There’s nothing quite like a good ol’ ball game on a pristine field in early spring. But which ballgame are you playing—baseball or softball? They’re both probably the best sports to have ever existed in our completely unbiased opinion, but ultimately, what’s the difference between the 2?
The biggest difference is the equipment used: the ball and the bat. Let’s take a look into what makes the equipment for each sport unique.
Wood Baseball Bats
Baseball bats come in a wide variety of models, normally specified by weight and length for hitting profiles. They’re also made from one of (typically) 3 types of wood:
- Maple is the densest and heaviest wood available for wood bats. It gives you great pop off the ball for long shots, but it requires some muscle to swing it properly.
- Ash is the least dense and lightest wood available for wood bats. It’s more porous and flexible than maple, and it has a trampoline effect where the wood compacts behind the ball and then expands outward, giving it some extra launch.
- Birch is a good happy medium between ash and maple—it’s denser than ash but still retains some of the trampoline effect. Birch is an excellent choice for those new to wood bats.
To illustrate, a batter who wants to make contact and hit singles will prefer a lighter weight bat, whereas those who want power in their swing will opt for a heavier bat. Extra-base hitters who fall in between the two will probably want a more balanced bat. With wood bats, unlike metal bats, the more barrel you have, the heavier the bat will be.
All wood baseball bats for high school age and above must have a 2.5" or larger barrel and can be no lighter than a -3 length to weight ratio. This weight-to-length ratio is referred to as “drop weight.” So a 32" bat with a -3 drop weight will weigh 29 ounces.
The difference in drop weight between a singles hitter and a power hitter for wood baseball bats is just one ounce. So unlike metal bats, you cannot have a big barrel and the lightest weight. In the pros, players may only use single-piece wood bats.
Wood Softball Bats
Wood softball bats, like baseball bats, are designed for hitting profiles. Just like baseball bats, the power-hitter bats will be heavier and typically more end-weighted than singles- or extra-base-hitters' bats. Moreover, wood baseball bats are typically only made from maple or birch. The larger softball is tougher on wood bats, so they need to be strong.
When selecting a softball bat, it’s important to determine if it’s going to be used for slow-pitch, for fast-pitch, or for training.
Today, the majority of wood softball bats used for gameplay are for men's slow-pitch leagues to help make the game safer. With a wood softball bat, hitters return to who they really are. The power guy will still be able to jack it out of the park swinging a heavy bat. The smaller guys return to being contact hitters or extra-base hitters as technology is removed from the equation.
Thicker-handled bats will hold up to men's fastpitch leagues since a softer ball is typically used to compensate for pitch speed. But the windmill, high-velocity pitching, and harder ball used by women affect the success of using wood softball bats in their games.
That doesn’t mean softball bats aren’t of much use to our lady softball-playing friends: wood softball bats are excellent for training. Wood softball bats, just like wood baseball bats, promote good swing technique by leveling out swings, which promotes more drives into the gap.
Wood softball bats are also great for hand-eye coordination and for strengthening the wrist and forearm areas. An early adopter of such for training, a university in northern Iowa has seen the results of such training on the field. More and more progressive instructors and programs are taking up wood softball bats and wood softball training bats.
In either case, wood softball bats are made of higher-density wood. These bats help transfer more energy to the softball upon contact. To help with the transition to wood, some wood softball bats feature a straight transition from handle to knob, resembling the feel of a composite or aluminum bat. But options in balance, weight, handle size and knob feel exist to meet every players’ need.
Differences Between Wood Baseball and Softball Bats
There are several differences between the wood bats designed for baseball and softball use. Notably, it begins with the design specifications of each. Baseball bats typically have a diameter of 2.5–2.53”. ASA-compliant softball bats, on the other hand, have one size barrel: 2.25”. Along with thinner barrels, softball bats are typically longer than baseball bats.
There are significant differences in weight-to-length ratios between wooden baseball and softball bats. As mentioned above, wood baseball bats have drop weights of -2 to -3 ounces, whereas softball bats have a drop of -3 to -5 ounces. So the difference between singles bats, extra-base bats and power bats in the world of wood baseball bats is just 1/2 ounce between each. For wood softball bats, that difference grows to 1 ounce at each step.
With softball bats, handle diameters tend to be slightly thicker and transition from barrel to handle tends to be at a more gradual slope. This difference is mostly due to durability since softball players are hitting a harder and larger ball. Most baseball players of today prefer a slightly smaller diameter handle and faster transition from barrel to handle to create more bat speed. Smaller handles are why wood baseball bats tend to break more often.
Training Benefits Gained with Wood Bats
Wood bats are excellent for training whether you’re playing baseball or softball. When compared to metal bats packed with high-tech materials and larger sweet spots, wood bats favor a more natural and refined technique.
The technology present in aluminum and composite bats can compensate for flawed technique and underpowered swings, but that’s not the case with wood bats. When you train with a wood bat, you can expect these improvements:
Technique and plate discipline
If you take away the technology, all you have left to work with is your technique and plate discipline. Wood bats have a more even weight distribution and encourage better swing mechanics, and the smaller sweet spot requires better hand-eye coordination.
Wood also offers better tactile feedback on clean shots and mishits. If you hit off the barrel end or near the handle with a wood bat, you’re definitely going to feel it (and not want to do it again). And since wood bats don’t turn wild pitches into base hits as easily as aluminum bats, you’ll swing at them less and pick better pitches to slam.
Swing speed and strength
Like we mentioned earlier, wood bats are heavier than aluminum bats, and weight builds strength. As with resistance training, if you practice with a wood bat, you’ll notice a significant difference when you break out the aluminum bat. You’ll be able to swing harder, faster, and with more control than you had before.
Which Bat’s Best for You?
When selecting a type of wood for the bat, a hitter’s style and experience level will be the primary factors to consider. Yellow Birch is excellent for hitters looking to develop a familiarity with using wood bats while power hitters will love the pop Rock Maple bats provide.
Overall, there are vast differences between softball and baseball bats. In each case, knowing the hitter’s preferences will play a huge role in finding the best bat for their needs. When selecting a bat, wood ones are best, because they force the hitter to develop proper swing discipline.