Since big barrel bats were introduced at the senior level (players aged 13 to 15) and now at younger levels, coaches, parents and players have had a back and forth about their value. On the plus side, they increase the “sweet spot” of the bat and give you a better chance of making contact and hitting rockets. However, some coaches say they can cause bad swinging habits and ultimately make it harder to transition to high school where the regulations of what kind of bat you can use are stricter and big barrel bats do not exist.
What is a Big Barrel Bat?
In the modern era of baseball leagues at every level have defined the permissible dimensions of the bat. In the Majors, the bat may not be more than 2.75 inches diameter at the thickest part and may not exceed 42 inches in length. The weight of the bat is not restricted in the majors, but that becomes a factor as you move down into younger leagues.
In high school and college, the bat may not exceed 2.625 in diameter, must be between 31 and 34 inches long and must have a -3 length to weight ratio. This last figure is the important one to understand what a big barrel bat is and why it can sometimes be difficult to make the transition away from them. A “-3” drop means that that the number of inches minus the number of ounces must equal 3. So, if you have a 32 inch bat, it must weigh 29 ounces, a 34 inch bat must weigh 31 ounces, etc.
As you move below the high school level, leagues have different regulations about the diameter of the bat, the permissible lengths and the required length to weight ratio. Instead of the drop 3 bats of high school, it is common to operate with drop 8’s (think 30 inches and 22 ounces as an example) and you get a range, depending on the age of the player, between drop 5 and drop 13.
In leagues that do not specify a maximum diameter, it is permissible to use a bat that is lighter and shorter than the high school bat, but with a barrel size that is equal to or even higher than the high school standard, as big barrel diameter sizes go up to 2.75 inches. This is what a big barrel bat is. As an example, here are the dimensions of the drop 8 Louisville Slugger Big Barrel Bat, the Warrior: Length: 29 inches, Weight: 21 ounces, Diameter: 2.625 inches (max high school size).
This gives you a bat that is a little lopsided in its appearance, but is beefier right where you want the contact to be.
You want young players to develop confidence at the plate and the big barrel gives you a better chance to make contact and to hit more line drives. Getting the ball in play creates a more enjoyable game for everyone. Plays are being made, runs are actually being driven in and kids are enjoying their time at the plate.
If some adjustments to different bats must be made as kids get older, they still develop stronger hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and batter IQ because they are making contact more often.
It is such an adrenaline rush and one of the very beautiful things about playing the game just to feel the crack of the hit and to start running up the first base line. Contact gets kids into the game.
These bats were originally intended for kids one level below high school ball. Even at this point, the different shape of the bat can create some transition problems. You start to take for granted the longer sweet spot on the bat and it is possible that you do not develop the quickness and strength in the hands that you need to make adjustments in your swing to use that sweet spot.
The real problem comes when you use big barrel bats for younger kids. When you have light, short bats with big barrels, you are ultimately swinging something with a shape and weight distribution that is too different from what you will be using in the future and it can cause the development of habits that will not serve the young player well in future development.
At all levels, the weight is not evenly distributed in these bats and for some hitters this makes them a little harder to control. In hitting you always need bat speed and you want power in your bat. You might get a bigger sweet spot with a big barrel bat, but it can also reduce your bat speed and make you vulnerable to the faster pitchers in the league.
A practical problem is that some leagues have stricter regulations on the maximum permissible diameter of bats and you might be buying a bat that you cannot use in the games. For example, in the Little League Senior division, the maximum diameter is 2.625, which would prohibit the widest of the big barrel bats.
The Bottom Line
At the senior level, the big barrel bats are close enough in shape and feel to high school bats that it is really up to players and coaches to make the judgment whether the trade-offs you get are a factor for the individual hitter. If a hitter is consistently late on the pitch, then maybe the slower bat speed is a factor. If a player is relying too much on the arms and not developing the hands, then maybe it is time to go the smaller barrel. In other cases, the increased contact could be a good thing for the development of a hitter.
What is more clear is that for younger kids using bats with big drop ratios and big barrels, they are more likely to develop bad swinging habits. You want the kids to have the experience of making contact, but not at the cost of a good swing in the future.