No “Integrity” Earned from USA Bats

The finals of the LLWS are this weekend. The USA and International Championships are on Saturday. The finals are on Sunday. All via ABC. If you are just catching up, here are 7 things we’ve noticed after watching all 28 games leading up to this point. Consider this your primer on the 2018 Little League World Series Championship Sunday.

USA Bats Bring Back the Integrity of the Game Create a Game No One Else Plays

The first thing you’ll notice is the game type has changed. Home runs and extra base hits are way down. This is due to the bats. (No doubt, you’ll hear the announcers comment on this a number of times).

Home Runs 2018 v 2017 Easton Bats

A new bat standard for Little League International was enforced in 2018. USA Baseball INSISTED the new standard was not about safety. In their Q&A when the standard was announced they were asked this:

“Is safety the reason for the change?

No. Youth baseball continues to be one of the safest of all sports for youth participants.”

Instead, they trusted the new bat standard ensured “the long-term integrity of the game.” No one ever quite clarified what “integrity” meant.

Most Popular 2019 LLWS Bats

Rank Brand Model Drop
1 Easton 2019 Ghost X Evolution 10
2 Rawlings 2019 Quatro Pro 10
3 Easton 2019 Beast Speed 10
4 Rawlings 2018 Quatro 10
5 Easton 2019 Beast X 8, 10
6 DeMarini 2018 CF Zen 10

Notables: Slugger 718 Select; Slugger 618 Solo

You can see all our reviews for these bats in our USA Bat Review section.

Home Runs Per Game

  • LLWS 2018: 0.6
  • CWS 2018: 1.23
  • MLB 2018: 1.15
  • LLWS 2017: 2.0

Lost Integrity

“Integrity,” as USA baseball used it in their answer, surely didn’t mean a game that looks more like the Pro or NCAA game. If it meant to then the standard missed the mark in remarkable fashion. The MLB and NCAA hit home runs at a 1.15 to 1.23 per game rate, respectively. After the championships this Sunday, the new bat standard produced 18 home runs on 31 games. That’s just shy of 0.6 per game. In 2017 there were 60 home runs on as many games.

Extra base hits are also at an all time low and the LLWS has NEVER had this many extra inning games (because no one can score). Georgia went through the losers bracket on the US side to the US Championship game and played MORE innings than any team in LLWS history.

You are welcome to like that sort of baseball game. Defense and small ball matters. It’s fun in its own way. Some games, like Hawaii’s 11 inning 2-0 win over Georgia, were epic.

But, in comparison, the games this year look more like a fastpitch game than a baseball game. Fun, no doubt. But, we see no correlation between engendering small ball among Little League, unlike any other baseball league you can see on TV, and the long term integrity of the game.

Feels more like the exact opposite.

MOVE THE FENCES

One controversial idea is simple enough. Move the fences back to their original distance of 205 feet (down from 225). More than a few kids have destroyed the ball this year, with a swing and trajectory that deserve a home run, but still fall 10 or 15 feet short.

Or, better yet, move the mound back 5 feet. If this is a 2/3 game then kids should not be throwing 80, more like 65.

If they don’t change the fences then next year will even be less like the MLB or CWS game. The older kids are out…

Notice the 13 Year Olds? Not for Long.

LLWS Kids

Notice how many of the players in the championship games are 13 years old? About half the kids in this tournament, and the majority of the very big ones, will not be here in 2019. The age change, announced several years ago, finally catches up to the 12 year old bracket.

In some sense this will be good. 6 foot 2 man-childs throwing jet fuel from 46 feet is ridiculous. One kid from Panama was reaching 80mph on his fastball. It’s dangerous and still somehow comically huge–akin to hitting a 105mph fastball from a 9 foot Sasquatch in the MLB level. This isn’t a 2/3 game when pitchers are throwing 90% the speed of MLB guys.

The age change will do this tournament well.

So would moving the mound back 5 feet.

C Flaps for the HUGE Win

You will also see a number of kids wearing a Jaw Guard (aka C Flap).

In April we wrote an article and started a petition asking Little League to require C-Flaps or Jaw Guards. By July, USA Today had picked up the story, asking similar questions. In the name of safety Little League was banning helmets that were attempting to improv safety. (The USA Today article makes this clear enough). It made (and still makes) no sense.

Jaw Guards, previously ILLEGAL in Little League because they didn’t get a red tape certification to be used for safety, were pushed through for a few companies by the time the 2018 LLWS came around.

And thank the heavens they were.

By August the industry (Easton) had C-Flaps for the LLWS and a number of kids started wearing them. Turns out, this Hawaii kid’s life was possibly saved by it. At a minimum his jaw and a couple teeth were.

Easton’s Not Dominating the Little League Bat Space

Learn from the LLWS

The biggest loser of the USA Bat change may have been Easton. Granted, this year EVERY company has sold way more LL bats. But, in previous years, Easton absolutely dominated the Little League World Series with their Orange Mako and, before that, S1’s and XL1s. We don’t have exact number but it was north 95% of the at bats.

This year, with a reset of the standard, a few major companies stepped to the plate with offerings kids couldn’t put down—despite a load of free bats from Easton to start the tournament. Easton barely had 50% of the share and, in the Championship games, had less than 50%.

Easton did put together an impressive 2019 line of USA Bats. But, without a doubt, they lost ground to others.

LLWS BAts

Rawlings, previously a mere blip on the map in the Little League space, has benefited greatly. (At least in terms of eyeballs on their bats in the 2018 LLWS).

Expect to see the Rawling’s Quatro and Quatro Pro several times this weekend. Behind that you’ll see a number of Demarini CF Zen’s and Louisville Slugger 718s & 618s. (We document 2019 USA Bats here).

From a bat structural standpoint, we find the frequency of aluminum barrels in this year’s LLWS, instead of composite, remarkable. Before this year we rarely, if ever, saw an aluminum barrel at the plate. This year though, aluminum barrels split with composite barrels 50/50 at the plate. As a group that reviews bats obsessively, this is noteworthy. (See the differences between composite/aluminum/wood).

LLWS Might be the MOST Underrated Sporting Event of the Year

Despite the new bats and orchestrated commercialization of a kid’s game, the LLWS is just a fantastic watch. After 30 games of kids battling it out with their friends against teams across the planet it’s hard not to love everything about it. The dizzying strike outs, the sometimes laughable officiating, the mom’s reaction in the stands, the personalities of kids, seeing some kid’s reaction to 70mph+ at 46 feet. And the celebrating.

These make up just a snapshot of some of the best moments sports can offer–all wrapped up in a team or two you can root for—in an otherwise short game.

What You Didn’t See: Wood & Dirty South

LLWS Bats

Despite all the hoopla created online during the year, not a single wood bat was taken to the plate. As we’ve said all along, composite and aluminum bats are better than wood even if the “standard” is the same. The best players and teams in the Little League space appeared to have figured that out too.

Also based on the buzz online within some facebook groups, not a single Dirty South USA bat made it to the plate either*. Even from the Georgia team who live in the area the Dirty South bats exist. Based on the online facebook groups we thought for sure we’d see a couple. Turns out…

*Since first publishing this article, we had a couple readers tell us that Little League has some barriers to entry beyond just USA bat approvals. This seems, in large measure, both ridiculous and expected. Of course the Little League World series requires more than just USA Bat approvals to be on their TV who. They are judge, jury and executioner.

International Teams are STACKED

LLWS

This kid from Panama throws 80mph+. From 46 feet that’s over 104mph.

The international side of the bracket is just better than the USA Side. Granted, the International side is made up of the champions from each world wide division, while the USA Side is showing the tournament the International teams already won.

Hawaii is a deserving winner on the USA side. They can clearly play with anyone. In a one game series anything is possible.

But, no doubt, the International side of the bracket has 5 teams (Panama, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Puerto Rico) that might be better than any team on the US side in a prolonged series.

Best 2018 LLWS USA Players

LLWS

There are a few remarkable players on the US side. We wish there were some sort of all tournament team players we could vote on. After watching every game on the US side, here would be our top 7 votes. Count this as the Bat Digest LLWS Valuable Player’s Award.

  • Sean Yamaguchi, Hawai’i. Life of the team, fantastic hitter, most fun to watch.
  • Aukai Kea. Hawai’i Man Child. Jet Fuel on the mound and plate.
  • Jarren Purify. Michigan, Possibly the best overall player in the US side of tournament.
  • Steven Martinez, New York, Best Looking Swing in the Tourney, Great Short Stop.
  • Gregroy Bruno, New York, He has better mechanics than some MLB pitchers.
  • Jansen Kenty, Georgia is nothing without this guy. Aside from Purify, possible best overall player in US LLWS.
  • Tai Peete, Georgia’s 2nd best player, but may end up being its best in the long run. All the tools to play at the highest level of the sport.

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Posted by Just Bat Reviews

Dedicated to the notion that it is possible to wade through the minutia of industry hype and vendor bias to determine your best bat.

  1. I don’t agree with bringing the fences in. But Little League does need to update its field dimensions. Little League still uses 46 foot mound distances and 60 foot baselines while every other 12 year old organizations has 50 foot mound distances and 70 foot baselines.

    As for the lack of home runs, the old BPF 1.15 bats allowed kids with poor swing mechanics to still arm swing the ball out of the park. The combination of the COR and lightweight bats allowed kids to generate enough bat speed to hit the ball out.

    But lightweight USA Bats (drop 10 and drop 12) don’t have enough mass to propel the ball over the fence at those same swing speeds. To hit the ball out kids need better full body hitting mechanics AND more mass impacting the ball. To hit the ball out kids need to start swinging drop 5 and maybe drop 8 bats.

    Back in my days of Little League (the 70’s) all kids were swinging drop 3, 2, and 1 bats. We did just fine. Nowadays kids are swinging lightweight youth bats and then struggle greatly in middle school and high school when they have to swing a drop 3 BBCOR.

    Hopefully this LLWS and the first year of USA Bats shows parents, players, and the bat companies that the lightweight BPF 1.15 bats were fantasy land. Bat companies need to start looking at producing drop 5, 6, 7, and 8 bats for youth baseball instead of the drop 10, 11, 12, and even 13. I moved my own son to a drop 8 at 10 years old and a drop 5 during his 11 and 12 year old seasons. He also swung a BBCOR bat in his 12 year old season so he’s ready for middle school/JV ball at 13 years old.

    The bats are to blame insofar as everyone is accustomed to lightweight bats that can hit the ball 250 feet. If kids want to hit bombs the need to move to bats with more mass behind them.

  2. I used to think LLWS was really awesome. Until my son became a competitive baseball player. Now, I can’t stand it.

    The kids on LLWS teams can PLAY. No doubt each kid on every team is a great ball payer.

    My issue that Little League baseball is not real baseball. No leadoff, no steals, 46/60 diamond, 225 fences. Players this size, age, and ability should be playing on full size fields, 60/90, or at the very minimum, 54/80, with 275/300 fences. Little League is not preparing these boys for the next step in their baseball careers, which should be HS baseball. The LL style of play is simply not realistic, as there are too many major differences in the game to set kids up to be successful.

    The USABAT charade is an attempt to make LL Baseball appear smaller and more contained, and player safety; because players of this caliber are too good to be playing on tiny fields, best suited for 9u players and the first years of kid pitch.

    In the end, USABAT and Little League Baseball, are corporate entities, whose sole purpose is self preservation and profit. All of us who have ball players at any age or ability know that it’s about the kids first. Little League and USABAT are about the brand first, and the kids rank somewhere below the Boards of Directors of these groups.

    In my 16 years as a teacher and 11 years as a baseball Dad, I am comfortable in stating: The worst part of any event for kids, is the adults.

  3. I saw a few kids using wood early in the the Tournament. Might have been the preliminaries before Williamsport tho… can’t remember.

  4. I can’t believe that they are playing on an infield the same size as my 8 year old. I can’t find the stats anywhere but it does seem like the later the series goes the more frequent teams are hitting homeruns.

  5. Brilliantly written

  6. Your statement that Little League had earlier banned helmets that were “improving their safety” is patently false and misrepresentative of the spirit of Little League’s ruling. The only available “C Flap” at the time, the Markwort flap, was intended to be installed onto existing helmets by drilling into the helmets. See the installation instructions included in the packaging. This modification voids the helmets’ safety certification and could lead to dangerous cracks and fails. Little League already allowed for installation of a full face mask as seen in softball. This mask actually provides more protection than any previous or current C Flap. Please do your research.

  7. It’s far from patently false. The spirit of the rule, like the chest protector rule coming soon, is to make money. MLB guys screw holes in their helmet to put on the Markwort.

    Read the USA Today article we link in the article for more insight. This is a money grab rule enforcement, we’ve used the Markwort for years. Even if you install it IN THE SAME holes it’s illegal. It’s a dumb rule that puts players at risk.

    And the money grab on chest protectors and the new certification test runs in tow.

  8. See our home run rate. They did pick up a bit on the USA side. But about the same. The chart is found here:

    https://www.justbatreviews.com/baseball-bat-reviews/2019-easton-usa-bats/

  9. Thanks Mike. We didn’t watch all the regionals but did watch all the LLWS. Didn’t see a single wood bat. It actually surprised us considering how many were doing it in the season. Thanks for the note.

  10. Dirty South Bats not represented…. it is my understanding that they would have to be approved by the Tournament and currently there were no more available spots. If it is a USA approved bat, it sounds like money is dictating who can be in.

  11. I don’t have an issue with the bats. Now the kids that should hit home runs are the ones hitting them. The problem is the size of the field. I think eventually it will evolve into what the Little League Intermediate Division is doing by playing on a 50/70 field. Have you ever watched many high school games with the BBCOR bat standard? Not many homeruns in those games even deep in high school playoffs because as in the Little League World Series the pitching is better. Just like in the regionals that I watched there were more homeruns because the pitching was lackluster. It’s the same way in high school with the bat standard. More homeruns in the regular-season because of subpar pitching. I say leave the bat standard, move the mound back to 50 feet and the basis to 70. A lot of people like to bash Little League because of the rules they play by. No, I don’t currently like the infield dimensions and the lack of leadoff’s and absolutely no stealing, but it is the rules they play by, so it is what it is. By the way, if the suggestion is to use USSSA approved bats, some of those are just crazy hot and should not be allowed. I don’t have to worry about any of this stuff anymore since my son is in high school. I thought it was one of the most enjoyable Little League World Series in recent years.

  12. Dirty South Bats was not present because you have to be approved by LL to allow your bats in LLWS. It has nothing to do with product choice. DSB was not approved or allowed and LL has been “quiet” on what the method for approval is. They just responded that they were not taking any other manufacturers at this time….. some say follow the $. We would ask you do to do better research rather than stating no DSB bat was in the LLWS by choice.

  13. I agree with the comments about the field size. Move the mound, bases and the fence back to distances similar to USSSA baseball. Deeper outfields will allow more extra base hits. With the pitching and infield moved back, then they can revert back to the old bat performance standards. Allow lead-offs which will help scoring by being able to steal bases. Little League baseball rules and field dimensions are designed for the recreational player that only plays baseball for a couple of months in the summer. This reminds me more of softball than baseball. Not to knock softball, because I love to watch softball.

  14. Think you may have misread what we said. We were SURPRISED Dirty South weren’t there. Considering how well they did and how much positive feedback they got online. As if, there might be some other explanation as to why we didn’t see a DSB bat. Your explanation would explain it. Sort of surprised, but not really, that LL had a certification above and beyond the USA bat stamp? That seems absurd, but sadly not surprising.

  15. Another reader made this comment. First we’ve heard of it. LL not allowing a USA bat seems fundamentally absurd. Would love to know more about this.

  16. I agree with Koz. The field dimensions are a joke. 46-60 is absurd, 50-70 is the way to go. It’s one of the reasons that Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken is gaining in popularity, because the major (11-12 yr olds) division is 50-70.
    I like the new bat standard; the home runs that I’ve seen hit this year are hit with much better swings than I’ve seen in the past, where some kids were not even finishing their swings and the ball was flying over the fence. The USA bat standard will probably have one, or both, of these effects: kids will learn proper, or at least improved, swing mechanics at an earlier age, or, they will become discouraged and drop out of baseball. Hopefully more of the former and less of the latter.

  17. If you want more HRs, fix the strike zone. This was one of the worst LLWS zones I’ve seen in a long time. Kids are getting called out on strikes that no one should be swinging at. Forget this, “swing if it’s close”. That’s one thing to tell a kid if the other guy is throwing in the 60s and you have time to react. You raise that above 70 which I don’t think anyone knew under 70 in the LLWS, you might was well tell them “just swing” and hope for the best.

    I do agree good swings should be the ones hitting homeruns but too many of the good bats, were getting hosed by the umps. One of the samples I found, https://usatodayhss.com/2018/video-little-league-world-series-strike-zone-anger

    Somehow a 17″ plate turned into a 20-24″ plate if not even worse at times. On top of that the top and bottom of the zone were extended as well.

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