Looking to buy your first serious baseball or softball bat?
You’ve come to the right place.
Over the years, we’ve bought hundreds of bats. We’ve also coached several into their first serious bat buy and recommended bats to millions more. Here is our beginner’s guide to buying your first performance softball or baseball bats.
If you know virtually nothing about bats, you should begin your plight by understanding that different leagues require different bat certifications. Even within the same sport (Baseball, Slowpitch, Fastpitch), there are multiple certifications.
Fastpitch has two major certifications: ASA and USSSA. ASA is required for high school fastpitch, while USSSA is used for some competitive leagues and, often, men’s fastpitch.
Slowpitch uses several certifications—but most fall under the ASA and USSSA certification requirements.
In any event, you must understand what league you are playing to buy the right bat.
The Right Price Range
Once you’ve found your certification, undoubtedly, you’ll notice bats’ price ranges are extensive. Brand-new bats can be as cheap as $50 or up to $500. With very little explanation from vendors about why this price disparity will be the most infuriating thing you’ll find in the space. How could one bat be priced at nearly ten times the amount of another if all it is to do is hit baseballs?
That is the exact right question and, in large measure, the genesis of batdigest.com.
In short, you generally get what you pay for. But, there are enough duds the industry has hyped by vendors and manufacturers that you should be wary of sales pitches and marketing videos.
- Generally speaking, more expensive bats tend to perform better and
- If a bat is “worth it” depends entirely upon the player’s interest, budget, and use.
How much should you spend?
Consider (1) How many games you’ll play with the bat. Spending more than $10 per game feels exorbitant. (2) How many years will you use the bat—are you growing out of the bat soon? (3) What is your budget today? Realize too, if you start taking this sport seriously, you will spend more on bats than you ever thought possible.
Generally, very elite players can make nearly any bat work well for them. Younger, new, and growing players tend to benefit from better bats than older and more experienced players.
Where to Buy a Bat
Every year there are more online places to buy bats. We have had decent success with just about any of them. Just Bats is the largest online specific retailer. Places like Baseball Express and Closeoutbats follow them. (You can see our full list of online bat vendors here). In terms of overall volume, then Dicks Sporting Goods is the behemoth in the space—but plenty of their business is brick and mortar.
Without surprise, Amazon’s bat section has a serious bat offering. Because of its multiple vendor models (many big vendors have an Amazon store), you can find almost everything there.
Like everywhere online, deals will need to be sought after and shopped for. We keep up with a few great deal articles, but they are often out of date fast.
You just won’t beat the online model in terms of selection and pricing. If you want to touch and feel the bat before pulling the trigger, you’ll need to find an outlet that carries them. Dicks Sporting Goods is a good place to start but rarely do they have all the sizes and models you need.
Barrel Material Matters
Bat barrels are made of aluminum or composite. After you’ve decided on your price and league, the barrel type comes as the next useful consideration.
Composite is a generic term that is, by some measures, a modified plastic that maintains specific characteristics. Aluminum is a metal. Not every company’s aluminum and composite material are the same. Bat manufacturers add certain things to aluminum to make an aluminum alloy, and composites can be crafted in various ways. (See our conversation on Aluminum vs. Composite bats).
Generally, composite barrels tend to
- cost more,
- swing lighter, and
- have bigger barrels.
- swing heavier,
- have longer durability and
- sting your hands more.
But, of course, each of those broad categorizations by the material has many exceptions.
What Should You Start With: Aluminum or Composite?
Regarding overall performance, most of the ‘best’ youth baseball, fastpitch, and slowpitch bats tend to be composite barrels.
User reviews and our exit speeds and ratings favor the bigger barrels, lighter swing weights, and longer sweet spots made possible by the composite’s nature.
High school and college baseball bats, via the BBCOR standard, tend to favor neither aluminum nor composite performance. In the BBCOR space, smaller and younger hitters tend towards composite for their lighter swing, smoother feel, and bigger barrel. Bigger and more advanced hitters like aluminum’s stiff feel and hot out-of-the-wrapper performance.
The other important point is that aluminum bats do not require a work-in period. Depending on who you ask, composite bats often require a 200 to 1000 hit minimum until they’ve reached their maximum pop.
- If you are a youth baseball player and want to take your bat buying very seriously, we suggest you tend towards a composite barrel.
- Consider a heavier-weighted aluminum barrel if you are a bigger, stronger hitter on the older spectrum of youth ball.
High school players should, generally, care more about feeling on contact than barrel material. See the two-piece or one-piece conversation below.
Fastpitch and Slowpitch players have few serious options in the non-composite space. We think there are a few great cold-weather option bats in the fast-pitch space that need an aluminum barrel.
One-Piece vs. Two-Piece
Another practical consideration you need to note is a one-piece or two-piece design. Most serious fastpitch and slowpitch bats are constructed of two pieces. The barrel and handle are made separately and then combined at the end of production. It is sporadic (in softball) to see a serious player using a single-piece bat.
In baseball, however, the one-piece vs. two-piece bat is a serious consideration—some would argue the most important.
Baseball players, here are your options:
- Single-piece aluminum
- Single piece composite
- Two-piece composite (both handle and barrel made of composite)
- Two-piece hybrid (handle made of composite and barrel made of aluminum)
The Point of a Two-Piece Bat
Generally, a two-piece bat carries with it two benefits.
- Designing the handle and barrel separately allows engineers to focus on each part for their good. For example, the handle can be built to reduce vibrations and be durable, while a barrel can be built with a lot of flex to maximize the trampoline effect.
- The joint is designed to absorb the barrel’s vibrations on mishits in most serious two-piece bats. This makes the hit feel much smoother. For this reason, almost every two-piece bat we have swung in the last 5 years feels better than single-piece bats.
The Point of a Single-Piece Bat
Single-piece bats have the distinct advantage of being stiff. This stiffness lends to more power transferred from the swing to the ball. This is why bigger hitters, especially those in the NCAA, use stiff single-piece bats.
However, stiff bats also carry with them the reverse effect. That is, mishit balls with a lot of vibration in the barrel make it directly to the hands. Smaller hitters who see above-average pitch speed often find this hand sting unbearable. It is the number one complaint about any particular bat. Factors like cold weather, high pitch speed, and faster bat speed positively correlate with hand stings.
In other words, single-piece bats tend to sting hands more than two-piece bats.
As well, a single-piece bat requires less technology and quicker production time. As such, they often cost less.
What is Better?
It just depends on what you want. Bigger, stronger, and older hitters (and those on a budget) tend to prefer single piece aluminum bats. This is due to a single piece’s ability to transfer maximum energy to the ball. Stingy hands, for them, are a small price to pay.
On the other hand, smaller, lighter, and younger hitters tend to prefer two-piece bats. The smooth smash and big barrel increase confidence and swing speed.
Hand sting is a small consideration when pitch and bat speed is not very high for some younger players. As such, there is a huge contingent of budding players who are perfectly happy with single-piece bats. And, of course, there are always exceptions to these generalities.
Right-Sizing: Swing vs. Printed vs. Scale Weight
(If you’re looking for the right size bat, you might want to start on our bat sizing chart page.)
The most easily misunderstood concept in all of ‘batdom’ is the concept of swing weight. We feel like new bat buyers must grasp this concept.
If this is the first time you are buying a serious bat, you’ll incorrectly think that the printed weight on a bat is both useful and comparable. That is, a 30/20 of one brand and model feels like a 30/20 of a different brand and model. Sadly, it just isn’t the case.
(If you really want to geek out on bats, see this article explaining it in more detail.)
In short, DO NOT confuse the weight printed on the bat with either the scale or swing weight.
Here are some rough definitions of the three things.
- Printed Weight: The claimed weight that is printed on the bat (i.e., 28 ounces)
- Scale Weight: The actual total weight of a bat. (not always the same as the printed weight).
- Swing Weight: The amount of force required to swing the bat is highly dependent upon the weight distribution within the bat.
The MOST IMPORTANT thing to know is the swing weight. It is the only number of the three above that matter. Sadly, no one prints all the swing weights of the bats. (Oh wait, we do: BBCOR, USSSA, USA, Fastpitch Swing Weight).
Sometimes, bat manufacturers often refer to their bats as end-loaded (harder to swing) and ‘balanced (easier to swing). The standard for what those things mean varies across companies, and there is no standard for them to adhere to.
Too many people get caught up in the scale weight of the bat compared to its printed weight. But the weight distribution within the bat is way more important as that determines how hard the bat is to swing. This swing weight is the only important thing in terms of the function of the bat.
Used or New
Your next dilemma in your search for a performance bat is the used or new debate. Many folks are looking to resell their bats after a season or two of use. (Not surprising considering the amount of money they spent).
An older bat makes perfect sense in many cases, especially with a new grip. We like the idea of buying used bats and doing it all the time. (We wrote an entire article about the tricks of the trade).
In short, we think checking the used offerings on reseller sites like eBay and Sidelineswap is well worth your time. Some major vendors offer a used section these days, so look closely at checkout.
Here are 3 highlights to tricks on buying a used bat.
- The riskiest time to buy a composite bat, we think, is if it’s “Like New.” The barely used ones might break, and the used market has no transferable warranty. Although not intuitive, the composite bats that have been used for several hits (maybe even a season or two) are less likely to break since the failure of composite bats usually happens early in its life. Unless the deal is remarkable, we avoid ‘like new’ composite barrels.
- Used aluminum bats have no caveat in the “like new” market—they don’t break early in the process. In terms of durability, aluminum bats rarely have any issues. Over time they do start to lose pop as microscopic dents add up. Dents are the thing you should consider in the used bat market. Most listings for used bats don’t explain the number of dents, but any dent on an aluminum bat is a no-go for us–unless it’s cheap and going to be used for BP.
- Warranty issues also matter. That is, used bats don’t come with a warranty. Ensure that whatever price you pay for a used bat takes into account that there is no recourse in the event it breaks or doesn’t perform.
This Year’s or Last Year’s Model
Many bats are much like their predecessor. Some are exactly like it. However, sometimes the smallest of changes make a world of difference. Without surprise, companies aren’t forthright in saying their bat hasn’t changed much from last year. We think our reviews come in remarkably helpful in determining what you might lose out by going with the previous year’s bat.
Although it just depends on what you’re looking for, our general guidance on the matter is this: when in doubt, buy last year’s model.
The Best Bats Lists
As we state in those articles, the ‘best bat’ is quite an individual decision. Based on your budget, league, size, intent, and preference on bat stiffness, your best bat could be any number of options. As some proof of this, the market is flooded with all types of bats. If there were a ‘best bat,’ it would have merged around only a handful of models within just a few years. But, some years into it, we are wading knee-deep through bats from several companies.
In the end, dialing in the right bat for a beginning buyer will require plenty of reading and looking at any given field you go to. See what the best kids and most experienced kids are using. Borrow a bat from your teammate and give it a go. See our endless amount of reviews and videos.
In the end, you’ll need to pull the trigger on something. Probably, your first go-round won’t be the perfect bat. The above steps will get you closer to the right bat than we were when we bought our first performance bat years ago.