What Baseball Bat Should You Use in 2011 in Little League, High School or College?

By Steve Kallas 

Much has changed in the landscape of baseball bats for the 2011 season. If you are buying one of these bats, be very careful, especially if the bat is a BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bat. Rules have changed for this year and will change for the 2012 year as well. After telling us (incorrectly) for years that the BESR bats are virtually “the same” as wood (an absurd conclusion), the times, they are a changin’. Most important, BEWARE THE BAT SALES. Right now, every day in the Northeast, one can see commercials for baseball bats at half-price, etc. We will discuss those below.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN DEFINITIONS/ABBREVIATIONS?

Some definitions: BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio): The BESR bat has long been a standard for bats, especially in Little League. For years, people like Rick Wolff of WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” radio show (Sunday mornings at 8 on WFAN) and this writer have pointed out at length the obvious differences between wooden bats (where all levels of baseball should return to) and the clear dangers of metal bats (just watch or pitch batting practice to a group of kids using both metal and wood bats – the difference is obvious). The BESR, a wholly inadequate standard (now recognized as such, however subtly, by virtually everyone), simply measures the exit speed of a ball off a bat.

BBCOR (Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution): This is the new standard in NCAA college baseball for 2011 and for high schools in 2012. Without being too technical, the BBCOR standard measures the “trampoline” effect of a ball off a bat. By virtually all accounts, the BBCOR bats are much “deader” than the BESR bats and are much closer to wood in terms of “pop” off the bat.

ABI (Accelerated Break-In): This is in response to the increased use, in recent years, of composite bats (composite bats are even better than aluminum bats, from a “pop” standpoint, as they have a woven graphite wall and actually get stronger as they are “broken in” (whether legally, with use, or illegally, with “bat-rolling” techniques)). A bat must stay within the ABI standard over time to be legal.

BPF (Bat Performance Factor): Still used by Little League’s “Majors” Division (13 and under), a non-wood bat must have a BPF of 1.15 or less (and will be labeled as such). It is a measurement that is supposed to show that a non-wood bat has similar qualities of “pop” (for lack of a better term) when compared with a wooden bat. In this writer’s opinion (and the opinion of many others), clearly the non-wood bat with a BPF of 1.15 has much more power and/or ability to swing it faster, etc. than a wood bat. It simply hits the ball harder with a much bigger sweet spot than the traditional wood bat.

Finally, when ”composite bats” are discussed, the term refers to composite-barreled bats, not bats with composite handles.

LITTLE LEAGUE BATS

A bit confusing, but go to Littleleague.org and ask either someone you trust and/or a knowledgeable Little League official BEFORE purchasing a bat. In the latter part of 2010, Little League placed a moratorium on composite bats. BUT, there is now a growing list of, to quote the website, “specific models of composite-barreled baseball bats [that] have received a waiver of the moratorium after a testing/approval process.”

While the “normal” (for lack of a better term) bats are still usable in Little League, the composite bat cannot be used unless Little League has granted that particular type of bat a waiver. Again, it is important to go to littleleague.org to see which bats are “usable.” Beware also, that Little League now has a number of caveats attached to their lists, including the most important (confusing?): “These lists do NOT depict all the bats that could be used in games and practices. Such lists would be impossible to compile.”

Little League does tell you that your bat should comply with Little League Rule 1.10 (for the Majors division, that means not more than 33 inches in length nor more than 2-1/4 inch diameter and a BPF of 1.15 or less) and NOT be a banned composite bat. In 2012, in all divisions of Little League above Majors (that is, Junior, Senior and Big League Baseball — ages 13 and over) will go to a BBCOR standard.

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL

Inexplicably (or maybe to protect bat inventories in stores?), the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) has set forth rules where the BBCOR standard will not go into effect until 2012. There is at least one exception in California, where the BBCOR standard is in effect for the 2011 season. However, in 2011 in high school baseball, a composite bat can be used IF it already meets the tougher BBCOR standard that will become mandatory in 2012.

See the loophole here: In 2011, in high school baseball (other than in California), one can still use a bat with the much looser BESR standard (under NFHS 2011 Baseball Rule Changes at page 2: “Through December 31, 2011, each aluminum bat shall meet the Ball Exit-Speed Ratio (BESR) performance standard.”)

Uh-oh. That means, in this writer’s opinion, that high school baseball in 2011 (everywhere but in California) will be more dangerous than it will be in 2012.

Why wait to make the obvious change?

Be sure to check www.nfhs.org if you (or, if you are the parent, your child) are playing high school baseball this season.

NCAA COLLEGE BASEBALL

The BBCOR rules are in effect for 2011 for any college baseball division that is under the auspices of the NCAA or follows NCAA rules in general. That means that any bat, even a composite bat, that meets the BBCOR standard, can be used in NCAA baseball in 2011. There is also an ABI (Accelerated Break-In) standard that must be met (again, in the past, people have been “rolling” composite bats as such bats get better with use) in order to be a legal bat in 2011. To find out more information, google “NCAA Baseball Bat Standards.” This also means that power numbers will be down in the college game in 2011.

BEWARE THE BAT “SALES”

As noted at the beginning of this article, be very careful in buying a bat this year, especially for high school players. The “sales” you are seeing are, most often, FOR BATS THAT YOUR CHILD MAY NOT BE ABLE TO USE IN 2012. For example, if you buy a BESR bat in 2011 (and, in the northeast, the top-of-the-line of those bats can go for up to $350 or $400), YOUR CHILD CANNOT USE THAT BAT IN HIGH SCHOOL IN 2012.

Proceed with caution.

CHECK YOUR LOCAL LEAGUE’S WEBSITE

Obviously, the above does not cover everything. Travel teams in the summer, often now a much higher level of baseball than high school or Little League (and where serious players will often play with wood bats), go from league to league and tournament to tournament with different rules on virtually a weekly basis.

There are obviously many other leagues. While it appears that American Legion ball has placed a moratorium on composite bats for 2011, BESR bats are still allowed in 2011 and the BBCOR standard will be in effect in 2012 (see www.legion.org). In Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken, it appears that there will be no composite bats allowed in the older divisions (13-15 and 16-18) but in the younger Cal Ripken divisions, composite bats will be allowed in 2011. Other leagues (like Pony Baseball and Dixie Youth Baseball) will not ban composites for the 2011 season.

Softball is beyond the scope of this article but, for example, Little League has not banned composite bats in their softball division. Again, check your local league or state high school federation’s website for more information.

BE CAREFUL

You have to be proactive when buying a baseball bat this year for virtually any baseball player. Speak to a knowledgeable league official but, more important, check the website of your local league or high school federation. Remember, if you buy an expensive BESR bat this season, that bat may be banned next season. If you take advantage of those “sales,” it’s probably a one-year deal.

The rules are pretty confusing. But it’s up to you, the parent (as usual), to do what’s best for your child.

  • george

    hi steve i listen every sunday morning to rick wolfe and i love his show . i also find that whenever you are on i think it is an informative time and i listen and enjoy……. however i must respectfully disagree with you and mr wolfe on the bat issues. i like the aluminum bats !!!! i like the fact that a hitter can get a good swing on a ball and power it deep. i think that baseball is making a mistake going back to wood and the bbcor bats . please hear me out. i feel that hitting is the most difficult thing to do in sports. for the player who is going to play pro ball of course the best course of action is the wood bat. but how is the proliferation of the game going to continue when the hitters see their averages drop 50-100 points? will the game grow? what i am saying is that i feel alot of athletes will abandon the game once their super bats are taken away fron them. i can see it already in the amateur ranks. i played in the met league here in nj for over 10 years from the 70s into the 80s. one year they allowed the aluminum bats. the averages soared . the hitters loved it, pitchers did not. i am sure that there are many more postion players than there are pitchers playing the game. i really feel that the game will suffer because of this implementation of this rule. i think also that there are many college coaches who agree with me. not every college player will be playing pro ball. i say keep the aluminum bats. i just humbly disagree with you. i beleive that the game will suffer in regards to participation because of this rule. if they used wood bats in little league i think it is possible that no one gets the ball out of the infield. i know it is popular to advocate for the wood bat nowadays but i do not. when i played high school ball we used wood bats. when i was 19 the aluminum came into existence. it livened up the game and kept me interested , and playing, for 30 years. when we went to the wood bat it was like going back into time. it is quite an adjustment. my sons high school bunts with one out with a runner on second to advance the runner. what fun is that?? hitting is the fun part of the game. i hope you are not terribly disturbed by this letter. ii think that there are many who agree with me. sincerely george

    • steve kallas

      Hi George, Thanks for taking the time to listen to Rick’s excellent show and to write a response to my column on baseball bats. It’s actually refreshing to hear from someone on the side of using such bats. But we will have to agree to disagree. The bats as made in the last 15-20 years had become, in my opinion, incredibly dangerous. When the rules were changed after the 1998 College World Series, it limited the power of the bats but they just went from unbelievably dangerous to terribly dangerous, in my opinion. The problem with keeping the bats the way they were is one of safety. There have been a few deaths in the last few years and many, many comas (with Gunnar Sandberg in California being the latest last year). While you may be right that the lack of hitting with one of these much stronger bats may have some kids trying other sports, the reality for me is that baseball is the greatest game, the hardest to be good at, precisely because it’s so hard to hit a round ball with a baseball bat. It takes much more to be an excellent baseball player than it does to be an excellent football or basketball player. How many kids can possibly go from high school to major league baseball? None. How many kids can even walk out of college ball and go right to major league baseball and have an impact? Virtually none (yet look what happens every year in the NBA and the NFL). And while even baseball is becoming a “Big man’s” game (that ship sailed long ago for football ande basketball) to some degree, there still is some room for “the little guy” (David Eckstein comes to mind). These things were and are very important to me as a kid (being taught by my dad), as a player (in high school, college and semi-pro baseball) and, now, as a parent. So, thanks for writing, George, and keep listening to “The Sports Edge.”

  • Scott

    Steve – Thank you very much for lifting the fog on this. Your article was the first comprehensive explanation of all this that I’d seen.
    /Scott

  • Bette Sobotka

    Is the Omaha TPX composite legal for highschool play in 2011 and is the DeMarini Vexxuum legal? This bat was just purchased in July 2010. Shouldn’t the highschool association and the bat industry be working together on this issue? It makes it tough for schools with small budgets to purchase these bats as well as parents. Enough time should be given to all parties for changes.

    Thank you for your attention in this matter.

  • Hi Bette, Thanks for the question (I am assuming that you do not live in California). I went to http://www.nfhs.org, the National High School Federation website. They have a list there (under baseball) of approved composite bats for use in high school play in 2011. While I see a number of DeMarini bats, including the DeMarini Vendetta, I do not see the DeMarini Vexxuum. Nor do I see any Omaha bat on the list. The list I saw at the website today (April 20) says appoved as of March 10, 2011. But, as I read the site list, those two composites (I assume the DeMarini is a composite based on your e-mail) would not be allowed this season. At a minimum though, I would ask the coach or contact someone at nfhs.org (there might also be an updated list that is not on the website yet). Good Luck. Steve Kallas

  • VJ

    My Son is now 11, 5’2′ 106lbs he was using 31″ 28oz bat (little league) This fall he will play on Sr. legaue team that uses big barrell 2 5/8 (I think). Should he use 30″ 20oz, 29″ 19oz, or 31″ 22oz. I do not want bat to seem to short for him, but not sure how much weith to add now that he is getting older and bigger. Thanks, VJ

    • Rick Wolff

      All that matters at age 11 is that your son finds a bat that he feel both comfortable and confident with. In the end, it’s most important that he doesn’t use a bat that slows his swing down. That’s the key. He’ll start to use bigger and longer bats as he gets a little older. Coach Wolff

  • VJ, I agree with everything that Rick says above but I don’t understand how your son was using a bat that was -3 at such a young age. Normally, in LL (the younger age group that your son is in) you use a -10 or so. He will eventually use a -3 as he gets older (I know in New York, where I live if you are using non-wood, you have to use a -3 once you get out of LL). If he’s only 11, I would think a minus 3 bat would be very hard for him to swing. As Rick said, you have to have him comfortable with a bat he can swing. My experience is that 31 inches is generally too long for an 11 year old of his size. 29 or 30 inches, at this stage, is probably best, along with a -10. Steve Kallas

    • hayden

      Is the besr cf4 demirini bats legal?

  • Mike

    There is this amateur field close to where I live and the fences are 400 Center and 330 right and left. I always wondered why such a big difference in amateur fields from past years. This article answers my question. Thank you!

    PS Rick I have your book “Playing Better Baseball”. I really like it!

  • floyd

    Is the 2010 demarini cf4 -3 32/29 2 5/8 barrel bat legal for junior little league for the upcomming 2012 season?

  • hayden

    Is besr cf4 demirini bats legal for 13year old travel baseball

  • Mike

    Rick Wolf,

    In the book “Playing Better Baseball” you said that scouts look at players who can hit consistently against top amateur pitching. What is meant by in your definition “top amateur pitching”? Is it varsity, high school regional, all-star tournaments, etc?

    I’ve been out of baseball for over a decade but always wondered what you meant by that.

    • With respect to specific bats for specific leagues, it is very hard to give an answer. For high school and college, you must now use a BBCOR bat. For Little League, there are different rules for different age groups (see little league.org). Frankly, for travel teams, it is literally from team to team, league to league and even tournament to tournament from one week to the next. For travel, summer team, league (non-high school and non-college), you simply must consult the coach and read carefully the league and/or tournament rules. I’m sorry it can’t be more specific, but that’s the nature of baseball until there is a return to wood everywhere, like there is in New York city high school baseball.

    • Rick Wolff

      Hi Mike – by “top amateur pitching” I meant HS varsity pitching that is competitive. But of course, HS regional and all-star tournaments are even more competitive. If a young hitter can make consistent and solid contact against those levels of pitching, then he should be on his way to handle the next level. All best, Coach Wolff

      • Mike

        Thanks!