There used to be a time when you could only buy wooden bats whether you were playing baseball or softball. Then suddenly, aluminum bats came in and swept everyone away with their lighter weight, faster swing, and more powerful hits. But these days, even aluminum bats have a hard time keeping up with composite bats.
Composite bats are made of carbon composite materials giving them a lighter and better feel. To many out there, a composite bat is the best type there is, but there are some out there who consider it overrated. So which group of people has it right?
Well, as a coach and an ex-pro, I think it falls on me to break the debate and give you the answer once and for all. Do composite bats live up to the hype? Are they good enough to take your hitting game to the next level? Should you buy one for yourself? These are the questions that I will try to answer.
What are the Advantages of Composite Softball Bats?
In many ways, composite bats will offer you better performance than aluminum or wooden softball bats. But it will not make you a superstar overnight. You still need to work hard and hone your skills if you want to go big in the sport. But having a composite bat instead of an aluminum bat allows you to use your skills better.
1. Better Damping
Softball bats, aluminum ones, in particular, have a massive stinging issue. This means that whenever the barrel of the bat connects to the ball, it sends vibration throughout the bat, which can be quite unpleasant for the hitter. Even the best aluminum softball bats have this issue.
However, with composite bats, the manufacturers give you better sting damping features that eliminate most, if not all, of the unpleasantness of aluminum bats. This will give you a better hitting experience overall.
2. Improved Trampoline Effect
Research and testing show that composite bats deliver a better trampoline effect compared to aluminum or wooden bats. The trampoline effect, in softball bats, refers to the phenomenon where the ball bounces off the barrel at the moment of collision.
With composite bats, manufacturers have greater freedom to fine-tune the composite material to deliver the best trampoline effect possible on a hit. This is one of the main reasons why people prefer composite bats over aluminum ones.
3. Better Durability
Composite bats are designed to last you a lifetime if you treat them right. These bats are extremely durable. Sure, in cold weather, composite bats can get ruined quite easily. But for summer or spring softball, you do not have to worry about it getting damaged in any way.
One of the main reasons people moved away from wooden softball bats is that they are a lot heavier than aluminum and composite bats. These days some high-end wooden softball bats come up with innovative ways to reduce their weight, but it is still heavier than other types.
While aluminum bats are considerably lighter than wood bats, composite bats are the best when it comes to weight. With a composite bat in your hand, you will be able to swing quicker without the weight of the bat slowing you down.
5. Better Weight Distribution
The balance of the bat dictates almost half of its performance. And it is common knowledge that composite bats have the best weight distribution among all other softball bat types. Sure, you can find a good balance with aluminum and wooden bats too, but composite has a slight edge.
Common Problems with Composite Softball Bats
Composite bats can be a great addition to your arsenal as a hitter. These bats are expensive, sure, but they are well worth the money if you have the skill to back them up. These bats are not without their fair share of weaknesses. Before you get one for yourself, you should have some idea of these issues.
Some of the common problems with composite softball bats that you need to know about:
1. Cold Weather
The main enemy of a composite softball bat is cold weather. You need to keep warm your composite bats. If not for their vulnerability to cold weather, composite bats might be considered the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, these bats are not designed to perform well under temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and can even break or splinter when you hit the ball.
In its defense, though, softball is mostly a summer or spring sport and generally not played during the winter. But the same cannot be said for training. If you live in a particularly cold state, then you might want to think twice before getting that shiny new composite softball bat that you have been checking out.
2. Requires Break-in
If you buy a new wood or aluminum softball bat, you can start playing in competitive matches with it right away. The performance of the bat will remain consistent throughout its lifespan. But the same cannot be said for composite bats. These bats require some breaking-in before you can see their best performance.
I can understand how this can be an issue for some people, but honestly speaking, the break-in period is not that much with it. You only need around 150 to 300 hits to break in your composite bat. But if you want to get to a competitive game right away with a new composite bat, you will see a noticeable lack in performance.
3. Requires Attention and Maintenance
A composite bat is extremely durable, but it requires a lot of care and attention to keep it safe. If you are careless with your bat, and just throw it in the locker when you are done with it, then your bat will break long before its due time. I don’t think I need to explain how that could be a bad thing.
To keep your composite bat working in its peak condition, you must wipe it down after each game or practice session. You also want to store it in a dry place that is not too cold or warm.
When Should You Replace Your Old Composite Bat with a New Bat?
If you properly break your bat in and use it with care, it should last you anywhere from two to five years. All bats require replacing eventually, and the same is true for even the best composite softball bat. So naturally, you would want to know when it is time for you to replace your bat, right?
I mean, just because the barrel of the bat is fine does not mean it is still performing in its peak condition. And a few minor dents here and there do not mean you should throw it away. So how would you know that you need to replace it?
Thankfully, there are a couple of telltale signs that you can check to see whether it is time to replace your old bat. Let me leave you with a couple of pointers to help you identify a dead composite softball bat.
1. Less Hitting Power
After breaking in your composite bat, you will notice a massive boost in your hitting abilities and power. You will be able to hit the ball further and swing the softball bat quickly without any issues. After a couple of years, this performance will start declining gradually. When you notice that the bat cannot hit the ball as far, this means it is almost time to replace your bat. I would recommend replacing it right away. But if you want, you can still get a couple of months of use out of it.
2. Dull “Thud”
Another common sign that a composite bat is at the end of its lifespan is a dull thud coming out of it when you hit the ball. When the bat is working perfectly, the sound it makes is hollow and deep. But as it nears the end of its life, the sound gets dimmer. Don’t worry; if you have used the bat for a while, you will definitely notice the change in its sound. And when you do, you need to prepare yourself to switch to a new softball bat.
3. Pronounced Stinging
Most composite bats come with some sort of sting damping feature to eliminate the vibration in the bat when you hit the ball. With a new composite bat that is at the peak of its performance, you will feel little to no stinging. However, as it nears the end of its life, the stinging becomes more pronounced.
This is one of the easiest ways to work out whether you have a dead bat in your hand or it is still usable. Just go to the ballpark and hit a couple of balls. If you feel the sting, that means you need to replace your bat.
4. Handle Issues
Though rare, some composite bats might get their handle pushed into the barrel. Needless to say, the bat becomes completely unusable at that point.
5. Crack Down the Barrel
It’s a no-brainer, but still, if you notice a large crack down the barrel of your composite barrel, replace it immediately. Some bats can even get split in half when their time is up.
Composite Bats: Yay or Nay?
A skilled hitter with a high-end composite bat makes a devastating combo. Sure, it has a couple of issues here and there, but if you want to take your batting game to the next level, a composite bat will not let you down. I am a fan, and if you try it out, I am pretty sure that you will love it too.
End of the day, the choice of the bat is an extremely personal one. I know a couple of hitters who still use a wooden bat and hit home runs like nobody’s business (in a casual game, of course). So, I would not say it is better than other bat types, but it is definitely a good one to go with.
Hopefully, my thorough look into the good, the bad, and the ugly of composite bats could help you figure out whether it is for you. Cheers!