The differences between a composite, aluminum, hybrid, and wood bat may be obscure, but the following simplifies it. We compare each type of bat to the other three. Below are general recommendations for collegiate, high school, and little league players.
When we speak composite bats, we mean bats with a composite barrel. Some bats have a composite handle and an aluminum barrel, but those bats are called “Hybrids,” not composites. Composite barreled bats can be a single piece of material (called a single-piece composite) or a two-piece bat where both the handle and barrel are made of composite material and mended together through some connective process.
Composite, generally speaking, is a refined plastic made of carbon materials. These “carbon fibers,” often referred to, can be shaped to give a bat several useful properties like weight, strength, and pop. It is fair, although uncommon, to refer to composite bats as plastic bats.
Top 8 Composite Bat Facts
- Composite barreled bats almost always cost more than the rest.
- Composite bats (like wood) will crack upon breaking. Aluminum bats dent.
- Composite bats tend to have better durability than wood. But it is not as durable as aluminum.
- Composite barreled bats can be single-piece or two-piece bats.
- Composite bats can and generally do, have a lower swing weight than aluminum or wood.
- Composite bats can, and usually do, have a larger barrel than other types of barrels.
- Composite bats usually require a break-in period of several hundred hits.
- Over time, composite bats can increase in trampoline effect. Hence the need to work them in.
Single Piece Aluminum
Single-piece aluminum bats are precisely as they sound: bat-shaped from a single piece of aluminum. Manufacturers are prone to put different elements, in small amounts, within the aluminum to give it enhanced properties like durability. These additives in the aluminum are why we refer to the aluminum as ‘aluminum alloys.’
Top 9 Aluminum Bat Facts
- Aluminum bats are almost always less expensive than other types of bats.
- Manufacturers add elements in their aluminum blend to create an aluminum alloy.
- All alloys and their additives are not created equal. Hence, there are price differences between aluminum bats.
- Alloy-barreled bats do NOT require a break-in period. They are, as is often said, “hot out of the wrapper.”
- Alloy bats are generally heavier to swing than composite.
- Single-piece alloy bats feel stiff, similar to wood, through contact.
- Alloy bats tend to have a smaller barrel than composite.
- Alloy bats break by denting, not by cracking. Minor dents can be found by rubbing your hand and fingers over the bat’s feeling for inconsistencies.
- Most manufacturers suggest using aluminum bats in cold weather. See that lengthy reasoning here.
Regarding what Major League Baseball allows, only Birch, Ash, and Maple bats are allowed at the plate. Those woods can have the correct grain structure and hardness as not to create dangerous situations. Birch and Maple bats require an ink dot test to measure the grain’s straightness and, without that test, are not legal for play.
Top 8 Wood Bat Facts
- Wood bats are usually less expensive per bat. Yet, more wood bats are required over a season because they break more often.
- A wood bat’s sweet spot, although usually quite smaller than composite or alloy, may perform as well as a .50 BBCOR-certified bat.
- Wood bats are heavier and, therefore, harder to swing than aluminum and composite.
- Wood bat drops are rarely larger than a 6. Most are within 2 or 3.
- Wood bat ends are cupped to decrease the swing weight. Some youth wood bats have massive holes bored in their end.
- Wood bats must be hit on the face grain for maximum performance or risk breaking. This usually ensures the bat’s label is up at contact.
- There are way more wood-bat companies than anyone usually imagines.
- One significant difference between the same tree type of wood bats is whether the wood billet was sawed or split. In theory, split wood tends to be stronger as it splits along its strongest grains.
Bats are considered hybrid with a composite handle and an aluminum alloy barrel. The general intent is to take the benefits of the light-swinging composite bat and combine it with an aluminum alloy barrel’s durability to make one superior bat. Many agree and prefer hybrid bats over any other.
Top 6 Hybrid Bat Facts
- Hybrid bats are made of both composite and aluminum material.
- Hybrid bats cost less than a composite bat and more than a single aluminum alloy bat. (There will always be exceptions to this).
- The most traditional hybrid bat is a composite handle and aluminum (or alloy) barrel.
- One idea behind traditional hybrid bats is the improved feel at contact achieved. This occurs because the connective piece between the composite handle and the aluminum barrel absorbs the vibration.
- There are now several variations of the Hybrid bat on the market. They include hybrid bats with an alloy barrel and composite end caps, a composite shell on an aluminum bat or a soft composite outer shell, and a stiff aluminum inner barrel.
- Like Aluminum, Hybrid bats are hot out of the wrapper and tend to be more durable than composite barrel bats.
How To Decide
If we were to argue for preferring composite bats, we’d put forth two arguments, both of which stem from the reality that composite material allows for a larger range of engineering feats in the bat realm. These feats allow engineers to (1) create greater plate coverage with optimal swing weights. The expanded capabilities of composite also allow significant manufacturers to be as (2) creative and push the envelope of innovation.
This point may be valid, but we’ve found it only marginally accurate and arguably helpful. The best aluminum bat doesn’t give up much plate coverage compared to the best composite per swing weight. However, baseball is sometimes a game of millimeters, and an additional 1/16 of an inch on a bat’s inside barrel may very well be the difference you are looking for.
In the Little League bat space, composite bats do possess the ability to have greater pop (or trampoline effect) than their aluminum counterparts. The composite bat gains more trampoline effect as the graphite fibers inside the bat get messaged in. However, leagues now regulate the amount of trampoline effect a bat can work through an accelerated break-in test (ABI).
On the other hand, aluminum bats are never hotter than when they are taken out of the wrapper. There is no break-in period required. In theory, aluminum bats begin to lose pop over time as imperfections in the aluminum caused by hitting baseballs negatively affect the pop in the bat. While aluminum properties make it so the bats rarely break, they do indeed lose their pop in time. Better aluminum tends to be imperfect less easily.
While composite bats may have a larger barrel (and sweet spot), our experience finds most collegiate players prefer a top-end aluminum barreled baseball bat. Many of them generally prefer the hybrid versions of top-end bats because they are (1) hot out of the wrapper, so they require no break-in period, and (2) tend to be more end-loaded.
Others often prefer high one-piece aluminum bats for the same reason but with a stiffer feel through contact (much like wood).
For High School, BBCOR requirements mandate both composite and aluminum perform the same as wood bats. You may have an excellent reason to purchase a composite bat that is BBCOR certified (like it has a more prominent sweet spot), but it isn’t because composite BBCOR bats have more pop than their less expensive counterparts.
Despite their similar performance standards, we suggest that most high school players prefer a composite BBCOR bat for its (1) larger barrel size and (2) generally lighter swing weight. The added sting-dampening that generally comes with composite bats is a bonus. Unfortunately, these bats also tend to cost the most.
If a player has the natural strength to hit very well consistently, then we wouldn’t oppose a performance-level hybrid bat.
Little league recommendations are often more a function of the budget than performance. Assuming an unlimited budget, we’d generally recommend a performance composite baseball bat for its (1) sting dampening, (2) large barrel size, and (3) lighter swing weight. Of course, those are general suggestions, and there will always be exceptions. However, it should be noted that we would not purchase a cheap bat just because it was composite over a higher-performance hybrid or single-piece alloy bat.
We’d suggest purchasing a composite bat for a little league, depending on the number of games played. It might be the right bet over 45 in a given year. Between 20 and 45 games a year, we’d suggest a hybrid. Less than 20 makes little sense to spend money on a bat; therefore, go for aluminum. There is, roughly, no example we can think of where a wood bat is the right answer for a little leaguer.