A Guide to Selecting a Softball Bat
Even though it sounds counterintuitive, it can actually be proven that softball is more challenging than playing baseball! This is because a softball field is smaller than a baseball field, as is the distance from the mound to home plate. So softball requires a faster reaction time on the part of the batter. Also, the larger ball allows pitchers to change the speed of the pitch drastically. For these reasons, as a batter, you want a high-quality bat, so that you’ll be able to compete!
We’ll see that there are softball bats for fastpitch and slowpitch softball. Besides their differences in length and weight, they’ll also differ in the materials used. We’ll go through some of the specs to help you know what to choose according to your batting stance and style. And there will also be differences in whether the bat is for youth or seniors. And you’ll want a bat with a large “sweet spot”, so that you can hit for power, comfortably!
Are slowpitch and fastpitch bats interchangeable?
In principle, you can use them interchangeably, but it’s not recommended. If a fastpitch softball bat has the approval of the ASA (=American Softball Association), it can be used in slowpitch softball as well. But a fastpitch bat may be too light for the power needed in slowpitch softball. (Since the ball is pitched at around 25 mph, the batter must supply more strength to get the ball to go far.) And a slowpitch bat may be too heavy to swing around in a fastpitch setting. (A fastpitch softball pitch will typically be thrown at 75 mph, so you have to get the bat around more quickly.
What is the difference between single- and double-walled softball bats?
A single-wall softball bat refers to a type of bat that has a single layer of material in its barrel. In other words, the barrel of the bat is composed of a single wall or layer of material, such as aluminum or composite. Single-wall bats are commonly used in slowpitch softball, where the ball is thrown underhand with an arc. These bats are typically heavier and have a larger barrel diameter compared to fastpitch softball bats. The single-wall construction provides durability and can generate considerable power upon contact with the ball.
Single-wall bats were popular in the past when they were the standard choice for softball players. However, in recent years, multi-wall bats and composite bats have become more prevalent due to their enhanced performance characteristics. Multi-wall bats have additional layers within the barrel, while composite bats use layered materials to optimize performance.
What are the two pieces of a composite bat?
A composite bat is divided into two main parts: the barrel and the handle. The barrel is the thicker, wider part of the bat that makes contact with the ball, while the handle is the thinner section held by the player.
Barrel Construction: The barrel is formed by wrapping multiple layers of carbon fibers or other composite materials around a mandrel, which is a cylindrical mold in the shape of the barrel. The layers are usually pre-impregnated with resin, which provides strength and durability to the bat. Each layer is carefully applied and aligned to optimize the bat's performance. This is then cured and hardened until it is solid.
Handle Assembly: The handle is typically constructed using a combination of materials like carbon fibers, fiberglass, or other composites. The handle is designed to provide players with a comfortable grip and reduce vibrations during play. This is then connected to the barrel at the “joint”, either by mechanical or chemical means. The pieces are joined so as to allow for smooth, efficient energy transfer to the ball, in a way that won’t sting your hands.
Types of Softball Bats
Softball bats come in various types and are designed for different levels of play, personal preferences, and league regulations. Let’s first distinguish between bats for slowpitch and for fastpitch softball:
Slowpitch Softball Bats: These bats are designed for slowpitch softball, where the ball is thrown underhand with an arc. Slowpitch bats are typically heavier, with a larger barrel diameter and a more balanced weight distribution. They often feature a single-wall or multi-wall construction for durability and power. The Worth 2022 Krecher Slowpitch Softball Bat is a carbon fiber bat that is 34” long and 26 ounces in weight. It is weighted towards the barrel end, to provide more momentum to the ball.
Worth 2022 Krecher Slowpitch Softball Bat
Fastpitch Softball Bats: Fastpitch bats are used in fastpitch softball, where the ball is pitched underhand with speed. These bats are generally lighter in weight, with a smaller barrel diameter and a more balanced or end-loaded design, depending on the player's preference. Fastpitch bats are typically made with a composite material, aluminum, or a combination of both. The Louisville Slugger 2022 LXT Fastpitch Softball Bat is a composite softball bat for fastpitch softball.
Louisville Slugger 2022 LXT Fastpitch Softball Bat
We can also distinguish between softball bats by their composition:
Composite Softball Bats: Composite bats are constructed using layered materials such as carbon fiber, graphite, and fiberglass. These bats offer a larger sweet spot, reduced vibration, and better performance compared to aluminum bats. Composite bats require a break-in period to reach their maximum potential and are popular among serious players. The Rawlings 2023 Mantra Fastpitch Softball Bat is an example of a composite bat.
Rawlings 2023 Mantra Fastpitch Softball Bat
Aluminum Softball Bats: Aluminum bats are made entirely of aluminum or an aluminum alloy. They are durable, have a wider range of options in terms of weight distribution, and require no break-in period. Aluminum bats tend to have a louder "ping" sound upon contact with the ball and are commonly used at the recreational level. An example is the Easton Ghost Fastpitch Softball Bat. It is made of a single piece of aluminum and has USSSA (=United States Specialty Sports Association) approval for fastpitch games.
Easton Ghost Fastpitch Softball Bat
What reviewers say
We went over some customers’ impressions of the softball bats that they bought:
Price range: You’ll notice that these composite bats are quite expensive. Whereas you can get an aluminum bat for under $50, composite bats can run as high as $350 and up! Be aware that playing with these bats can cause them to dent or even break in fast-pitch conditions!
Smart bats: There are also smart bats, which have sensors in the bat’s knob. An example is the Rawlings 2023 Mantra Fastpitch Softball Bat. It will send feedback to your phone regarding your swing mechanics, such as the angle at which you connected with the ball, the acceleration, and other analytics. This can be essential in pointing out areas in which you need to improve!
Here are some tips about features to look for when choosing a softball bat:
End cap specs: An end cap is a component located at the end of a softball bat barrel. It is typically made of durable material, such as rubber, plastic, or composite. It can add a bit of weight to the barrel, to propel the ball further, increasing how the ball responds off the bat. The end cap can contribute to the overall stiffness or flex of the barrel. A stiffer end cap may enhance power transfer and increase the "pop" off the bat, while a more flexible end cap may provide a trampoline effect, generating more bat speed and potentially increasing the distance the ball travels upon contact.
Weight differential: A longer bat will give you greater reach across the plate, but will also be heavier and harder to swing. On the other hand, a shorter bat allows for more control but has less reach to the outside of the plate. One stat that you’ll see on many bats is a negative number, called the “weight differential” or “drop”. This number combines the two characteristics in one stat. It’s the difference between the length of the bat in inches and the weight of the bat in ounces. So, if you have a bat that is 28” long and weighs 18 ounces, the weight differential is -10. The closer the drop is to 0, the less the bat weighs. That will allow for a faster swing. But a drop that is more negative will give more power while being harder to swing.
Bat performance factor: Another stat of a bat is the “bat performance factor”, or BPF, which is a measure of the liveliness of a ball bouncing off your bat, as compared to the ball bouncing off the wall. For example, a bat should have a BPF of 1.15, meaning that the ball will rebound 15% faster than if it were bounced off a wall. That is the rating used in baseball bats for youth. A BPF of 1.20 is used in fastpitch and slowpitch softball. And a BPF of 1.21 is used in softball for senior citizens.
BBCOR certification: You’ll see baseball bats with BBCOR (= “Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution”). It’s a test made to ensure that composite and aluminum bats perform in a way that’s similar to traditional wooden bats. They test the bat by firing a ball at the bat, and recording the speed of the ball before and after hitting the bat. If the ratio of the speed after/speed before is .50 or less, the bat receives BBCOR certification. If the ratio is greater than .50, it means that the ball comes off the bat with too much energy. This can affect the integrity of the game, and endanger the pitcher as well.
We went through some of the specs of softball bats, including the weight performance factor, the materials of the bat, and the different bat requirements for fastpitch and slowpitch softball. Whether you play softball in an official league with design requirements on the bat, or if you just play for recreation, you’ll surely be able to find the bat that suits your needs!