The first real baseball bat was created in 1884 and it took 90 years before the next major change to baseball bats: aluminum.
That's because in 1974, after a few years in which bats made from tubes of aluminum started to appear, the NCAA approved the use of aluminum bats. Homerun totals increased and batting averages sky rocketed. The change was subtle, at first. Aluminum bats were simply a metal version of a wood bat. But, the metal made the bat more durable and, in turn, cheaper.
Now, aluminum bats are used in Little League, softball, college baseball, and high school. Professional baseball hasn't adopted aluminum bats for a number of reasons, but mostly to preserve historical records that were achieved through player ability rather than bat technology. Also, aluminum bats have received criticism for being dangerous. So, what are the differences and advantages between wood bats and aluminum bats?
- Bat Responsiveness: Whereas aluminum bats are lighter and minimize vibration to the player's hands, wood bats give the hitter the bat's feedback with contact. This allows the hitter to develop better mechanics.
- Improves Player Strength: Manufacturers craft wood bats with the intention of making them properly weighted. The proper weight gives wood bats balance, which allows hitters to drive the ball. Contrastly, aluminum bats are intentionally light, which produces golf-like swings from metal bat hitters.
- Safer: Sure, wood bats can shatter, but aluminum bats increase the velocity of the ball off the bat tremendously. Because of this, pitchers, infielders, and fans are put in harm's way with little reaction time. Many Leagues have taken steps to reduce the risk and protect players with rule changes (BBCOR, 2018 rule change link).
- Player Advancement: Wood bats make a hitter better and, therefore, give the hitter a better chance at graduating to the next level of play. It's harder to transition from metal to wood and wood bats develop skills, because the bat has a smaller sweet spot and improves swing speed.
- Larger Sweet Spot: Aluminum bats are ideal for beginners, because the bats are lighter and easier to swing. This provides a larger sweet spot, which means even less-than-ideal contact could result in a base hit.
- Do Not Break: Wood bats, especially popular thin handled ash bats, are prone to breaking; especially on inside pitches. Aluminum bats make inside pitches singles and the bats don't break. This is why most college teams switched to aluminum in the early 1980s, because wood bats would break a lot, high quality wood was harder to find, and so wood bats became more expensive.
- Trampoline Effect: When contact is made, the thin walls of aluminum bats flex. This transfers some of the contact's energy from the bat to the ball, which propels it farther. In contrast, wood bats absorb most of the contact's energy rather than redistributing it to the ball. Thus, a trampoline effect.
- Faster Swing Speed: Quite simply, aluminum bats are constructed to be light weight. Due to this, the bats are lighter than wood bats, so it's easier to swing the bat quickly.
In the end, aluminum bats provide more power, a faster swing, and a larger sweet spot. So, in terms of head-to-head, aluminum bats are better than wood bats. However, coaches, instructors, and serious players should use wood bats, even if it's just for training or practice. Why? Wood bats provide hitters with better mechanics, better approach, better contact and makes the player a better hitter.
Want to put up great statistics? Use an aluminum bat. Looking to make the Pros? Use a wood bat.
What do you think? Do you have a preference? What advantages or disadvantages have you seen?