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If you are deciding which type of bat to get, then the following should be informative. The differences between a Composite, Aluminum, Hybrid, and Wood bat may be obscure, but the following makes it simpler. We compare each type of bat to the other three. Below, we also have some general recommendations for collegiate, high school, and little league players.
When we speak of composite bats, we mean bats that have 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,” as they are 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.
Single-piece aluminum bats are exactly as they sound: a 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.’
In terms of 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.
Bats are considered hybrid if they have 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.
If we were to make an argument 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 major manufacturers to be as (2) creative and push the envelope of innovation.
This point may be valid, but we’ve found it only marginally true and arguably helpful. The best aluminum bat doesn’t give up very 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 the inside barrel of a bat may very well 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. As the graphite fibers inside the bat get messaged in, the composite bat gains more trampoline effect. 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 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 generally 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 a good reason to purchase a composite bat that is BBCOR certified (like it has a bigger 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, very generally, that the majority of high school players will 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.
In the event, a player does have the real strength to hit very well consistently, then we wouldn’t be opposed to 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; 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-leaguer dependent upon the number of games played. Over 45 in a given year, and it might be the right bet. Between 20 and 45 games a year, we’d suggest a hybrid. Less than 20 doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of money on a bat; therefore, go aluminum. There is, roughly, no example we can think of where a wood bat is a right answer for a little leaguer.