Obviously it depends on your age, and younger players will certainly need smaller bats. Other factors commonly used to judge bat length include height and weight. A typical chart displaying the typical bat lengths used by players based on variables like height, weight, and age, can be found on Louisville Slugger’s website.
As a player seeking to break into the minor leagues, however, I find that these charts are not always accurate. Such charts are recommendations only, and do not even list bats of 35 inches or longer, even though many players used to use them for the first century or so of baseball’s history, including such famed hitters as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe Dimaggio.
One thing I use to determine which bat length to use is bat speed. If you have such exceptional bat speed that you are constantly pulling the ball in the dugout, you may want to try a longer bat, since it will slow your swing down enough that you should start hitting more balls fair. This was one of the reasons I started using a 36 inch bat, because I was too far out in front of everything I was swinging at, even though the aforementioned chart suggests that I use a 33″ bat, or at most a 34″ one.
However, if you are tardy on your swings, you may want to try a shorter bat. If you do have the bat speed to use a longer bat though, there are many advantages to be desired. Because the bat is traveling more during the swing, it accumulates more power; power which is further increased by the naturally greater weight that comes with a longer bat. Bigger bats mean better power, whether because of weight or length.
What is more, longer bats also provide the added advantage of better plate coverage. You can reach outside areas of the strike zone with your swing that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. It also increases your ability to hit those outside pitches well since you can get to them with a normal swing rather than having to reach out and take an off-balance swing which of course would mean very little power and probably bad contact as well.
All of that however, applies only if you have the strength, bat speed, and bat control to catch up to the ball when it’s on the outside of the plate. If you can’t control the bat well or swing it fast enough to catch up to the ball you’ll probably want to switch to a smaller bat.
There is an old cliche that “hitting is all about timing”, and it’s true! Therefore, choosing your bat should be a process tailored to your timing at the plate. Choose too heavy a bat and you’ll be late with your timing. Choose too light a bat and you’ll be early with your timing and be so far out in front of the pitch you might have a better chance of hitting the ball with your back-swing!
The basic idea of choosing a bat is to maximize your timing and ability to make contact with the ball. Charts simply provide recommendations, and you should choose the bat length that best suits your personal swing and timing at the plate.
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