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Regardless of how visually pleasing bats are becoming these days, there will always be much more to choosing the perfect bat for a hitter than “how does it look?” Hitters must take weight, length, weight distribution, and material among many others into consideration when purchasing a bat. One question many ball players wonder about is the length of their bat and whether or not it affects how far they are able to hit the ball.
No. The length of the bat does not directly affect how far a baseball will travel. It can, however, indirectly affect the distance of a batted ball.
Let me explain.
The Sweet Spot
The distance a baseball travels after making contact with the bat is dependent upon several different variables. What it basically comes down to is what part of the bat the ball makes contact with and the hitter’s swing speed.
The ideal spot on the bat to hit the ball is somewhere around the middle of the barrel (the largest part of the bat). This is what hitters call “the sweet spot”. When the ball makes contact with the sweet spot of the bat, the exit velocity depends on the amount of force that the hitter was able to apply to the swing. The higher the exit velocity, the farther the ball will travel.
One might think that a longer bat would result in a larger sweet spot causing the hitter to have a bigger margin for error. This is not necessarily true. The longer the bat, the heavier it will be, and hitters that use a bat that is too long for them will have trouble controlling the barrel throughout their swing.
To test this out, take a long broom and try to swing it as if you are hitting a pitch. Like a baseball bat, the broom is larger at the top than at the bottom, and while the weight on a baseball bat is distributed much more evenly, this exercise can provide a little visual of what it is like to swing a bat that is too long.
On the other hand, a bat that is too small does not bode well for the hitter either. This reduces the amount of plate coverage the hitter has and can also contribute to the hitter’s lack of control of the bat. To illustrate this, take one of the miniature bats often found in gift shops and swing it as if you are hitting a pitch. You will find that you may have too much control of the barrel that would result in struggling to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat.
Finding the Right Length
So how does a hitter know what size bat to use? McDougall Batmakers suggest this rule of thumb on their website:
“Swing the biggest bat you can control and still get around with control against the fastest pitching you will be facing.”
Essentially what they mean by this is that hitters should not sacrifice control of the bat just to simply use a bigger bat. Against average or below average velocities, a bigger bat will be helpful to provide a little more force for the hitter. However, against above average velocities, that bigger bat may result in a lack of control of the barrel (as mentioned earlier).
In the same article, McDougall points out that two hitting legends, Tony Gwynn and Barry Bonds, both used 32.5 inch bats — well under the average length of a major league bat. Neither of them had any trouble finding the sweet spot on their shorter bats.
If You’re Struggling. . .
Those who are new to the game may struggle with the previous rule of thumb for the simple fact that they just don’t know what to expect out of their ability to hit higher velocities. Thankfully, the world famous bat makers Louisville Slugger have offered this bat size chart to help hitters get started. Do not think of this as a one size fits all chart; think of it as a one size usually fits all model.
At the youth level, knowing the right length of bat to use is important because it directly affects the weight of the bat. Manufacturers call this “drop weight”. This drop weight can be determined by subtracting the weight of the bat from the length.
For example, college and high school players must use BBCOR certified bats which all have a drop weight of 3 (usually shown as -3). That would mean that a 33 inch bat would weigh 30 ounces. At younger levels, the drop weight is usually around 10 or 12.
Once players get to the professional level, drop weight disappears, and players are able to choose bats with custom length and weight. It is not uncommon for professional hitters to swing 34 inch bats that weigh 33.5 ounces. They may even opt for lighter weights than manufacturers typically offer such as 33 inches and 29 ounces.
At the end of the day, the appropriate length of the bat is up to the hitter and how they are able to control the barrel through their swing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who swung the longest bat in MLB History?
According to batdigest.com, Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio regularly swung 36 inch bats. At least a few of Pete Rose’s bats were also recorded to be 36 inches long.
Who swung the shortest bat in MLB History?
He was mentioned earlier as having swung a 32.5 inch bat, but one of Tony Gwynn’s game-used bats was measured at 32.25 inches long. That is ¾ of an inch shorter than the average length a 16 year old uses, according to Louisville Slugger.
Does the length of my bat determine how good of a hitter I will be?
Not at all. As is evident here. Some hitting legends prefer longer bats and some opt for the shorter ones. It is totally up to you and how the bat feels in your hands.
Bringing it Home
At the end of the day, bat length does not directly affect the distance the ball will travel. It does affect a hitter’s ability to control the barrel of the bat to make solid contact on the sweet spot of the bat.
Just remember. There’s a reason the hitter’s name shows up on the lineup card instead of the name of their bat. The distance the ball travels depends less on the bat and more on the person holding it.