In 2011 the NCAA made a major rule change regarding the type of baseball bat approved for use in colleges. Their research and findings have been applied to high school baseball as well. As of January 1, 2011, the NCAA required that all manufacturers had to comply with the newly established BBCOR standard and make their bats to comply with the new ruling.
Since then, the only acceptable baseball bats for use in high school and college baseball are solid wood bats and composite bats that meet the BBCOR standard. Aluminum bats are no longer allowed at either level of play. Major League Baseball requires only bats made of wood can be used.
BBCOR is a new certification process for baseball bats that are constructed with material other than a single piece of solid wood. These are called composite bats. While composite bats are very similar to wooden ones, there are many differences that impact the choices high schools, in particular, make in choosing bats for their players.
BBCOR stands for “Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution” which makes it sound much more technical than it really is. BBCOR is basically a measurement of the speed of a ball coming off the bat. Baseballs hit off BBCOR bats are much less “live” than previously acceptable bats, and have inched closer to solid wood baseball bats in performance.
A study by the NCAA of the first ten games played in the 2011 season (when the new rules went into effect), noted a significant reduction in home runs and the amount of runs scored in games. Home runs dropped from 2.8% of all balls in play to 1.8. Runs scored went down from 7.5 per game to 6.5.
Wood bats and composite bats are very similar in performance but are vastly different in price. For example, a high end Louisville Slugger solid wood bat costs about $50.00, whereas a BBCOR certified composite bat costs an average of $400.00. In terms of cost, 8 Louisville Sluggers can be purchased for a high school team for every 1 composite bat. But there are differences in each bat that brings other factors to consider before making a choice.
What Advantages Does a Composite Bat Have?
- Composite baseball bats use a reinforced carbon fiber polymer instead of real wood. The carbon polymer is also referred to as “plastic reinforced with fibers”. Composite bats are essentially made of plastic wound with strong, tight fibers.
- A composite bat has a larger “sweet spot” on the barrel of the bat than a wooden one, so there is more surface area on the meat of the bat to hit with power.
- The “swing weight” of a composite bat can be much lighter than wood because the composite materials used are much lighter than wood and can be manipulated easier.
- The “trampoline effect”, is the phenomenon when the ball “jumps” off the bat on contact. The softer barrel of many composite bats retain the power of the ball pitched. On contact, the ball flies faster and further. Composite bats can be made to outperform even aluminum bats in its trampoline effect. The composite materials can be fine-tuned, so that the hand grip part of the bat is stiff while the barrel is soft.
- Bat vibration: When the ball has contact with the bat anywhere except the sweet spot, on wood bats the vibration can cause hands to sting and be painful. This is based on the bat’s “bending stiffness.” A composite material bat has a lower bending stiffness, which greatly reduces the stinging effect.
What are the Disadvantages of Using Composite Bats?
Makers of composite bats can tweak the bat for larger sweet spots and high trampoline effects, so the ball travels very fast and makes pitches easier to hit.
But the NCAA instituted the BBCOR standard because of the danger to players, especially the pitcher, with the use of most composite bats. Prior to the regulations, a player could pick out a custom composite bat that offered low bending stiffness and large sweet spots because of the ease of fine tuning composite bats. There was no standard, and unregulated composite bats at the high school and college levels resulted in high scoring games and more home runs.
Of particular concern to the NCAA was the danger these bats posed to pitchers and infielders because of the high velocity of the hit ball. Pitchers who were hit directly suffered injuries that took them out of games, and entire seasons in some cases. BBCOR established specific bat weights (-3 or heavier), and a barrel diameter no larger than 2 ⅝ inches.
A major disadvantage to composite bats is that they can crack and become unusable in cold temperatures. The manufacturer states the bat is for use “in temperatures of 55 degrees or higher.” This may not matter to a high school or college team in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but a team playing in Minnesota certainly needs to take this temperature restriction into account before purchasing composite bats at $400.00 apiece.
Why Were Composite Bats Preferred Over Wood Bats?
Early on, aluminum bats were preferred over wooden bats due to their bigger sweet spots, wider barrels and lighter weight. Once composite bats became an option, many teams switched to them because they were even lighter in weight, and the high speeds at which the ball traveled off the bat.
Wood bats can break easily if hit in the wrong spot on the bat, which happens often when a batter connects on an inside pitch. The bat connects with the ball on the narrow part of the bat, just above the wrists. This becomes a safety issue when the broken part of the bat flies into the infield.
A wood bat is constructed mainly from ash, but can also include hickory, bamboo or maple wood. In 2008, a crisis developed in major league baseball when bats broke an average of one per game. The bats didn’t just splinter. In most broken bat hits the bat literally broke apart and the broken end became a projectile. That year, maple bats became popular, and members of the US Forest Service got involved. They discovered that due to the grain in the maple, bats broke clean apart. Modifications were made in their manufacture, and in 2009 broken bat incidents dropped by half.
What Are the Advantages of Using a Wooden Bat?
A clear advantage in using a bat made of wood is that in Major League Baseball, players use wooden bats exclusively. Wood bats level the playing field and don’t give an advantage to the batter over the pitcher. Many high school students today have never used a wooden bat, and if they had it likely wasn’t during game play. A gifted high school student who dreams of playing professionally would want to at least practice hitting with a wooden bat as much as possible to meet major league standards.
There are differences in swings between wood bats and composite bats. Batting with wood teaches to swing the bat earlier rather than later on an inside pitch. Because there is much more vibration and stinging with wood, inside pitches need to be hit further out in front instead of letting it in on your hands.
Wood bats have smaller sweet spots and are heavier than BBCOR bats, so young players have to work harder to hit better. A composite bat can give batters a “handicap” that won’t affect his college play (since colleges use the same BBCOR bats as high school students). However, any high schooler interested in going to the majors needs to improve his skill with wooden bats.
Finally, if a young player gets accustomed to wood, when he switches to composite bats, their lighter weight and bigger sweet spot will give him an advantage over players who have only used BBCOR bats. A player familiar with swinging with wood would have a greatly increased swing speed with a BBCOR bat.
How Do Wood Bats and BBCOR Composite Bats Compare in Cost?
A lot of high schoolers buy their own baseball bats and bring them to practice and use in game play. Teams that buy the bats for their players can expect to buy a minimum of three BBCOR bats for game day. The more invested in composite bats the longer the bat will last.
How Do I Break in a New BBCOR Bat?
Breaking in a composite bat takes about an hour. Break in bats during practice and not before a game for it to function properly.
- Use the same ball that will be used on game day in terms of size and weight.
- Use on 50% swing speed for the first 150 balls hit with the new bat. If players swing at full speed, they run the risk of cracking the polymer fiber.
- After each hit, rotate the bat minutely, a ¼ inch after each hit
- After swinging at 50% speed, build up to full swing speed in 50 pitches. Don’t go from 50% swing to 100% right away.
- Avoid using composite bats in cold weather below 55 degrees.
- Keep them out of the rain when not using them.
- After 200 swings, test the bat and make certain it’s ready. If you feel it isn’t, continue swinging at lower speeds to make sure it’s ready for game play.
How Should I Care For a Wood Bat?
Like composite bats, the biggest concern is the bat eventually breaking. At some point, all bats will break from wear and use. On game day, always have bats for backup in the event of splinters.
- Don’t ever use baseball that’s been left out in the rain.
- Try only using the baseballs used in game play with bats you plan to use in the game. Waterlogged or rubber practice balls should only be used with bats not being used in the game.
- Make contact with the straight grain and not the ovals of the wood. Don’t purchase a wooden bat that has ovals in the sweet spot.
- Always hit with the label up. Bat makers tend to place the manufacturer information on the weakest parts of the bat.
- Look for bats with cupped ends instead of rounded. Cupped ends mean bat makers used dense wood during construction, which is more resistant to cracking.
- Avoid using wood bats in low temperatures or when it’s raining. Switching to aluminum bats at practice in cold and damp weather makes wooden bats last longer.
- Alloy bats work best in cold rainy weather. If you don’t have the option of using aluminum, keep wood bats out of bad weather when not using them.
How Do BBCOR Bats Compare to Bats Used in Major League Baseball?
Pro baseball limits the type of bats used to wooden ones and limits their size and length. Rule 1.10 states the bat should not be more than 2.61 inches in diameter at the thickest part, and should be no longer than 42 inches in length. Bats can be indented (cupped) up to one inch in depth and not wider than two inches.
All bats used in high school and college play must bear the BBCOR certification mark. To use the mark, bats must be submitted with a certification request and tested. The maximum length allowed is 36 inches. The barrel of the bat can be up to 2 ⅝ inches in diameter, a bit wider than major league bats, but also shorter.
How Do BBCOR Bats Compare in Game Play?
Composite bats are trending to be no more effective for power hitting or control than wood bats. Also, BBCOR bats are getting heavier and over time are matching the specifications of wooden bats.
Are BBCOR Composite Bats More Expensive Than Wood Bats?
A wooden bat of very high quality and good to use in high school baseball costs from $50 – $60 dollars. On the other hand, a good quality composite bat can cost $500.00, but excellent composite bats can be got for $350 to $400.00. If purchasing a $400.00 bat, it’s important to know that only a few need to be purchased, while more wooden bats are needed.
A good ratio to remember is 1:8, or 1 composite BBCOR bat to every 8 wood bats. The cost will come out the same. Keep in mind if springtime baseball practice happens when the temperature is lower than 55 degrees, composite bats will crack at some point. Colder weather isn’t great for wooden bats either, but they are are also subject to splintering than cracking.
Buy three composite bats at different lengths to accommodate smaller and bigger players. If purchasing three BBCOR bats for a total of $1200.00, you could purchase 24 wooden bats for the same price.
BBCOR bats will last a couple of years when used all the time. Coaches and high schools should keep in mind that if bat specifications change, the bats will need to be replaced. Keeping an ear open to changes in regulations for bats will inform you of the best choice between wood and composite. Wood bats are the standard, so there won’t ever be a change in their specs except for the wood used to make them.
Since most parents buy baseball bats for their children, it might work best to leverage the cost of equipment by encouraging players to bring their own bats from home and to purchase composite bats for games. In that way coaches can fall back to wood bats should the composite bats crack.
In the end, it comes down to individual taste. Wood and BBCOR are getting closer to Major League Baseball specifications, so the advantages of having a BBCOR bat over a wooden one are dwindling, although a composite back will sting less and won’t crack or splinter on hits made on the bat’s narrow part.
Most kids have grown up using composite bats, and high schools report that players notice a big difference between BBCOR and wood. The hand work used on wood is also very different than composite. Inside pitches are approached differently with wood bats. Players need to swing further out from their hands with wood. But wood splinters, whereas composites won’t break on inside pitches and won’t need replacing.
Wood bats and BBCOR are different hitting experiences and both have their advantages. In the end, high school budgets will have an impact on which kind of bat to purchase. Clearly with composite bats there is less risk of injury from splintered wood flying out to the infield towards the pitcher and players. In the 2008 major league baseball season, an umpire caught a splinter in his eye and was hospitalized.
Yet wooden bats have been around for over 150 years, and they are still the standard for baseball bats. Generational changes have introduced composite bats into the game in the last 15 years, and replaced aluminum bats. At some point it is possible that BBCOR bats will also be replaced, although that doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon.
The best choice may be a compromise. Batting practice using a wood bat and its smaller sweet spot offers no handicaps to the batter, who would need to hit with greater application and practice with one. But playing a game against a team who uses BBCOR bats would leave the team at a disadvantage because of its bigger sweet spot and lighter weight.