Success in sports, and in baseball specifically, is dependent far more on the player (and team) than the equipment. Without the talent, effort, savvy, and character, you can only go so far based on the quality of your equipment (a lesson that must be relearned every generation by rich parents buying their children the very best golf clubs, tennis rackets, etc.).
That’s not to say, however, that having the right equipment, including the right baseball bat, isn’t important. Anyone who has seen a Little Leaguer struggling with a bat that’s obviously too heavy for him knows what a difference equipment can make.
Choosing the right baseball bat comes down to a number of factors:
1. Level of play
Every level of play has different regulations as far as allowable bat size and material. In the pros, for instance, aluminum bats are not allowed.
Size is measured by ounces minus inches. So a 34 inch bat that weighs 30 ounces would be a -4. For high school baseball, a bat can only go as low as -3. For Little League, it can go down to -12. Be sure to check the regulations at the level at which you’ll be using the bat.
2. Wood or aluminum?
Assuming aluminum is allowed, there are certain advantages to going with aluminum. (The advantage of wood is tradition; old time baseball fans still react to the “ping” of an aluminum bat like fingernails on a chalkboard.)
Aluminum bats are higher strength and lighter weight (though you still have to keep the weight within the regulations at a given level). They have a more consistently symmetrical structure, so the “sweet spot” is the same no matter how the bat is rotated. They are certainly more durable.
3. Matching the size of the bat to the size and age of the player
Plenty of data has been gathered, plenty of studies have been done to determine the best bat size for a player of a given age, height, or weight. But the important point to remember is that these are just guidelines. Think of it as a starting point; try bats of the suggested sizes first, but don’t lock yourself into only those.
Bat length by player age:
Under 8: 24″-26″
17 or more: 34″
Bat length by player height:
Under 5′ 7″: 32″
5′ 7″ – 6′: 33″
Over 6′: 34″
Bat weight by player weight:
70 lbs: 19 oz
80 lbs: 20 oz
90 lbs: 21 oz
100 lbs: 22 oz
120 lbs: 23 oz
140 lbs: 24 oz
160 lbs: 25 oz
180 lbs: 26 oz
200 lbs: 27 oz
220 lbs: 28 oz
240 lbs: 29 oz
(Consider these to be minimum bat weights. For example, if a 6’1″, 200 lbs high school player is using a 34″ bat, regulations require it to be at least 31 oz, but that’s OK, because it’s over the suggested minimum of 27 oz for that size player. If he could use a 27 oz bat he’d probably do a little better due to the better bat speed of the lighter bat, but that’s just what the regulations are designed to control. The point is to avoid making it too easy to hit the ball hard, and potentially injure opposing players.)
4. Getting a bat with the right feel
Really all these numbers are just rules of thumb. What ultimately matters is getting a bat that feels right in your hands, and that you can swing effectively.
The only way to determine that is to practice with it. A swing or two in a sporting goods store won’t cut it. Ideally you’ll want to take the precise make and size bat you’re considering buying (perhaps borrow it from a friend who already owns one, or some stores actually have areas out back to practice with the equipment), and spend some time with it in the batting cage, or at least use it enough to get a sense of whether it feels the way it should to you.
A lot more than just the length and weight, and the aforementioned wood versus aluminum, enter into how comfortable a bat will be for you. There’s how thin or fat the handle is, how thin or fat the barrel is, how rounded or indented the top is, how the handle is taped, and on and on. Bats from different manufacturers can feel noticeably different even when they’re the same length and weight.
With these factors in mind, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a baseball bat that’s right for you.