Your Kid Can’t Hit ...because their bat is too long!

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Here’s the pitch; a swing and a miss. OK, buddy you’ll get the next pitch …pop-up, Alright, good; we made contact on that one. Pitch number three: weak ground ball to the first baseman …out again.

Why do many kids take looping swings under the ball, pop up or hit weak ground balls to the opposite side of the field?  There are some mechanical reasons, but a major factor for many is they use bats that are too long.

When the discussion of bat size comes up the primary issue discussed is weight; length isn’t given as much thought (by parents).  Regardless of weight, the longer the lever (bat), the more difficult it is to control.  And while I am not a physicist (nor is it likely that many reading this are) I will suggest that a longer lever puts more stress (the feeling of weight) on the muscles in the wrists and arms. A longer bat feels heavier.

Why do kids want to swing such long bats? There are two reasons I am told by parents (and by some kids too):

1.    The older kids, to whom younger kids look up to, use a longer bat and little kids naturally want to be like the bigger kids (or older brother/sister).

2.  They think they need a longer bat to reach the outside part of the plate...not understanding that the sweet spot begins approximately four-plus inches from the end of the barrel.  If their reasoning was correct they would need a bat that reaches four inches, or more, beyond the outer edge of the plate (how to properly hit an outside pitch is another discussion).

 

The first step to improving kids’ success at the plate is to get a shorter bat in their hands.  Based on my experience working exclusively with the 12u age group over the past six years I feel the longest bat a 12u player needs is 29”.  There is the rare exception of the kid pushing six feet who might need to go up to 30”.  A good length for a Tee-Baller is 24” or 25”.  Most kids age 9 or 10 will do fine with a 27” bat.  Based on these two examples you can fill in the gaps based on your child’s age and size.

The most important factor in determining which bat is best for your child is to find one the feels good to them.  This means taking them to the store and having them hold and swing as many bats as possible until they find one that feels right.  The length of the barrel, width of the handle and distribution of weight along the length of bat varies, giving each bat a unique quality of feel.  While your child doesn’t have the experience of a college star or a pro they will get to the point during your visit where they will tell you, “I like this one best”.

Regarding the issue of weight, it is my opinion that most (if not all) bats on the market are too light.  It will be difficult to find a bat that is too heavy if you purchase one that is a good length for your ballplayer.  Bat manufacturers produce a good percentage of bats to serve the lowest common denominator (kids who swing with their arms and not their legs) resulting in them making very light bats.  I do not fault the manufacturers for doing this, however.  They are in the business of supplying a product that best serves the broadest aspect of the market.

If your child is receiving proper batting instruction that has them utilizing the strength of their legs to power the swing you will be hard pressed to find a new bat that is too heavy.  If finding a heavier bat is of interest, the place to shop is Goodwill or a second hand sporting goods store.  My 5’ 2” 85lb, 10 year old son swings a 27”, 22 oz bat that I bought for $5 from Goodwill.   I am not a cheapskate, but that is the only place I could find a ‘good’ bat for him.  I would guess the thing is 20 years old.  I am not suggesting you take your child to Goodwill and buy them an old bat, but if you want to find a bat that is a few ounces heavier that is where you have to go.

So here I am suggesting you ditch your kid’s bat and get them a shorter one; who am I?  …just some dude up in Seattle where it rains all the time and kids only play the game six months a year.  In order to better support the suggestion of going with a shorter bat I will extend the conversation to a few guys who were fairly accomplished hitters…

Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest batters in MLB history and a grown man who weighed 220-230lbs during his playing career started out his career using a 32 1/2 inch bat and did not go longer than 33 inches.  Barry Bonds (who was a great hitter regardless of what types of enhancements he might have used late in his career) swung a 33 1/2 inch bat part of his career AND choked up.  Babe Ruth is even quoted as saying that he would have been smarter to have used a shorter bat, which he did switch too later in his career.

Babe Ruth Preferred a Shorter Bat (click)

 

 

“…I should have known all along, that I could do better with a shorter bat. ...going to the shorter bat was one of my best moves, and I have wondered many times since why any player would bother with swinging a stick an inch or two longer than was absolutely necessary.”

Tony Gwynn used a Shorter Bat (click)

“…first 12 years of his career, he used a 32½-inch bat…”

 

How much should I pay for a bat?

Unless you are sure you have a child that is going to be a core member of the 11 or 12 year old All-Star team, I see no reason to spend more than $60 on a bat. There are many quality, name brand bats on the market for $40. There are more bats available the go well into the three digit range that have the space age trampoline technology that may perform a bit better.  Your family budget might make that an option to explore.

However, when it comes down to it, the person swinging the bat contributes the lion’s share to success.

A couple of years ago I worked with a kid and had him try a 28”, 22oz bat from the batch I picked up from Goodwill.  He ended up using it for his 12 year old season.  Many considered him the best batter in the league and he was using an old thing that cost $5.

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