How to Choose a Fastpitch Softball Bat

7 Steps to Choosing the Right Fastpitch Softball Bat

Of all the softball equipment you will buy, the bat is probably the single most expensive item so you should spend some time picking the best one. Fastpitch softball bats should be chosen based on the player’s skill, size, strength, hitting style and personal preferences.  There are several factors to consider when choosing the right bat for your hitter. These include budget, type of bat, bat length, bat weight, barrel size, certifications and hitting style. Once you’ve read over this list, take a look at our Top 10 Fastpitch Softball Bats.

1. Set your softball budget

Unless you have unlimited income or a really great sponsor then you should definitely consider the budget when purchasing a new softball bat. Bats can run from $50 up to $300+ so you really want to stop and consider what level of investment is right for your athlete’s skill level and playing ability as well as your budget. There is a great saying that the bat doesn’t make the softball player. I’ve seen home runs hit with $50 bats and girls swinging the latest and greates $300 fastpitch bats strike out every time they go to the plate.  The tool is only as good as the carpenter.

  1. Determine what type of softball bat you want

Your choices here are basically aluminum vs. composite. There is a big debate on which type of bat is better and I think it really boils down to personal preference and budget. There are also four terms you should know when choosing a bat type:

  • Trampoline Effect: Describes how stiff the barrel is when hitting the ball. A stiff barrel will mean it compresses less as it hits the ball which causes the ball to compress more and therefore not fly as far. A springy barrel will compress more allowing the ball to compress less and fly further.
  • Bending Stiffness: Refers to the bend in the handle. When the ball is hit anywhere but in the sweet spot the handle vibrates either a little (if the handle has low bending stiffness) or a lot (if the handle has a high bending stiffness). The less bend the more stinging you will get in your hand.
  • Swing Weight: Refers to how easy it is to swing the bat and whether it feels balanced or top heavy (also called “end loaded”). The closer the balance point of the bat to the handle, the easier it is to swing.
  • Sweet Spot: This is just what it sounds like, the ideal “sweetest” spot on the bat with which to hit the ball. It provides the least amount of stinging in the hands, the maximum speed off the bat and the best hit possible. It is in the barrel of the bat but the exact location varies from fastpitch bat to fastpitch bat. A bat with a “larger sweet spot” will let less experienced hitters still be able to find the sweet spot easier. To determine where it is on your bat, hold the bat in one hand and drop a softball from the other hand onto the barrel from about 2 inches away. Keep moving down the barrel until you find the area where the softball bounces back up the furthest and it sounds just a little different than the rest of the barrel.

Aluminum:

  • This type of fastpitch bat has been around the longest and is a perennial favorite
  • Provides for a lighter weight with increased control and bat speed
  • Tends to be very durable for fastpitch
  • Weight distribution tends to be more balanced so they may swing easier
  • Tends to be less expensive than composite bats
  • Makes the “tink” sound when hitting a ball
  • Can be used in any type of weather even cold
  • May dent but won’t usually break or crack, can still be used effectively even when dented
  • May offer more of a “stinging” sensation when hitting due to the bending stiffness of the material
  • Comes in single-layer or double-layer construction
    1. Single-layer bats maximize the trampoline effect and balls usually fly off faster
    2. Double-layer bats are more durable and have a larger sweet spot

Composite

  • Made from blend of graphite and carbon fiber or aluminum cores inside of graphite lining
  • They are lighter than aluminum bats but contain metal rods to get them up to the minimum weight standards required
  • This rod allows the weight distribution to be determined at time of manufacturing. This means the composite bats have a different feel than aluminum and tend to more often be top heavy
  • They are more elastic than aluminum bats so the trampoline effect is greater
  • The barrel and handle may be made of different materials or in two different pieces which offer the ability to have a soft barrel (more trampoline effect) AND a stiff handle to minimize stinging, offering kind of the best of both worlds scenario
  • Offer a more muffled “thwack” sound when hitting a fastpitch softball
  • Needs to be “broken in” with about 150-300 hits in order to maximize performance. This strengthens and compresses the fibers to their optimum levels.
  • Tends to be more expensive than an aluminum bat
  • May break or crack in cold weather or with use, once cracked the bat is useless

 

2. Pick softball bat length

  • By Age Only

choose fastpitch softball bat by age

This chart will give you a jumping off point to pick a bat length. However, if you know anything about kids you know that height and weight can vary greatly within each of these age groups. The more accurate way to pick a bat length is to use the next chart based on the athlete’s height and weight.

 

 

  • According to height and weight

This is the more accurate way to pick a bat length than by age alone.

choose bat length based on players height and weight

Choose Fastpitch Softball Bat by Age and Weight

Once you find a fastpitch bat you think is the right length based on one of these charts, have the fastpitch player do the practical test:

  • Have the softball player hold the bat with either hand, about one inch away from the knob
  • Have her relax her arm at her side so the bat extends down the side of her body
  • Make sure the athlete is standing up straight, not leaning toward or away from the bat
  • If the bat touches the ground, the bat is the proper length
  • If the bat does not touch the ground, it may be too short
  • If the bat touches the ground but the athlete’s hand has to slide down the handle (away from the knob) in order to continue standing straight up, the bat may be too long

 

3. Pick fastpitch softball bat weight

Most fastpitch bats are weighted in ounces. You will usually see a weight-to-length ratio on the bat. This is also referred to the “drop”. To determine the bat weight you take the length of the bat minus the drop and that will be the weight. For example a 31” bat with a -11 drop will weigh 20 ounces. How do you choose what weight bat is right for your player? It really depends on her strength and her hitting style.

Strength – the player should be able to hold the bat by the handle straight out from her body at shoulder level with her dominant hand for 30 seconds. The player’s arm and bat should be in one straight line parallel to the ground with the barrel of the bat farthest away from the player. Her arm will be tired but shouldn’t hurt and the softball bat should have stayed still the entire 30 seconds, not be shaking. This will let you know if the bat is too heavy for the player to swing. If she can hold it for 30 seconds with one hand she can swing it over and over with two hands. It should also not be too light though or you won’t get maximum power with her swing.

Generally speaking, power hitters do better with heavier bats and control hitters or those just learning to hit will usually do better with a lighter bat. A player should swing the heaviest bat she feels comfortable with and that she can hold as described above for 30 seconds.

4. Choose Barrel Size

You should consider both the diameter of the bat as well as the barrel length. Again, a longer barrel length will generally provide a larger “sweet spot” when hitting. Standard barrel diameter for a fastpitch bat is 2.5” – 2.75”.  A smaller diameter may be lighter and therefore easier for some players to swing while a larger diameter will give you more surface area with which to hit the ball but may swing a little bit slower.

5. Choose Fastpitch Softball Bat that is Certified

Most bats will be certified by one or more of the fastpitch softball governing bodies such as the ASA or USSSA. This will normally be printed on the bat barrel or head. Ensure your bat is certified for whichever governing body the league you play in subscribes to. For example if you play in a league that follows ASA rules make sure your bat is ASA certified. This will help ensure you don’t run into any questions or problems about whether or not the bat is “legal” to use during a game or tournament.

choose a softball bat

How to Choose a Softball Bat

7. Try out several fastpitch softball bats

Once you’ve looked all the specs and narrowed down the field based on the 6 criteria above, the best thing you can do is try out a few. Every player has a personal preference and batting style. What may seem like a perfect bat on paper may not “feel” right when she swings it. Don’t ignore this step otherwise you may end up paying $200 for a bat that your player hates, won’t use or won’t use well.

All of the information regarding the specs of the fastpitch bat (length, drop, barrel diameter) can usually be found printed on either the barrel or the knob. Use these specs to help determine whether the bat fits into the size, length and weight that are appropriate for your fastpitch player. Test out a few preferably in a batting cage or on the softball field if possible. Once you’ve made a decision and purchased the bat get as much practice with it as possible before a game time situation, especially if it is a composite bat that needs to be broken in. Most of all enjoy the bat and have fun getting hits with it!

Take a look at our list of the Best Girls Fastpitch Softball Bats to help narrow down your search.

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2 Comments

  • […] Bats – this is the level where you may start investing in a better bat for your player. I say investing because good bats START at about $80 and go up from there. There is much debate over composite vs aluminum bats and I’ll do an article on that later but ultimately it’s a decision each player needs to make about what they feel comfortable swinging. If at all possible, try to let your player test out the bat before you make the purchase. I’ve known people to spend $400 on a bat that their daughter absolutely hated. If you don’t have that as an option do as much research on the bat you are interested in before you purchase it. Check the forums, ask around what other players are using, and ask the coaches what they recommend. Don’t sink what amounts to an average car payment into a bat without being as sure as possible that it’s the right one for your player. Read more about how to choose the right softball bat. […]

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