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The BBCOR Test Isn’t Broke and Other Things We Learned From Tracking NCAA Baseball Bats

Updated March 29, 2021

By Brian Duryea | @BatDigest

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We tracked bat usage and the at-bat results of more than 30 NCAA baseball teams at the start of the 2021 season. Our hope was to find themes in the dataset that lent commentary on BBCOR bats.

Data Highlights

  • The industry lacks competition. 90% of NCAA baseball is ruled by Wilson and Rawlings. The remaining 10% is Marucci. Scraps are left for the rest.
  • Unlike the BESR Standard, the BBCOR standard works—bats are not “hot” regardless of what we read or hear on social media.
  • Choosing the right bat, team sponsorship or not, is much more a psychological decision than we anticipated.
  • Many bat models, back as far as 2013, reach the BBCOR limit.
  • Aluminum bats hold onto their pop much longer than advertised.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all for bats. It is a player-by-player decision that may or may not align with outdated perceptions.

Is The BBCOR Test Broken?

Most in the industry agree with the sentiment that BBCOR bats perform the same, and the certification standard has succeeded in its goal to govern real-world bat performance.

Yet, even with that widespread acknowledgment, it’s common to see social media commentators suggest certain bats are hot. Granted, claiming a bat is “hot” or “hits nukes” doesn’t suggest it is somehow beating the test, per se.

But, then, what is it suggesting?

When someone says this bat hits nukes, are they saying it is just like most other bats? Maybe they’re saying, with consideration to its swing weight and our hitter’s strength, it’s just as good as what we’ve always used? Or, is it suggesting that there is something special about this particular bat’s exit velocities that you can’t find elsewhere?

It’s likely they aren’t thinking much about what they’re saying. Nukes and bombs and missiles and tanks are all great words in the bat space. But the impression given implies that the bat is somehow special. And you can’t have something special if everything else is not.

The truth is that the vast majority of companies have figured out how to economically meet the BBCOR standard–we don’t think this is a secret anymore. If they don’t know how to meet it, they can buy a bat from overseas that does. Considering that BESR (2005ish – 2013ish) bats were hotter than BBCOR bats, this makes sense. As any good libertarian could tell you, governing is a lot easier than inventing.

Also, if we claim a particular BBCOR bat is hot then the odds are not on our side. By our last count, the BBCOR testing facility currently approves close to 2600 BBCOR bats. After a couple of bumpy years in its onset, only one bat, The 2020 Meta in a 33, has lost its certification.

Meaning, the score in the last eight years is about 2600 to 1. If we think a bat is “hot” then there’s a 99.96% chance we’ve been fooled.

These odds are why we can’t help but roll our eyes when we see someone’s “exit speed test” show results 3+mph different–as if the swing weight, pitch type, and hitter bias had nothing to do with that outcome. It’s definitely not the trampoline effect of the bat. Because, to put it simply, the BBCOR test is not broken.

Pro Tip – When we hear someone claim something extraordinary about a bat’s performance let’s consider this:

Are they suggesting it defied the odds and somehow fooled the BBCOR test?

Or, is it more likely that the bat’s other features convinced them of something that is unlikely to be true?

2021 NCAA Bat Usage

The data we collected from elite D1 players and programs lend some proof to the idea that the BBCOR test is not broken.

We spent several days pouring over the data we collected in the hopes we’d see some trends. Frustratingly, we found nothing that would point to a certain brand or model or hitter type that had more success over another.

Bat Contracts Bias

(The Wilson section above represents Arkansas which uses Slugger and DeMarini bats—both owned by Wilson.)

Bat contracts change the nature of what bats are used at the collegiate level. As early as 2013, companies like Easton were paying schools like LSU (#22) $150,000 annually to use their bats exclusively.

Today, LSU is a Marucci school. Who knows how much they paid for those rights.

One might think that such bias makes tracking bat usage a useless commentary on BBCOR bat achievements.

But not so fast.

The desire to win, succeed at the plate, and the windfall of recruiting and cash that follows success at the D1 level far outpaces any incentivized contact a sponsorship could put together. Major programs will not put themselves at a measurable disadvantage to make a buck.

Consider this too.

Serious college teams use high-tech equipment to measure ball flight. Players and coaches have access to this data, and there are clearly smart enough people at the Univesity level to devise a test that determines which BBCOR bats hit the ball better than another.

With that in hand, do we see competitive D1 programs using the same bat?

Most Popular NCAA Bats

Despite all those resources and a huge desire to win, the bats used by the top 25 teams do not coalesce around certain models.

As an example, DeMarini makes up 37% of the bats at this level. Less than half of DeMarini players use the same bat. Or, said differently, more than half the NCAA D1 players required to swing DeMarini, who undoubtedly have access to more exit velocity data and resources than any of us mere mortals, come up with a different result for their optimal bat.

Between the 75 different players we found that use DeMarini, there are 15 different DeMarini models ranging from 2013 through 2021. That’s hardly a consensus–and it’s even the most coalescing we see.

For the 189 players we tracked on the 21 top NCAA D1 teams, 46 different BBCOR bats were used from six different brands. That works out to be about 4 players for every different bat. 17 of those 46 bats were used by a single player.

If a BBCOR bat or two has somehow eclipsed the standard and become “hot,” the players, coaches, and institutions with the most to gain from this insight have failed to figure it out.

 

Aluminum vs Composite vs One Piece vs Two Piece

Here is a rundown of the bat types we found.

  • Six players in the 189 we tracked used a composite barrel. Three came from the Maxum while the other three came from the CF.
  • Two-Piece vs One Piece is a battle.
  • Most NCAA D1 Folks swing endloaded bats.

For a long time, the general sense around single-piece vs two-piece bats was that a single-piece bat transfers more power to the ball and, therefore, was preferred by stronger hitters.

For several months we’ve tried to help people see that such was salespitchery. The ball exits the barrel before any flex occurs. So, stiffer bats don’t mean more power, they just mean more feedback. Better hitters tend to prefer an honest bat–one that tells no lies.

That shenanigans pitch was supported by the idea that the vast majority of NCAA players used stiff, inexpensive single-piece bats. These guys were power hitters so they needed all the power they could get.

But the tides are changing and as Dr. King once said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Indeed, the arc of the truth of baseball bats is long, but it bends towards reality. Stiffer bats don’t hit the ball harder. But, stiffer bats are honest. And the better you are as a hitter the more honest you want your bat.

The advent of The Goods, Select PWR and the CAT 9 Connect are putting the single-piece bat argument to an awkward end.

 

Bat Age

To our knowledge, there have never been any tests about the longevity of aluminum bats. Considering the vast majority of D1 players use aluminum we think the years they use might give some insight as to how long those bats last.

More than 10% of NCAA bats at the most elite levels are older than 2019. It’s impossible to know when these bats were first put in use. But, looking at some of them, it appears like a very, very long time ago.

Aluminum bats last for several years. Is that four, five, or six? We aren’t sure. But, according to some of the best in the alloy bat game, it is atleast that much.

Bat Brand Team Bias

One of our observations during this process of bat usage is a note of sports psychology.

We recently listened to the book Think Like a Monk. We got the following thought from him but modified it a bit to be about bats.

‘You don’t care about what you think about your bat as much as you care what others think about what you think about your bat.’

You may need to read that sentence twice.

We have the same uniforms, stay in the same hotels, often have the same bat bags and cleats and warm-up gear. We do this consciously for the camaraderie of a team and its manifest benefits on the field.

Would it be any surprise to find out we do this subconsciously with our bats too?

Maybe, in some measure, our bat choice is more a sense of belonging than it is a sense of what is the best performer. We might not consciously want to belong to the crowd on Instagram, the hitters on YouTube, or our teammate’s good graces. But when you compare schools under the same bat contracts, what else are we to conclude?

The following graphics illustrate the point.

UCF vs. Ole Miss

For example, a team like UCF and Ole Miss (#4) are both Easton schools. But UCF uses the Maxum while Ole Miss (#4) is very heavy on Easton’s Fuze XL and Alpha.

TCU vs. Florida vs. Vanderbilt

Also, DeMarini is the sponsor at TCU, Florida, and Vanderbilt. TCU’s lineup is riddled with the 2021 The Goods One; Florida is heavy on the 2020/21 Voodoo One,¬†while Vanderbilt is almost all The Goods. Again, three schools using the same bat company all coalescing around three different bats.

Florida State vs. Tennessee

Florida State and Tennessee are both Louisville Slugger schools. Most Seminole players use the Omaha, while most Tennessee players use the Select PWR.

Arkansas vs. Texas Tech

Maybe the best evidence that no BBCOR bat is of particular advantage is looking at the schools with no bat contract. Arkansas (#2) and Texas Tech (#6) don’t appear required to use a specific brand. Of the 18 players, we watched from both teams, 10 different BBCOR bats with a year range from 2017 through 2021.

Of note, though, a Razorback and a Red Raider have a 56% (5/9) and 78% (7/9) chance respectively of swinging the same bat as their teammate. But the chances of a Razorback swinging the same bat as a Red Raider?

Zero.

Is there any chance that two teams with unaffiliated bat contracts, a mountain of resources, and data at their fingertips, who rank in the top 10 of collegiate baseball, can’t figure out the hottest bat from the last 10 years?

Or, is it just so obvious at this point that there are many BBCOR bats, from past and present, that all perform the same?

It turns out, the most predictive variable determining the bat usage of an elite D1 collegiate ballplayer is not where they are in the lineup or what bat contract their school has. It also has nothing to do with it being new or old or heavy or light or two-piece. Instead, the number one variable predicting what bat you use is if your teammate uses the bat too. Our mind is blown.

Bat Performance

Another way to look at bat performance is by their statistics. We aggregated the hitting statistics from our 189 players by bat model.

To be sure, we aren’t sure this information is that useful. As we’ve said to this point, if many BBCOR bats perform the same, the fact these bats made these ranked lists might be more luck than insight.

Also, we should note that many of these players may change the bat they use and make the data below inaccurate. We watched a game in February/March where the player started. We then assigned that bat they used in that game to all the statistics the player-generated this season. So, for example, if a player had changed their bat after we saw them hit (which is unlikely but possible), then we’ve accumulated stats for a particular bat that should not count. Does that make the data useless? Maybe. But we aren’t sure, even if we did it perfectly, it would be useful anyways.

Home Runs per At Bat

We added the home runs each player has and accumulated that data based on the bat they use. Then, we divided that number by the number of at-bats where that bat was involved. We eliminated bats that have seen less than 75 at-bats.

We won’t make much commentary on these as we aren’t sure they are terribly useful. However, we will note that the Maxum Ultra is a light swinging bat, as is the Rawlings VELO from 2017 and the Victus Vandal. Bats like the Voodo Insane, 5150 from 2013, and The Goods are heavier swinging bats.

Three of the bats are two-piece, one is full composite, and the other 5 are full aluminum. What that means? Your guess is as good as ours.

Traditional thinking would say that this list should be full of single-piece aluminum bats with a heavy swing weight. Of the top 9, only one falls squarely into that category: 2013 Rawlings 5150. The rest would not be what your average bat fitter would suggest.

It’s almost like these elite hitters have their own sense for what works for them…

Batting Average By Bat

We did the same with batting average, but we moved the minimum At Bats up to 100.

Also of note, the swing weights on these bats are not close to each other. The 718 is one of the heavier swinging BBCOR bats. The Fuze XL is also endloaded. The Voodoo One is a bit light, and the CAT 9 is no heavier than balanced+. There seems to be no semblance of reason as to why a certain bat is on here. Three of these bats are two-piece. The remaining six are single-piece alloys.

Traditional thinking, again, suggests that the base hitter type at the collegiate level would prefer a two-piece bat with a balanced to light swing. They might also like a composite barrel, but that’s more of a high school thing than a D1 College thing. In that category of bats, we’d put the Voodoo One and the Victus Nox. The other seven bats make very little sense here–at least as the traditionalist bat fitter would have it.

Again, as if the hitters here have enough experience to care very little about what traditional thinkers think…

Where We Go From Here

In the end, we think much of what is above is excellent news. In particular, the right bat for you is a personal quest. It’s like young Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. No one can tell you what’s best and what’s hot. Big hitters don’t need to swing single-piece aluminum with an end load. Small guys with twitch don’t have to be light-swinging two-piece composite hitters.

No, you don’t have to pick a bat that everyone else likes. You don’t have the pick the bat your friend said to use, or some commentator and Instagram or YouTube said is a must-have or perfect for your style.

You do need to find the right size and swing weight, no doubt. Heavier bats will slow down your swing, lighter bats will give you less power. But being on time is the most important thing in hitting, we can’t just throw out all we know about physics because the BBCOR test works.

But, in the end, every bat can be someone’s bat—from a $20 eBay buy to a $700 custom. Maybe most useful is the belief that you have picked a bat that allows you to belong. If D1 Bat usage has shown us anything, it’s that—to belong with the best—you don’t need to buy what is most expensive or what social media told you was the hottest. Instead, you need to find what works for you. How you do that?

Practice.

Updated March 29, 2021

March 29, 2021

By Brian Duryea | @BatDigest

Share This | Tag us @batdigest
The BBCOR Test Isn’t Broke and Other Things We Learned From Tracking NCAA Baseball Bats
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Ty
Ty
8 months ago

Good article. I guess that means no need to review bbcor anymore as they’re all the same?

If bbcor all have the same performance, why doesn’t USSSA as well? They have a higher limit as far as their trampoline effect (simplifying it I know), but Why aren’t all manufacturers building right up to that limit?

Keith Boileau
Keith Boileau
8 months ago

I’ll grab a couple inexpensive used bats, have him swing them, maybe swing a couple of his buddy’s bats, and decide what he likes best. Sell the ones he likes less. Seems there are more similarities than differences. Ultimately, personal preference & practice prevails. ?

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