BY AARON BARROWS
In today’s world, players have more choice than ever when selecting a new non-wood bat. While there are many factors that make up a decision, in this article we are going to cover the differences between material and construction types.
Aluminum / Aluminum Alloy
Aluminum has been used by bat manufacturers since the 1970’s to create some of the best performance bats that we’ve ever seen. Known for having a very light weight along with a good strength to weight ratio, aluminum was, for a time, the perfect metal for bats. In the process of creating aluminum bats, notes were taken from different industries, namely aerospace, and manufacturers started adding in other elements with the aluminum to create alloys. Long story short, these other elements can enhance the strength properties of aluminum while also lowering the overall weight.
In regards to bats, manufacturers use different alloys and wall thicknesses to build the best bat they can in regards to performance and durability. With any bat, durability and performance operate with an inverse relationship, as one goes up, the other goes down.
Bottom line: An aluminum bat is always hot out of the wrapper as there is no need to “break it in”. One piece aluminum bats tend to vibrate more in the hitter’s hands and provide a stiffer feel on contact.
Composite bats have been around longer than many think. Unfortunately, when they first came out, the durability was beyond awful, so it took a while for them to catch on. Now that manufacturers have things figured out, they have become favored over their aluminum counterpart by most, especially with younger players. These bats are made up of multiple materials such as carbon fiber, graphite and fiberglass among others. When combined, they provide an extremely strong, lightweight alternative for bat construction. With more design control than aluminum, composite bats tend to have longer barrels and perform better over a longer portion of the barrel.
Bottom Line: Newer composite bats don’t take as long to break in, but each one still needs some hits on the barrel to loosen the fibers up. Since manufacturers can control every inch of a composite bat, it allows them to create bats with longer barrels and sweet spots. Most composite materials naturally dampen vibration, which helps eliminate sting on mis-hits. While there are 1 piece composite bats out there, most are multi-piece. The added connection area creates another opportunity to dampen bad vibration.
(cross-section of the Rawlings Quatro composite bat)
The most common hybrid construction consists of a multi-piece bat with a composite handle and an alloy barrel. Many players really enjoy the vibration dampening that the composite handle provides, but still like having a stiff alloy barrel.
With some recent innovation, some single piece aluminum bats with composite end caps have been referred to as hybrids as well. While that is technically true, I personally feel like it isn’t a true hybrid.
Bottom line: Traditionally constructed as multi-piece bats, hybrids provide the stiffness that many hitters love about an aluminum barrel combined with a composite handle to dampen vibration on mishits. Newer, untraditional hybrids are one piece aluminum bats with a composite end cap to provide a lower swing weight.