When an average hitter picks up a new bat and immediately starts hitting far more line drives than he ever has before, you know he’s holding a winner in his hands. The Origin Axe is that bat.
When my son starting using the 2016 Youth (Drop 12) Origin Axe Bat L135C (since replaced with the 2017 model), it immediately became his favorite bat he’s ever tried. His percentage of line drives and hard hit balls increased substantially. He used to be “that speedy guy” who kept beating out dribblers and grounders to the left side for singles. No more. Now fielders are moving back when he comes up to bat.
However, my son took 7 hitting lessons just before getting this bat, which shortened his swing and got his hands in closer to his body. Clearly these improved hitting mechanics had something to do with his improved results. How much of his improvement was due to the bat? I don’t know.
But . . .
I’m head coach of my son’s team this year. I suggested to two of his teammates that they try the Axe bat, because they were not consistently hitting line drives with their own bats. Both of them immediately started hitting nearly all line drives into the net. Over the next few games, their hitting was great. What was especially remarkable was that one of these players had historically not had much success at the plate. All of a sudden, he was hitting .538, and mostly that was line drives (5/13 UPDATE: his batting average subsequently dropped to .300 over the course of the next few months but that is still higher for him than all of his previous seasons).
My son is no longer the only one in love with this bat. His two teammates are in love with it. And so am I.
Last year on this site I posted a comprehensive guide to bats that has become a leading online resource for purchasing bats for youth baseball. However, I have only written a single bat review, which considered two 2015 Axe bat models. This review of the Origin Axe 2016 (provided by Baden sports for our evaluation) is my second bat review.
Why so few bat reviews?
In my opinion, you can’t reasonably review a bat until it has been extensively used by the player-type for which it was intended in a variety of contexts, including actual games. I have only one son. It takes us a few months to fully evaluate a new bat, namely because plate appearances in actual games don’t happen that often.
In this second review experience, I came to appreciate this approach even more. An hour or two at the cages will only tell you whether you like the feel of a bat and whether it has good pop. It says nothing about bat control, because only a little control is required to swing at pitches that are always coming at approximately the same speed and location. Much more control is required to hit pitching in games. I am now of the opinion that being able to control a bat is more important than any other bat attribute, but it is also unfortunately difficult to measure. My favorite quick test for bat control is soft toss, which incidentally helps determine if the bat is too heavy.
In my first review, I extensively discussed my bat testing methodology and its limits. You can read about it there if you want to know more about how and why I test bats the way I do. I also discussed the benefits of the Axe-like handle on all Axe bats, which I won’t repeat here.
A Little Background on the Player(s) Testing the Bat
As discussed in my prior review, a review is really going to be as much about evaluating player/batter fit as it is about the bat itself. So to understand the review, you need to understand the batter:
My son is a left-handed batter who is one of the youngest and shortest players in his 11- to 12-year old 2016 Bronco division of our local PONY league. He has been using a 30″ Origin since November 2015, and a pair of other Axe Bats for the 6 months prior. Apart from the two-piece Elite Axe, he has always used inexpensive one-piece aluminum alloy bats.
Despite his small stature (not quite 4′ 7″ inches and 69 lbs, just turned 11), he has had a high batting average and OBP over the past year. Through a combination of frequent contact, good hustle, and the lefty base running advantage, he often makes it safely to first, but before testing the Origin bat, he only occasionally hit balls past the infield, and only once in the air over an outfielders head.
The other two players I had test this bat were both a bit taller at 4′ 11″, but with similarly slim body builds.
Given the above, this review will be most helpful for a slender player between 4 1/2 ‘ and 5’ tall that is typically a contact hitter, using a 29″ or 30″ Origin Axe bat. I think this review could also be applied to a taller player with a slender build using a 31″ Origin Axe as well, or a shorter player with a 28″ model.
My son took individual hitting lessons in September through November of 2015 which addressed minor issues he had with over-loading, casting, and dropping hands early. By the end of his 7 lessons, he was much more consistently hitting line drives.
What Changed Between his Old and New Bat?
During his hitting lessons, he essentially stopped using his Elite Axe Bat Elite in favor of the Phenom Axe Bat. Though he could hit the ball with the Elite Axe harder with perfectly hit balls, he found that he could control the less expensive one-piece Phenom better than the two-piece Elite, for more consistent line drives. There were times at his lessons where he was hitting a dozen line drives in a row with his Phenom (thanks partly to Wheelhouse Academy hitting instructor Thomas Gary keeping his mechanics on target).
So when I requested a 2016 sample for review from Baden, we wanted the successor to the Phenom, the one-piece Origin Axe Bat.
What is different between the Origin and Phenom?
The press release gives no hints but the site claims a new barrel profile with a larger sweet spot. R&D director Hugh Tompkins confirmed that the only significant change is the barrel profile. While the shape of the bat doesn’t look obviously different to me, we did weigh it and find the balance point. The 30″ drop 12 Origin weighed 18.9 ounces, which was 0.1 ounces lighter than the Phenom from last year, but the balance point was further out. Therefore, it feels heavier to swing than the Phenom, despite being a tenth of an ounce lighter. My son is certain that the Origin feels heavier to swing (and thus has a higher MOI) than the Phenom.
My son prefers a more end-weighted feel so he liked it better than the Phenom before even taking his first swing at a ball. These changes seem subtle, but the effects on my son’s hitting were dramatic.
One thing I have liked about the 3 Axe bats we’ve had in our possession, including the Origin, is that they are consistent with weight. All 3 are within 1/10 of an ounce of being exactly one ounce overweight. I was told by Hugh Tomkins that Axe tries to target once ounce over on most of its bats because the knob pushes the hands towards the barrel slightly, effectively shortening the bat by a quarter inch or so, and thus giving the bat a slightly lower swing weight to offset the higher printed weight.
Some other brands of bats are much less consistent, with bats weighing anywhere from the stated weight to 3 ounces overweight. For example, many people believe the Easton Mako has great pop. Well, some of that pop stems from the bat weighing 2 to 3 ounces more than what is printed on the bat. I have seen many a player struggle to swing a Mako or some other bat that (unbeknownst to them) weighed quite a bit more than expected.
Testing the Bat
I’m not going to go into great detail as I did in the last review. It was hard to tell much difference between the 2015 Phenom and the 2016 Origin when it came to tee work and soft toss. With my son’s improved mechanics, he mostly hits line drives with any bat that’s an appropriate weight and length.
At the cages, my son tried three bats: The Origin, the Phenom, and a bat he was using a year ago, the DeMarini Vengeance. We found that there was little difference in line drive percentage between the three bats. The 7 hitting lessons he took a few months earlier improved his mechanics so much, that he can swing any of these bats reasonably well in the simplified environment of the batting cages. Visually, the batted ball speed looked pretty similar between the three bats.
My son did comment that he felt less vibration on average with the Origin at the cages, where tough, dimpled balls are used. I suspect this is because the sweet spot is a little bigger than in the other bats, so what was really happening was that he was feeling vibration less often.
Using the Bat in Games
Much as my son loved crushing the ball with his Axe Bat Elite last year in batting practice, he wasn’t able to “crush it” all that often in actual games. All of the hitting stats I really care about were worse (OBP, OBP + ROE, OPS, batting average, etc.). He didn’t use the Phenom anywhere near as much in games but when he did, he had better success than with the Elite. I think he was better able to control the one-piece Phenom. One piece bats are generally considered easier to control than two-piece bats.
However, since he started using the Origin, he is very obviously getting higher quality hits during games. He is hitting the ball harder, and much of it in the form of line drives, some going over 150′. Some of these line drives were caught, but the quality of the balls he’s putting into play is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen from him before. When you see how small he is, it’s hard to believe he can hit the ball that far.
It would be nice to figure out how much of the improvement was from the bat, and how much from the hitting lessons (or perhaps just the fact that he’s now 2 inches taller and a little heavier). Because my son is so in love with his Origin bat and the results he’s getting with it, he refuses to use any other bats in games. I don’t blame him. However, this means that his improved hit quality could be entirely due to his improved mechanics.
Luckily, I was able to get two other players to try the Origin. Being the manager of my son’s Bronco team (11- to 12-year-olds), I noticed a couple players who weren’t hitting many line drives during soft toss, despite using bats with reasonable length and weight. So I had them try several different bats.
With both players, using the Origin resulted in immediate improvement. Bizarrely, one of the players tried the predecessor to this model (the Phenom) and could hit only 1 out of about 10 line drives with it. He didn’t like the feel of it. But with the Origin, both of these other two players are able to hit something like 80% to 90% line drives off soft toss, just like my son.
This translated into improved performance come game time. With one player especially, I saw the biggest improvement I have ever seen with a player switching to a different bat. In the 3 games prior to switching, he was 1 for 5. In the next 4 games, he was 7 for 13. I have known this player for a couple of years and he has never had a 4 game span where he was 7 for 13. What’s more, 6 of those 7 hits were line drives, and some of his outs were hard hit grounders.
The other player I had try the bat hasn’t got many good pitches to hit so has mostly walked since trying the Origin. In the last 2 games, we noticed he was hitting slightly more line drives into the net with the Phenom, and he preferred it—so he used the Phenom for his last two games. He did get 1 hit but mostly he got walks again.
I kept putting off publishing this review to gather more data in games. The number of plate appearances is still not statistically significant, but combined with the soft toss data and visual observation, it’s quite clear to me that Baden’s entry level Axe bat is working quite well for slender contact hitters. I may add more data in the comments section as the season progresses but I want to get the word out on this wonderful bat already before the baseball season is over.
What matters most in a bat is how much you control it . . . with Origin my son is in complete control
Most reviews tend to be obsessed with pop or the size of a sweet spot. I happen to think both of these are far overrated. Sure they help you hit great at the cages and off a tee—you can see the ball consistently coming off the bat harder with an expensive bat like a Mako that has lots of pop and a big barrel with a big sweet spot. But that doesn’t matter if you can’t do it in games.
In games, it’s bat control that matters. The players with good bat control in our rec league that make all-star games typically have rec league OBPs in the .500 – .800 range, and batting averages in the .400 – 650 range. Those numbers drop by about .100 to .150 in summer play against better pitching. The batter is more important than the bat in getting to these kinds of numbers. However, I noticed on my son’s all-star team last year that none of the best batters were using bats that were too heavy for them. Players using very heavy bats often have poor control, which becomes most obvious when facing tough pitching.
Every player will have to experiment with many bats to find which one(s) they control best. My son has pretty good bat control but he finds it easiest to control single-piece aluminum bats that are at least moderately end-weighted. The Origin fits this profile exactly. It feels a bit more like swinging a wooden bat than many other bats he’s tried, and that feels more natural to him.
The result is excellent bat control. What does that mean exactly? Good bat control is being able to easily adjust mid-swing if the ball goes to a slightly different spot that expected. With improved bat control, my son is now hitting the ball square on with the sweet spot more often than he ever has in the past.
It’s the same thing with the other two players (though for one of them my data comes only from soft toss, since he wasn’t getting good pitches to hit during games). Their bat control got much better. I asked the one who improved most dramatically why he hits so much better with this bat and he said, “I’m not really sure, but it just swings as smooth as butter.” There’s something about how weight is distributed with this bat that just feels very right to two of the three contact hitters it was tested on, and pretty reasonable for the other batter.
I’m not really sure what else I can say about bat control. It’s more mysterious to me than many of the more quantifiable factors about bats that I cover in my popular youth baseball bat guide. When all is said and done, the batter matters far more than the bat . . . but it can’t hurt to use a bat that is easier to control and forces slightly better mechanics.
For most players, what matters most in a bat is what can be done with it in actual games. It’s clear that this is by far the best one-piece aluminum bat my son has ever used, and for one of his teammates it has led to the biggest game performance improvement I have ever seen from switching to a new bat.
To say my son is a believer in the Origin Axe bat would be an understatement. With the Origin, he not only gets the great knob, but he’s experiencing less vibration at the cages than other single-piece Aluminum bats, he feels really comfortable with the weight distribution, and most importantly, he’s more frequently hitting the ball square on with the sweet spot in games. While likely most of the improvement is from the hitting instruction he received during the winter, he believes some of it has to do with the bat. I do too.
Because my son took hitting lessons just prior to obtaining this bat, I had to explore whether this was a good bat for my son, or mostly a matter of improved hitting mechanics. As explained above, I had two other players on his team (who were struggling to hit line drives into a net) try it out. The percentage of hard hit line drives during soft toss went up immediately with this bat. And while it’s probably too early to tell for sure, their results are far better in their first few games with this bat than I saw in their previous few games.
One of the design goals at Baden Sports is to make their Axe bats easy to control. In the Origin, they have succeeded, far more so than the two 2015 models we tested.
But they may have succeeded beyond their own expectations. This bat is not just a good bat. It is the best sub $100 bat we have ever tested. It is moderately end-weighted to have a feel more similar to wood bats than most other aluminum bats we have tested, and seems to go hand in hand with improved hitting mechanics.
I strongly recommended the Axe Bat Origin for contact hitters with slender body builds between the ages of 7-11.