Published: January 8, 2018 | Last modified: January 13, 2018
By Jim Campanis, Jr.
I grew up listening to discussions on mechanics and fetching bats for players like Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Richie Zisk and more. They taught me something that appears lost today with most players. That is, using a different bat based on the pitcher you face makes good sense. As a bat boy for the Pirates in the late 70's, I had particular insight as to which bat these legends used for which pitchers. I think such insight would serve the new crop of amateur players well.
(You might like our conversation on what to buy every month)
An easy analogy to help us understand this concept is a tool box. It basically has a hammer, a screwdriver and a wrench, right? So if you need to hang a painting in your living room, you wouldn’t hammer the nail into the wall with a screwdriver! So why would you attempt to hit five or more different types of pitchers with the SAME bat?
When I was coaching Travel Ball, I convinced my hitters to use a super light bat against the weak throwers they often over swung against. When I took their regular bat away and made them use a super light bat, they learned to how to wait and then be ultra-quick and compact.
~Jim Campanis, Jr
How the Pros Choose Their #1 Bat: Meet Fire With Fire
When choosing your #1 bat, keep in mind that you will face the bucket #1 of right handed pitchers more than any other. Choose your #1 game bat to match that pitcher. I firmly believe that the #1 bat should be the longest and heaviest bat a player can swing without losing bat speed.
Through hours of trial and error at a local batting cage hitting “Iron Mike” machines that threw 70mph, 80mph and 90mph, I learned that I could swing an aluminum 34”/31 ounce bat just as fast as a 33”/30 ounce bat. But a 35”/32 ounce was a bit too long and heavy. So the 34”/31 ounce became my #1 bat against the #1 type of pitcher I would face in college.
As I went to the pros, I had more options available with various wood bat models and length/weight combinations. For example, I always had a heavier 34” bat when a flame thrower came in to pitch. Common sense would dictate the harder the pitcher throws, the lighter the bat, but that’s actually the OPPOSITE of what is best. Use a heavier bat against harder throwers and just focus on making contact without a lot of exertion. The weight of the bat and the speed of the pitch will induce a greater impact than a light bat swung at a similar speed.
Pro Tip for #1 Bat
Each player needs to figure out what bat size and weight works best for them against the number one type of pitcher they will face.
Choosing Your 2 & 3 Bats
I can recall rarely seeing left handers as a young player. My dad had me messing around with switch hitting in Little League, but one season we faced only ONE lefty the entire season! As I went up in levels, I started seeing more and more lefties, sinker ballers and then the odd balls throwing everything you can think of. This is when my #2 and #3 bats really came into play.
My #2 bat was an inch shorter and an ounce lighter. I used this bat against the type #2 (RHP sinker/slider) and the #4 (LHP sinker away) pitchers. Against the RHP sinker I would back off the plate, dive into the pitch and try to hit everything to right center. Against the LHP sinker I would crowd the plate, look for a pitch up in the zone and try to hit long shots to left center.
The shorter bat helped me find the barrel on the hard sinker inside from the righty. The lighter weight helped me wait against the lefty as I mentally thought about delivering a short/quick/compact swing with no intentions of power. The approach mixed with the right bat size and weight helped me maintain my timing against these deceptive pitchers.
My #3 bat was not used very often because there are not that many pitchers with the style for which this size/weight was needed.
Again, I will screw with your common sense. When facing a knuckleballer whose top speed is maybe 70 mph, one would naturally think a heavy bat is best. But that knuckle ball dances around like a butterfly, so the heavy bat is tougher to control. I opted for a super light bat with a thin barrel. Think of playing wiffle ball. That super light yellow wiffle ball bat allowed you wait a super long time on the crazy curves that can be thrown with the wiffle ball. If you waited and waited and swung with a quick and compact swing, you could crush a wiffle ball that is curving like 6 feet! Try hitting a wiffle ball with a full size bat on that same crazy curve. Not easy! And if you did make contact, the ball didn’t go as far as with the super light wiffle ball bat.
Pro Tip for #2 Bat
Your #2 bat should be one inch shorter and one ounce lighter. Get a #3 bat as light as possible.
A Bat for Every At Bat
In the youth leagues where players can use bats as light as -12 and as heavy as -3, younger players have more options to use against various pitchers. When I was coaching Travel Ball, I convinced my hitters to use a super light bat against the weak throwers they often over swung against. When I took their regular bat away and made them use a super light bat, they learned to how to wait and then be ultra-quick and compact. When a pitcher came in throwing average speed, they used their regular bats again.
Test out a number of different sized bats. When I train a new hitter, I always ask what size bat they use. I keep a variety of different sizes of bats in my bag so I can see if a different size is better suited for their swing and strength. Often times, their bat is too light and they over swing causing the bat path to suffer. When they find the right bat size as their #1 bat, they now know what other bats to get and when to use them.
Hitting a baseball is considered the most difficult thing to do in sports. By understanding that good hitters have great timing and great pitchers disrupt hitters' timing, we can learn how to make critical adjustments that will help us have a better chance of hitting the ball hard. The approach we take by where we stand in the box, what we are thinking to do with the pitch and using the right bat size and weight is how the best hitters have learned to succeed.
What’s in your bat bag?
About the Author
Jim Campanis, Jr. is the son of former Major Leaguer Jimmy Campanis, and grandson of long-time Dodgers’ General Manager, Al Campanis. Jim Jr. is a third generation professional baseball player, whose on-the-field career included All-American honors at USC, selections to the 1985 USA Junior National Team & Team USA in 1988, plus six seasons as a catcher in the minor leagues with one year on the major league 40-man roster.