If you have been following baseball, you might have noticed youth players, high school players, and college players using metal bats. When it comes to the pros you have probably noticed they all use wood bats. This might have heightened your interest and got you asking yourself: “why do MLB players use wooden bats?”
MLB players use wooden bats because the ball has less velocity off the bat when compared to metal bats, which protects both players and fans. Wooden bats also provide the benefits of being cost-effective, reducing bat modifications, and sticking to the tradition of using wooden bats in the MLB.
The rest of this article will be diving into each of those reasons in more detail and, for further context, taking a look into why metal bats are popular among non-pros.
5 Reasons Why Major League Players Use Wooden Bats
1. Wood Bats Offer More Protection Than Metal Bats
MLB players are pros, which means the chance of an MLB player hitting the ball on the bat’s sweet spot is significantly higher than that of a non-pro. So, why is this important?
The average velocity of a ball coming off an aluminum bat is notably faster (about eight mph faster) than that of a ball coming off a wood bat. This translates into baseballs flying at a faster speed towards fielders, which translates into less time to react to a ball and more risk to the fielders.
Players hit the ball at higher velocities because aluminum bats are generally lighter. This means players can swing aluminum harder and faster than wooden bats for a much higher impact. Generally, balls coming off metal bats have a velocity of 106.5 mph, while balls coming off wooden bats have a velocity of 98.5 mph.
Imagine a scenario where professional batters use a metal bat. If this were true then pitchers would be at a much higher risk for injury because they’re the closest infielder to the plate, and balls coming off metal bats would be traveling at high velocities.
There have actually been numerous cases where baseball players have been detrimentally hurt by the ball moving at 100 mph or more. An example of this unfortunate event is the case of Brandon McCarthy. He was hit by a batted ball moving at a velocity a little above 100 mph, which caused him to suffer a skull fracture, epidural hemorrhage, and a brain contusion– which was life-threatening.
If this much damage could be done to someone by a wooden bat, one can only imagine how much damage can be done to many more pitchers if batters used metal bats.
In an effort to avoid serious injuries to pitchers, using a wooden bat is the optimal solution.
Beyond protecting the pitcher, using wooden bats also helps protect the fans at the game. Even when wooden bats are used there are still the occasional baseballs flying into the stands and using wooden bats over metal bats helps to reduce the potential injuries to those fans.
Also, if metal bats were to be used, almost all MLB teams would have to change the dimensions of their stadium. Besides the obvious cost of money it would take to re-do the dimensions of the stadium, there is also the cost of fans being further away from the field and making the game less enjoyable. So, to avoid paying for new stadium dimensions and to ensure that we enjoy the game, wood bats work well.
2. Wood Bats Remove the Incentive for Players to Modify Their Bat
Even though the BBCOR standard ensures metal and composite are manufactured with certain standards, it doesn’t solve the issue of modification to bats.
With metal and composite bats, players can modify the bat to their preference after players have purchased the bat. For example, players can increase their bats’ performance by shaving their bat’s inside component, which causes more of a trampoline effect. If this were done in the Major Leagues, it could be detrimental to other players’ safety as well as the fans’ safety.
Any post-manufacturing modification to wood bats doesn’t affect the hit ball speed or cause a trampoline effect. So, this makes wooden bats much better to use in the MLB.
3. Wood Bats are Cheaper than Metal Bats
In general, wood bats are less expensive than metal bats. The cost of a metal bat ranges from $99-$350 while the cost of a wooden bat ranges from $30-$230.
To do a comparison, check out the baseball bats on Dick’s Sporting Goods website. You’ll notice that the wood baseball bats for high school and college players are typically cheaper than metal bats for high school and college players.
A lot of people may see the cost of a metal bat and justify the price because they’ll be using that bat for many years. But what happens if you need a new bat? Whenever baseball players want to change bats for any reason, one of the best and most cost-effective ways to do this is by using a wooden bat.
4. Using A Wood Bat Separates The Pros From Non-Pros
Players in metal bat leagues have an extra advantage over players in wood-bat leagues because metal bats tend to have more pop. This translates into more base hits for players who use metal bats because the ball gets through the infield a lot quicker. For example, players who use a metal bat and get jammed can still get the ball through the infield for a base hit.
However, with a wood bat, one would have to be skilled and precise to hit baseballs on the sweet spot of the bat. This means wooden bats give more honest feedback by telling you how well you can hit the ball off the sweet spot of the bat, which is due to the sweet spot of wood bats being smaller than that of an aluminum bat.
When it is time to separate the pros from non-pros, then how precisely a player hits with a wooden bat will be one of the major deciding factors on being placed into a lineup.
5. Using Wood Bats in the MLB is Tradition
Since the game began in the 1800s, wood bats were used by pros. And with so many world records and home run records recorded by batters who have used wooden bats, it would be impossible for the MLB to compare the stats of metal-bat players to those of wood-bat players.
Switching the Major Leagues from a wood-bat league to a metal-bat league means the MLB would have to use new metrics to measure and justify the upcoming records, which can be a whole issue on its own.
Plus, a lot of players and fans like the tradition of baseball. The idea of using metal bats instead of wood bats would very much go against the baseball tradition.
Why Non-Pros Use Metal Bats
Metal Bats Are Very Forgiving
Compared to wood bats, metal bats tend to have a bigger sweet spot. The barrels of metal bats tend to be larger, which means there is more room for error in someone’s swing.
The sweet spot of a baseball bat is the area on the barrel where players want to hit the baseball. Hitting the ball off the sweet spot of the bat gives players the maximum velocity of the ball off of the bat. The sweet spot is usually 4 to 7 inches from the end of the bat.
Therefore, you would see most non-pros players using metal bats because a larger sweet spot means there is more room for errors during their swing. Most non-pro baseball players do not practice as much as pro baseball players so using metal bats allows non-pro baseball players to be competitive in their leagues by having a larger sweet spot.
Metal Bats Do Not Break
The bat not breaking is a primary reason why non-pros, like college and high school players, use metal bats. Even though wood bats can save a player money, it can also end up costing non-pro players a lot of money.
With a smaller sweet spot and lower skills compared to Major League players, non-pro players are more likely to break their bat than professional players. Even though wood bats are generally less expensive, wood bats would end up costing more if players had to go through multiple bats per season. To save money, the best thing they can do is to use metal bats because metal bats do not break.
But this doesn’t mean that metal bats do not break either. Metal bats do break, but the chances of a metal bat breaking are far less than the chances of a wooden bat breaking. And usually, players can miss the sweet spot of a metal bat several times without breaking their bat. Aluminum bats are more forgiving and use stronger material than wood bats.
Metal Bats Have More Pop
When a ball hits a wooden bat, the bat will compress. This compression causes the ball to lose much of its energy, which means the ball doesn’t travel as far compared to a bat with less compression.
Metal bats keep more energy in the ball, which is responsible for something known as the “trampoline effect“. When the ball loses less energy it means there is a higher chance of the ball springing from the bat and traveling further.
The energy loss is less in metal bats because, during a collision between the ball and the bat, the bat does more bending than the ball. And the result is more “pop” from using a metal bat over a wood bat.
How Do Players Transition From Metal-Bat Leagues To Wood-Bat Leagues?
The very first step players want to take to help make their transition easy is to simply practice with wood bats. Practice can be done during the off-season or during normal baseball practices. The idea is to just get used to the feeling of hitting with a wood bat over a metal bat.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using a wooden bat:
- There can be a change in weight because wood bats tend to be heavier, up to 5 ounces heavier in some leagues
- If the wood bat is heavier than your metal bat then expect your swing to be slower at first
Practicing with wood bats will not only prepare you for major league baseball, but it also improves your swing and your accuracy in hitting the sweet spot when you use a metal bat again – whether that’s in college, high school, or middle school. Regardless of your age, practicing with a wooden bat can be very beneficial because it helps with your overall swing.
If it is allowed, you can also use wood bats during a game in a metal-bat league, but keep in mind that metal bats are more forgiving and it would be more beneficial to your team if you use a metal bat.
What Type of Wood is Best for Baseball Bats?
While there are various woods used to make baseball bats, Major League baseball uses three main types of wood:
Let’s take a look at each and the pros and cons they have.
Maple is one of the most common wood types used in major league baseball. In fact, maple bats make up roughly 95% of all bats used in the Major Leagues.
Even though it wasn’t quite popular at first due to the slow growth of the maple tree, the hardness and the heaviness of maple became popular over the last 20 years due to it being the type of wood used by Barry Bonds.
The popularity of maple baseball bats among MLB players was mostly due to how great it felt to hold and, thanks to the wood’s heaviness, the ball would travel further. In addition, maple bats are resistant to bugs and are more durable.
One con is that maple bats break easily when contact is made towards the end of the bat. When maple bats break, they shatter, which can also cause injury.
Ash bats are another common type of wood bat in the MLB and they are the second most popular wood bat being used. The prominent and straight grain lines can identify ash bats.
Ash bats are popular among some major league players because ash bats tend to be more forgiving than maple bats. When compared to maple, ash has a much softer feel to it. So, lots of major league players prefer ash. The wood’s softness makes the wood flexible and light, giving baseball players more whip to hit the barrel at a much faster speed easily.
Ash trees come from Pennsylvania, and one major event that set back the usage of ash woods among MLB players is that the emerald ash borer, a beetle species, infested the Ash trees. This ended up causing a decline in the production of ash bats.
Also, ash bats tend to break easily when compared to maple. Even though ash bats are popular among players in the league, most major league baseball records were set by players who used ash. For example, Babe Ruth hit all of his 714 home runs using ash bats. Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record with 715 home runs, thanks to ash bats.
Even though ash bats may be on the decline, they still hold a great legacy in Major League baseball history.
If you are looking for a bat somewhere between the hardness of a Maple bat and an Ash bat, then a Birch bat is what you might be looking for. Birch is not as hard as maple but a little bit harder than ash and you will recognize birch bats by their curly grain lines.
One reason why major league players use birch is that the wood’s hardness increases with every impact. So, the more you use it, the harder it gets. Birch also combines the hardness of maple and the flexibility of ash.
While birch might sound like the perfect bat for all players, it is the third most popular bat due to a few reasons, but it does seem to be growing in popularity with time. The reason birch isn’t popular among major baseball players is that it tends to have a breaking point when it breaks after a certain number of impacts. Birch bats tend to break after 30 to 50 contacts.