How 'Bat Fitting' Took A Page Out Of Golf's Playbook
Five years from now, Great Lake Bat Company founder Aaron Chamberlain expects that hitters won’t have a specific type of bat they love to use—they’ll have several.
“Within five years, bat bags will look like golf bags,” Chamberlain said. “Some bats will be a quarter-inch longer or a quarter-inch shorter. Some will be a half-ounce heavier or a half-ounce lighter. If you’re facing the closer, the hitter will think, I need to pull something different (from the bat bag).”
Chamberlain is a bat manufacturer, so him proposing one player carrying a variety of bats sounds like a clever ploy to sell more bats. But he’s been gathering data to support his proposals.
Thanks to Chamberlain and a few others, baseball is starting to tread where golf trail-blazed long ago. Anyone who has ever golfed knows that one driver does not fit all. Some golfers are better off with a longer shaft. Some want an oversized club, while others want a smaller and more controllable head.
Now, bat fitting is starting to catch up to that. For decades players have consistently searched for the best bat for them. But thanks to bat sensors and some new tools, bat fitting is starting to become a much more scientific process.
Great Lake Bats Company and Axe Bats are both working on ways to make bat fitting much more data-driven. Far beyond trying to simply match a hitter with a bat that has the proper weight and length, the new bat fitting will look at weight loading, grips and eventually a variety of factors.
Chamberlain has come up with a tool to quickly help a hitter find the proper bat weight/length combination as well as the best weight loading for them (best thought of as the bat’s pivot point). He hands the hitter a wooden bat that looks like any other wooden bat until you get to the barrel. There he has a weight that can be adjusted to seven different spots. By using a bat sensor placed onto the handle, hitters can quickly take swings with the weight at all seven spots, shifting the center point of the bat’s weight from closer to the handle to the end of the bat and to each spot in between.
The sensor allows Chamberlain to quickly determine where the hitter generates the best bat speed and power using an algorithm he has created. Surprisingly, the results are not linear.
Axe Bat and Driveline Baseball have been working on a similar idea. Driveline has had hitters swing with a variety of weighted bats to help build bat speed as well as bats with a variety of loadings to develop better barrel awareness and control. From that, Driveline’s Jason Ochart began measuring which bats fit better for different hitters.
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Multiple hitting instructors said in their tests they have found that switching a hitter to a properly fitted bat can make a difference of 1 mph or more in average exit velocity. The jump comes both from improved bat speed as well as the consistency of hard contact.
“You don’t have to change your swing and all of a sudden you get better right now,” Chamberlain said. “What this is is an amplifier for all the work you already put in.”
Chas Pippitt, owner of the Baseball Rebellion hitting facility, said one of the toughest aspects he’s found is getting hitters to trust the data. A hitter may find that their ideal bat doesn’t feel as comfortable initially as their normal bat. But if they stick with it, they quickly see the data that proves that it’s making a positive difference in their hitting.
“One of the beautiful things about bat fitting is it’s non-discriminatory,” Chamberlain said. “You can have an awful swing and we can make you a little bit better. You can have a great swing, we can make you a little bit better.”
This approach could take on additional avenues in upcoming years. With metal bats, it will be possible to test whether a hitter does better with a stiffer or more flexible bat. Similarly, grip widths, cupping of the edge of the bat and other variables can be introduced and tested to further tweak a hitter’s best fit.
“We’re just getting our foot in the door,” Chamberlain said.
The idea is gaining traction quickly. Since attending the American Baseball Coaches Association trade show in January, Chamberlain has had discussions with nearly one-third of major league organizations.