preferred when available. For starters, sweet spots on metal and composite bats far outsize the sweet spots found on a wood bat. Additionally, the swing weight of metal and composite bats often have little in common with a pure maple or ash bat. If such were not the case we’d find a significant number of high level collegiate athletes swinging wood bats when the game was on on the line—but they don’t. Why not? Because aluminum and composite bats can be made with much more useful swing weights per barrel size and have much larger sweet spots.

Second, BBCOR standards on collegiate level bats were put in place because home runs and offensive production got out of hand. See our BBCOR standards & college baseball article we wrote about a year ago. BBCOR standards surely dampened the trampoline effect of bats—insomuch that the NCAA had to change the size of the baseball seems this last year to put some offense back in the game—but is this the problem in little league? Has anyone on the planet had a conversation with a serious person who thinks youth level players should be hitting the ball out the park less and the frequency of dribblers back to the pitcher need to be increased? For every person you find that claims too many home runs are hit by the baseball playing youth population of the world we will find you a unicorn.

It’s more possible, in fact let’s just say probable, that the profit gained by vendors, bat manufacturers and governing bodies (who require re-certification fees on bats) by requiring a the near 2,000,000 little league baseball players in the country buy a new bat for 2018 may have had at least a bit to do with it. We’ll write more on this as the implementation gets closer. In the mean time, hesitate buying a new bat in either 2016 or 2017.

Smart Bats

Smart BatsRIP-IT sports released a prototype of the first smart bat that we reviewed a few weeks back. These bats will have a Zepp Labs type sensor inside the bat and, through a display on the bottom of the knob, the handle or via bluetooth to your smart device the bat will output real time data of swing speed, ball velocity and attack angle—among other things.

And this is just the beginning.

RIP-IT is the first to market and we are sure others are to follow very soon. The applications of the ideas could be very exciting with real time feedback for young players in the dugout or in the stands. Additionally other sensors, like Blast Motion sensor and Diamond Kinetics which compete with the Zepp Labs Sensor will also be worth following closely.

The long and short of it: Bat and ball data, recently only available to specialized labs in inaccessible places, will soon be at our finger tips—and we couldn’t be any more excited. The future is just around the corner.

Age Changes

Rude American Bat ReviewsAlso, starting in 2018, the cutoff age will be moved in line with a players grade (August 1st) from May 1st. This will likely have more impact on the youth ranks more than any other issue discussed here. Players who have long excelled as a May birthday baseball players may find themselves as the youngest player of their particular team come 2018.

We suspect, as well, it will effect ESPNs Little League World Series by bringing down the average age, and size, considerably. Come the early fall of 2018 it will be very interesting to see how many boys can still blow out 75+mph from 45 feet away.

While Little League International isn’t the only governing body for baseball in the country—many comp and travel team groups have their own process (like the Perfect Game). But most of these standards have been set because they follow the rules and regulations put out by Little League. If they will all follow suite come January 1 of 2018 we’ve yet to see—but we wouldn’t be surprised if all the dominoes fall in the same direction.