Aluminum vs. Wood

It is spring again, and that means the return of our national pastime: baseball.Baseball season gives people the chance to go out to the ballpark, spend a couple hours with friends, eat a hot dog, “root, root, root for the home team” and hear the “ping” of the bat.

“Ping”?

While the college game currently uses aluminum bats, many baseball purists and fans of the big league game prefer the “crack” of wooden bats.

In 1974, aluminum bats were introduced to college baseball and with the bats came higher batting averages.

WHAT HAS THE

NCAA DONE?

According to a study performed by Daniel A. Russell, applied physics professor at Kettering University, batting averages increased by .041 from .265 to .306 during the first 11 years that the aluminum bats were in use by the NCAA.

That same study showed that averages began to drop back down to around .290 in the early 1990s. Part of the reason for that could have been the introduction of a new rule by the NCAA.

After 1985, the NCAA created the “minus five” rule. This rule meant that the difference of a bat’s weight (in ounces) from a bat’s length (in inches) couldn’t be more than five.

For example, a 33-inch bat couldn’t weigh any less than 28 ounces or it would be deemed illegal. Batters’ swing speeds could have been greatly affected by this rule and it could help explain for the drop in batting averages after the rule was instituted.

This was the last change the NCAA would make to regulation of aluminum bats until after the 1998 season. During the “September Protocol” in 1999, the requirement of “minus three” bats was instituted, according to NCAA.org.

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO HIT WITH A

WOODEN BAT?

All of TCU’s baseball players play with an aluminum bat during intercollegiate games, and some practice with wood bats in the cage, but, when the season closes, they go to play in wood bat leagues for better preparation for the college game and possibly the next level.

One of the biggest differences hitters notice when playing with an aluminum bat compared to wood bats was the size of the sweet spot.

The sweet spot on a bat is “a region, approximately 5-7 inches from the end of the barrel, where the batted-ball speed is the highest and the sensation in the hands is minimized,” according to Russell’s study.

“The difference between a metal and a wood bat is that you have got to be so precise with the wood,” said junior catcher Andrew Walker. “The sweet spot is really small. With a metal bat, you can get jammed and sometimes still hit the ball out of the ballpark in some places.”

Because of this, some players feel that playing with wooden bats provides great practice for college players.

“I think (wood bats) are good for college players because the bats are heavier and it is harder to hit the sweet spots,” junior shortstop Bryan Kervin said.

Other players recognize that due to the room for error, the dominance is switched from the batter to the pitcher in wooden bat leagues.

“With a wooden bat, you don’t have that much room for error; you have to hit the ball on the barrel,” junior outfielder Clint Arnold said. “I like hitting with the metal bat; there is more room for error and the ball goes harder and farther. With wooden bats, the pitchers are going to dominate a lot more than the hitters.”

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO PITCH TO ALUMINUM?

“In college, it is like throwing to a Wiffle ball bat,” senior pitcher Donald Furrow said. “It is so much easier because of the metal. With aluminum bats, you get away with so much more ‘Punch and Judy hits’ that get hit off the handle and still get bloop hits.”

Those little bloop hits off the handle of aluminum bats were a common complaint among pitchers.

“You don’t give up as many cheap hits with wood as you do with aluminum,” junior closer Sam Demel said.

“With a wood bat, if you get a pitch on someone’s hands, the bat will shatter and the ball won’t go anywhere. But, with aluminum, they can get a little bloop single on an inside pitch.”

While pitching to aluminum might be more difficult than pitching to wood, many pitchers view pitching to metal bats as a good chance to learn.

“Now, with the aluminum bat, if you make a good pitch, you may not get rewarded, but you learn from it,” Demel said. “At the next level, you make that same good pitch and you don’t get rewarded for it, you know you have been through it before so you don’t get frustrated.”

Another pitcher doesn’t focus on the type of bat at all.

“As a pitcher, I don’t take too much into wood or aluminum,” junior pitcher Chris Johnson said. “I just try to hit the mitt and not worry about it. I think this makes us concentrate and hit our spots better so when we get to the next level and we hit our spots they aren’t going to get flare hits.”

While the aluminum bats probably are not going any where any time soon, Furrow has always been a fan of “old school” baseball.

“I think metal bats are the worst thing ever,” Furrow said. “Everyone likes the home run and that is what the metal bat provides. I have always been a fan of old school baseball. You wear your pants up and you swing a wooden bat.