A Bat’s Purpose | $4 Swings and $400 Bats

Better Batted Ball Speeds


The general goal of this site is to help players and parents find a bat that makes sense for them and their budget. The bat that makes the most sense, as a general rule, is the one that delivers the best exit velocity given the pitch speed the player most often sees.

Although highly individualized, there are some guiding principles we can use to look in the right direction. These principles, gathered over the years, should be helpful to the hyper-researching parent or player looking for the best exit velocity.

Better Exit Velocity Sources

Outside of this site there are a few places we find ourselves when it comes to reading real science on bats. Alan Nathan, a demi-god of baseball flight, runs an esoteric ball and bat performance blog focused on real data and real science.  Although not terribly accessible to the average 14 year old hoping to understand what bat to buy, it provides solid late night reading when ball flight and trajectory are on your mind. It is one of the few sites and sources grounded in real baseball science. As such, he rarely veers into the weeds like others, including this site, to determine the consumer recommendations.

Although not updated as often as Dr. Nathan’s page, Dr. Russell at PSU runs a similar operation. He, too, develops real working theories and data models to describe the performance of bats and balls.

The two sites combined create an impressive coursework on bat and ball physics. We consider them the real source on the fundamentals of ball and bat performance and refer to them often. They are a worthy follow on twitter, too.

We also discuss many of these same principles in our Bat Size Chart.

What a Bat Can Do

Better Bats for Poorer Hitters

We once exchanged emails with Coach Matt Lisle. He runs, among other things, a successful online instructional hitting program and an even more successful Twitter account. In short, we asked him if the right bat matters, and if so, to what extent. His reply:

“I do think a $400 bat is much better than most $50 bats. And we see better results. BUT good hitters close the gap between the 2 bats much better. “

Bats do matter, and on average, more expensive bats tend to be better. But we should also note, as Matt Lisle does, better bats assist the lesser player more. Whereas great hitters can make just about anything work, poor hitters find increased benefit from better bats.

Does this suggest that the worse your player is, the more he’ll benefit from spending extra money on a bat? The answer, frankly, is yes. Does it also suggest that an elite player does not need a great bat? No. They will benefit from a great bat too, but not nearly as much as a poor player will. We discuss more of why that might be below.

What Bats Actually Do

In simple terms, bats create a hit ball at a certain speed. It becomes at least a bit more complicated when we realize that the speed of a hit ball, often referred to as batted ball exit velocity, changes based on several factors. And many of those factors have nothing to do with the bat. For example: the “bounciness” of the ball hit; the humidity; the air resistance; the pitch speed; the quality of contact; the angle of the trajectory all affect batted ball velocity. And the list goes on.

On the other hand, there are also several factors influenced by the bat which determine the batted ball speed. Here are some:

  • The speed at which the player can swing the bat (called MOI)
  • How much “bounce” is in the material of the barrel at your given collision speed
  • How much easier it is to square up a ball because of barrel size
  • The force of the mass at the collision point in the swing (called MOI)
  • The confidence a bat gives a player

When looking for the best bats, those five line items should be guiding principles. And many of those line items will never be “objective” or scientifically measured. As easy and nice as it would be to simply look up a chart or read a scientific article on a bat’s performance and then get out your wallet, the best bat is simply too personal a decision.

What a Bat CANNOT Do

The above chart, from Dr. Nathan’s site, is instructive in helping us see what a bat cannot do. In short, a bat cannot hit the ball in the zones that allow for the best batting average. A bat may very well help us increase our swing speed and improve our average exit velocity. A better bat may very well allow us to put more balls in play. But, even the best bat will not force our hit balls to go into the right spots and at the right trajectories.

That feat, hitting the ball where it needs to be hit to increase the odds of success, is a function of mechanics. And practice. Neither of which are affected by an expensive bat.

Wood Bat Work

Worth noting, most serious baseball hitting instructors would suggest you practice with wood bats. Wood bats are notorious for a small, dime sized sweet spot. They rarely allow poorly hit balls to travel well. If you can hit well with a wood bat, then you can flat out hit well with any bat.

Expensive composite and aluminum bats, on the other hand, are notorious for allowing terribly hit balls to get out of the park or find the fence on a hop or two. It is, at least as we see it, why great hitters can close the gap between a cheap and an expensive bat much more easily than a poor hitter can. That is, great hitters know how to make great contact consistently. Poor hitters benefit from better bats more than great hitters because they are not as good as making great contact consistently.

A Bat’s Purpose

While a better bat does not allow for balls hit at better trajectories in better areas, it does allow for more consistent contact at higher exit velocities. As a player gets older and bats become more uniform through BBCOR and enforced wood bat standards, expect only great hitters to succeed. So, while the use of expensive bats will give your player an advantage in the short run, great hitters will learn to use any bat to move runners and get on base.