What Hitting with a Wood Bat Can Teach You.
One of the biggest things that hitting with a wood bat can teach a hitter is feel.
Feel. We talk about it all the time as coaches. Our hitters need to “feel” the movement or feel what we’re trying to teach them in a drill. If they don’t feel it, we have to find a different approach to get them to. That’s why The Hitting Vault has multiple drills to teach the same thing. Not every drill clicks with every hitter.
Speaking of feel, one of the things we want our hitters to feel is the sweet spot of the bat. A lot of the pro players I work with don’t have the best mechanics and body movements but what they do excel in is the ability to get the sweet spot of the barrel to the ball. That’s obviously one of the most important things to do as a hitter.
Wood Bats Don’t Lie
One of the best ways to teach that “feel” is to hit with a wooden bat. With the sweet spot much smaller on a wood bat than aluminum, it forces the hitters to feel the barrel’s sweet spot more and helps the hitter focus on better mechanics and approach. Wood bats give a hitter much tighter “feedback” on their swing.
The weight is also distributed much differently in a wood bat vs. aluminum. In aluminum bats, because the barrel is bigger with a bigger sweet spot the weight is more end loaded vs a wooden bat.
What are the Benefits of Swinging a Wood Bat?
Hitting with a wood bat also teaches better plate discipline and exposes weak swing movements. Many times, if a hitter swings at an inside pitch with a bad swing with a wood bat they get “sawed off” that results in either a broken bat or a nice sting to the hands. With an aluminum bat, they don’t get the same feedback. To put it simply, unless you’re a giant, you have to have solid mechanics to hit with a wooden bat.
When should I start using the wood bat?
I prefer my hitters to start hitting with wooden bats as young as possible. Don’t wait until you’re forced to use a wood bat in a game scenario. It is the best way to get the true feedback and feel involved with making contact in the sweet spot of the bat. With my younger hitters, I’ve noticed this really making a difference when they make the switch back to their aluminum bats. Younger hitters start to become self aware of how they are making contact and can start to feel what great contact feels like. Switching back and forth between wood and aluminum mean the hitter learns more quickly. Ultimately improving their contact point and unlocking their power.
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Few things to consider when picking up the wood bat
So now that we know practicing with a wood bat is going to help our hitters feel the sweet spot of the bat, we need to keep a few things in mind to be sure we are swinging it correctly. First, it’s inevitable that wood bats break. Even the best hitters in professional baseball will break a bat from time-to-time, we’ve all see highlights or been to a game where a broken bat goes flying. With a few tips and making contact on the right side of the bat, your hitters can get great work done with the wood bat and really start to feel the sweet spot when making contact.
Where is the right side of the wood bat and how do I find it?
One of the most common mistakes for younger hitters is making contact on the wrong side of the bat. When swinging a wood bat is important to make contact on the edge grain which is the strongest side of the bat.
Often times you’ll hear coaches say “label up” or “label out.” This is one way to ensure you are making contact on the strongest side of the bat. Most wooden bats are made with the label and bat information printed on the weakest part of the bat. While in your stance, if you place the label towards you (label up) or away from you (label out) that will put hitters in a good position to make contact on the edge grain. To double check your contact point, follow these tips to make sure your contact point is correct:
- Start with the bat logo facing you in your stance
- Take a dry swing stopping where you would normally make contact
- At your contact point, make sure the label of the bat is pointing at the sky or directly to the ground. This will ensure your contact point is on the edge grain (the tightest grain).
Where is the sweet spot on a wood bat?
Once the hitter is feeling comfortable with making contact on the right side of the bat, it’s time to barrel up balls in the sweet spot and feel the difference. The sweet spot on a wood bat varies depending on the size, but a general rule for adult bats is the sweet spot starts about 2 inches from the end of the barrel, and goes in towards the handle about 6-7 inches. If you’re hitters are consistently making contact in the sweet spot using their wood bat, it will be a great confidence boost for them as they transition back to their metal bat.
Few tips when you hit the cage with your wood bat
Plate Discipline – when hitting live in the cage, it’s important to treat each pitch as you would in a game scenario. You’re not going to swing at pitches 2 inches off the plate in a game right? So don’t make it a habit in the cage! Make sure you’re hitters are selective and only swinging at strikes. Taking this approach will also extend the life of your wood bat as swinging and hitting pitches off the end of bat, or on the handle greatly increases your chances of breaking the bat. When taking batting practice we want to focus on the quality of the swings and building good muscle memory. If our hitters get moving too quickly fatigue can set in and ultimately teach hitters bad habits and muscle memory that can carry over to game situations.
Hitting rubber balls – if the only cages you have access to utilize rubber balls for their pitching machines, be sure to wrap your barrel with athletic tape or invest in a bat sleeve to protect your bat. Rubber balls are not good for your bats (metal or wood) and most companies will not honor bat warranties that show signs of being used with rubber balls.
The wood bat hurts my hands – this is a common complaint that I hear from hitters that first pick up the wood bat. If your hitters are constantly shaking their hands after contact or experience “bat sting” this simply means they are not hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat. This is one of the major benefits of practicing with a wood bat, hitters can literally feel when they are not hitting the ball in the sweet spot of the bat.
Hard work, works