Today’s hitters are plagued with the problem of wood bat breakage. Nowhere is this more apparent than the recent maple bat dilemma in the Major Leagues. Dangerous fragmentation of maple bats that has resulted in serious injuries has brought to light the hazards created when no attention is given to proper instruction of hitters regarding edge-grain orientation at the point of contact. Most wood bat breakage issues can be resolved by properly orienting the logo (or trademark) so as to place the edge grain parallel to the flight of the baseball at the point of contact. This is the position that yields the lowest breakage and the highest hitting power.
The traditional saying “logo face up”, has its origins in the early years of baseball when hitters used a different style of hitting. Hitters like Gehrig, Dimaggio, and others swung the bat more linear and transferred more weight to the front foot. This forward momentum kept their upper body level and thus the bat barrel did not rotate. Today’s hitters use a rotational method of swinging a bat. More weight is placed on the back leg with the hitter rotating the torso. This causes the shoulders to dip toward the ball and creates rotation of the bat barrel. The result is today’s hitters tend to hit with the flat grain of the bat more often and this results in breakage and loss of power.
To cut down on breakage, hold the bat in front of you with the logo up (or facing you). Then rotate the logo towards your lead shoulder (shoulder closest to the pitcher). The more you hit off your back foot, the more you should rotate the bat toward the lead shoulder. The maximum angle should be 45 degrees. You may want to place a mark on the bat once you get the ideal alignment. This should put your bat in the proper hitting position with the edge grain aligned perfectly to hit the ball. This proper alignment not only will decrease breakage dramatically, but will also increase hitting power due to the restriction of the flexion of the bat.
Other things you can do to reduce breakage include:
• Use a heavier bat. A -3 metal swinger does not equate to a -3 wood swinger. The metal bat has higher strength than wood at low weights. -3 wood bats break more often than -2 wood bats. Remember, there is no such thing as -3 trees. To get lower weights you have to sacrifice density and that decreases strength. Ideally, you should hit with a wood bat weighing the same as the length. A 33″ bat should weight 33oz. The difference between an even weight bat and a -3 is less than a hamburger patty so man up and move up in weight for better performance.
• You can also increase the handle diameter. Most wood bat companies offer handles below 1″ in diameter which means the bat will break very easily. Old school handles were often greater than 1″ which made the bats slightly heavier but reduced breakage. Also, a larger diameter handle means less flexion and that equates to greater power.
Lastly, pitchers with good fastball movement can saw you off on the inside and there is not much you can do about it. But, a majority of bats that break did so when hitting the outside pitch and in particular, off-speed. The ball doesn’t need to be thrown hard to break a bat. Hitting off the last 2″ of the barrel causes the bat to flex backwards excessively and will fracture the bat at a point close to the hands and the break will be formed at the leading edge of the bat. This is opposite that of a bat broken by an inside fastball that breaks on the trailing edge. An inside fastball hits the handle and stops the momentum of the handle. The barrel, having more mass, continues forward and causes a U-shaped bowing of the bat forward. This causes the bat to break at the hands on the trailing edge.
The key to hitting the outside pitch is to hit it off the back of the plate. This will allow the barrel to hit the ball solid and drive the ball hard to the opposite field. Not timing the outside pitch properly causes poorly hit balls off the end of the bat, weak squiblers, broken bats, shame, ridicule, losing, you get the picture. Practice hitting for power to the opposite field. It can only be done by hitting off the back of the plate. You should never begin hitting practice with inside pitches you can pull. Always have the BP thrower start you with outside pitches and work the pitches inward.
Recently, the MLB passed a series of wood bat guidelines. In these guidelines was the requirement to place logos on the “face of the grain” instead of edgegrain. This would decrease breakage and by their own admission, decrease performance. Oddly enough, this method works for breakage because now instead of the players rotating the face side of the grain toward the baseball, they now rotate the edgegrain toward it. Unless of course, the hitters know the facegrain orientation causes decreased performance and do not put the logo side up but place the logo facing the pitcher or catcher. We have observed this to be the case.
The corrective technique mentioned in this article could have accomplished the same result without the widespread chaos and large amount of expenses incurred by bat companies to comply with the MLB rulings.
Remember, good technique and focus reduces bat breakage and increases performance.