In January 2018, many youth baseball players will need to buy a new bat with the USABat standard. Here are the details, starting with facts, moving on to advice, and ending with opinions about this change.
I interviewed several authorities for this article, including Russell Hartford, who is the “bat guy” at USA baseball, in addition to his role as Director of National Team Championships.
The Facts about USABat
In August of 2015, USA baseball announced a new standard, USABat, to go into effect January 1, 2018. The USABat standard will be required on all bats used in Little League, PONY league, and several other recreational youth baseball leagues. Bats with this logo will begin to be available in the fall of 2017 and will be the only bats permitted for use in most recreation leagues in 2018 above the T-ball level. For T-ball only, BPF 1.15 mats may continue to be used, for the cost of a $2 USAbat sticker.
Elsewhere on this site is a complete list of USAbat bats.
Here is a full list of organizations who have so far committed to adopt the USABat standard in 2018, requiring players to purchase bats with the USABat mark:
- American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC)
- Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)
- Babe Ruth Baseball/Cal Ripken Baseball
- Dixie Youth Baseball
- Little League Baseball
- PONY Baseball
USABat replaces BPF 1.15, a youth baseball standard that restricted bat barrels to have elasticity (“pop”) of a certain limit that was higher than the elasticity of wood bats (wood BPF is typically around 1.05). Players using bats with the BPF 1.15 mark were therefore able to hit the ball harder than wood bats of equivalent size, weight, and weight distribution. Also, bat makers have been able to exploit flaws in the BPF 1.15 test protocol to push bat performance beyond the limits initially intended by the BPF 1.15 standard.
The USABat test protocol is based on the coefficient of restitution (COR) from a bat-ball impact. This is the same idea as BBCOR, a stringent standard which is used for high school and college play. I have yet to determine exactly how similar this is to BBCOR, as the testing methodology for the USABat standard has not been made public. I will update this paragraph when I find out.
When BBCOR was introduced to college baseball several years ago, home-run rates and batting averages dropped to approximately 1973 levels, which is when wood bats were last used. BBCOR was clearly an effective standard for holding bats to wood-like performance.
The reason stated for the change to USABat in the press release is that a wood-like performance standard will best provide for the long-term integrity of the game.
The USSSA organization has publicly stated they will continue to use the BPF 1.15 standard. The majority of travel ball tournaments in the U.S. are USSSA tournaments. Therefore, an expanded set of bats will be permitted for use in USSSA travel ball tournaments (presuming they also allow USABat), while a more restrictive set of bats will be permitted for use in recreation leagues such as PONY or Little League, and in nonUSSSA travel ball tournaments such as USABaseball’s 2016 National Team Identification Series.
Many regional travel ball tournament organizations have not yet decided whether to adopt the USABat standard. For example, All World Sports, which organizes 200 baseball tournaments per year in Northern CA and Nevada, will not be making or announcing a decision until August 2017, according to Director Ed Feldman. Update 8/7/17: Ed Feldman informed me that All World Sports will not be moving to the USAbat standard, at least through July 2018, the end of the current travel ball season.
The Little League national organization has not permitted 2 5/8″ bats to be used at the younger ages in recent years. In conjunction with the move to the USABat standard, in 2018 Little League will permit bats with 2 5/8″ barrels in addition to 2 1/4″ bats. Some websites are claiming that Little League will not permit 2 1/4″ bats but the Little League FAQ (item 20) clearly states that both 2 1/4″ and 2 5/8″ barrel sizes will be permitted.
How USABat Will Impact Your Bat Buying (Advice)
Players age 13 or over don’t need to worry about this new standard. By the time it takes effect, they’ll be 14 and required to use drop 3 BBCOR bats. Players who begin using BBCOR certified bats at a younger age than 14 won’t have to concern themselves with USABat.
However for players below BBCOR age, what to do depends on whether their participation is travel-ball-only, rec-ball-only, or both rec and travel ball. Breaking it down into these 3 possibilities:
For travel-ball-only players there will be no change if players stick to USSSA games. This site’s comprehensive bat guide will continue to be appropriate in this scenario. USSSA travel ball players may continue using and purchasing BPF 1.15 bats until reaching the age of 15, when BBCOR bats are required. Though the majority of travel ball tournaments are associated with USSSA, some are not. Some tournaments not associated with USSSA may require the USABat standard.
Players below age 14 may be able to use bats with the USABat mark everywhere. However, in practice most players will want to have a BPF 1.15 bat in USSSA-associated games in order to be able to hit the ball as hard as everyone else.
Players of recreation baseball only (Little League, PONY, Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken, Dixie) will need a new bat for the 2018 spring season with the USABat mark. My observation is that most recreation players outgrow their bats every 12-18 months. Therefore, 2016 bat purchases shouldn’t be an issue. The question is what to do when purchasing a bat in 2017. My advice is to steer clear of buying an expensive bat in 2017. If your player needs a bigger bat, either get an inexpensive bat or borrow a teammate’s bat until the new bats become available with the USABat logo in September of 2017.
Players who do both rec and travel ball will usually want to own both a BPF 1.15 bat for USSSA travel ball and a USABat for most other events.
You’ll want to check with your local leagues to see if they’re strictly adhering to the January 2018 deadline, or allowing families a grace period before requiring USABat.
Manufacturer Opinions about the Change to USABat Standard
I discussed the new bat standard with Jay Helmick, who heads the Axe Bat division of Baden Sports. Jay did not express much enthusiasm for the change. Specifically, he believes:
- The transition will be messy for both consumers and bat makers.
- There may be unintended side effects, such as participation rates in youth baseball. Will some players quit if it’s harder to get good hits?
- Testing certification procedures are expensive and not worth while for bat models that don’t sell well. Some bat makers may forgo making USAbats altogether in order to avoid risk.
- With Little League allowing 2 5/8″ bats at the younger ages, large sporting good chains believe there will be little interest in 2 1/4″ bats after this change. Therefore, Jay believes that few if any bat makers will be making 2 1/4″ diameter bats with the USAbat logo.
My Opinions about the Change to the USAbat Standard
Participation in youth baseball has been declining steadily for a decade despite a great deal of innovation pushing the envelope on bat performance. If participation were at least partly tied to bat performance, then we would not have seen such a large drop in participation over the past decade given the rapid innovation in bat design we’ve seen during this period. In my opinion, changes in bat technology have had nothing to do with dropping participation, and changes caused by the new bat standard will also have no impact on overall participation numbers for youth baseball.
However, I think it is possible participation could shift between travel ball and rec ball. Parents who place a higher priority on safety (or perhaps a more traditional feel to the game with wood-like bat performance) may prefer their players to play in rec leagues and/or the few summer tournaments that insist on the USABat standard. On the other hand, there may be a preference by some families for high tech bats which make it easier to hit balls hard. There may also be families who no longer want to do both rec ball and travel ball in order to avoid owning and swinging two different bats—so they’ll simply choose one or the other.
I do wonder about Jay’s comment on 2 1/4″ bats. My observation has been that most kids between the ages of 7 and 9 have difficulty swinging even the lightest (drop 10) 2 5/8″ bats. It is possible that manufacturers will take up the design challenge and figure out a way to make drop 12 or drop 13 big barrel (2 5/8″) bats that also meet the USABat standard. However, it is also possible that such bats will be more expensive than the typical 7-year-old parent is willing to pay.
Personally, I’m hoping there will be some 2 1/4″ bats that are drop 12 or drop 13 available for very young players. If the lightest bats are drop 10, then coaches may need to encourage smaller players use 26″ or shorter bats. Such players would have less plate coverage and therefore struggle to hit pitches on the outside corner of the plate.
While not everyone is happy with this change, I personally think it’s overall a good change, for safety reasons . . .
Shortly after my 4′ 5″ tall son turned 10, he attended a tournament where he pitched to a 5′ 9″ 10-year-old using a high-end bat. First time up, this batter hit a 250′ home run. Second time up, he drilled a line drive just as hard, right at my son’s head, at a batted ball speed I estimate in excess of 70 MPH. I couldn’t even see the ball. I just heard the crack of the bat and then another crack. By some miracle I still don’t understand, my son got his glove up right in front of his face in time to catch that ball. If he hadn’t, who knows what would have happened.
While the stated reason for this change was “the long-term integrity of the game,” the safety issue matters to me, and will matter to some others as well. Wood bats don’t have as much pop as the current generation of BPF 1.15 bats. By adopting a wood-like standard, the risk of serious injury to pitchers (standing 46′ away from potentially adult-sized batters) is going to decrease at least a little.
Of course, we all know that the batter matters far more than the bat. If safety were the top concern, I could imagine switching to a system stratified by height and/or weight, rather than age. Any time an adult-sized hitter is swinging against a pitcher standing 46′ away, there’s going to be risk to the pitcher.
I do wonder why all the regulatory effort centers around bats instead of balls. Less bouncy balls could accomplish safety and traditional-game goals with less cost and complexity. Balls are already regulated in softball by the Amateur Softball Association of America, and our local league uses softer level 5 balls for the 7- to 8-year old Pinto division, and even softer balls for 5- to 6-year old Shetland. Baseball scientist Alan Nathan is unaware of any scientific reason why the Coefficient of Restitution and stiffness of the ball could not be regulated. However, so far as I know, ball regulation has not been part of the conversation in recent years.
Regardless of anyone’s opinion about this change to bat standards, it’s coming. So if your son or daughter will be under the age of 14 and playing recreation league baseball in 2018, you’ll be buying a new bat.
9 thoughts on “New USABat Standard Coming in 2018 for Youth Baseball Bats”
Disappointed to learn that the LL bats will still be the same drop. They can’t really say they’re changing the COR, but not for safety. If not safety, and leaving the bats so lightweight, what’s the point?
There is still that chasm between swinging/casting/whatever a minus 13 bat and what a kid needs to learn in order to stay in the game and swing a BBCOR. The minus 13’s are ingraining such formidably bad habits to break, that it’s incredibly difficult to learn proper swinging skills. Kids have to quit because they can’t get around on anything 50 mph and up.
It’s the same for a kid starting out to learn to swing properly, than it is to learn to swing improperly. Why can’t we just meet halfway between minus 13 and minus 3, and force coaches and kids to learn some of this and not that. What’s the difference? It’s still learning?
There are more resources (MLB and other high level coaches) for teaching and learning a proper swing, than there are resources (like the yeti), for teaching and learning whatever is tought to swing a minus 13.
It’s like we’re intent on going backwards, like having cars that keep you in the same lane or brake for you. What does that teach?
Ron – I’m not sure if LL bats will be the same drop. With 2 5/8″ bats allowed, it might be that there will be no 2 1/4″ bats. If there are only 2 5/8″ bats with lower elasticity, then that means the walls of the barrel won’t be so thin. If that’s the case, then there might not be anything lighter than a drop 10.
Sounds like where you’re coming from is thinking about potential high school players. Thing is – maybe 1 kid on every little league team will actually play baseball in high school. So I actually disagree with you about drop 13. Put a drop 8 bat in the hands of a short 6-year-old (or even a short 10-year-old) and he will strike out every time and quit. It is my opinion that at the 12 and under age, the goal should be primarily fun, not training future high school baseball players.
Somewhere around the age of 12 or 13 is when it’s time to start thinking about high school and the required heavy bats, in my opinion.
I think this is ridiculous, there should have been a change in baseballs first to try and eliminate these so called problems first off it’s easier and more cost effective to consumers to buy a dozen new standard balls then to have 10-12 players go and spend $100-$300 on a new bat . If that would have taken place first you would probably have compliance across the board , and not require players to buy new or two bats to play in all tournaments. Sounds more like the bat companies might be greaseing the palms of some of these league officials ! Think on how much all of these companies are going to make in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018…. Just the state of Texas alone will be astronomical !!!!
I really like the change in bat regulations. I just really hope the cost of the bat does not sky rocket. I have been a little league coach for many years but for the last couple I have been coaching travel. In regards to the “Pissed off Coach”, while I was in LL and Travel the parents are buying these kids 1 or 2 new bats a season, and not the cheap bats either and I don’t live in a affluent area. The bats I have gotten my sons have been hand-me downs or used from eBay. I’ve always said to my players and parents a bat with a ton of pop is great but if they don’t know how to swing properly it won’t matter as they get older, the bad mechanics will catch up and it can be very hard to fix.
I’m not sure ball regulations would really help. The reason I say this is a lot of so-called coaches say it’s not a real game if it’s a safety ball. While it would be a cheaper solution and probably better I think it would cause a larger exodus from the game.
I think USABat should have really worked hard at getting USSSA on board. This would have made everyone happy. That way they don’t need different bats for different leagues. They should have also promoted tournaments with the new bat similar to wood bat tournaments. This way not everyone has to buy-in right away.
While I like the possible improvement in safety for the players, I’m not happy with the fact that the folks who stand to make out the most are the bat manufacturers. All the parents who have invested in bats (that may have served their 7-9-year old players for two years) now have to shell out more money for another bat for the Spring season. It’s absurd to think that all parents can afford this.
LL Intl. sent an email with a link to Dicks Sporting good (coupon) and in the published article about the standards change, included another link for usabaseballshop.com where I could BUY a sticker for a t-ball bat. I couldn’t be the only person who sees why this looks suspicious. Why isn’t LL Intl. (AAU, DIxie, etc.) issuing a voucher for parents to have their bats inspected or for a deep discount on the bats? What are LL programs, with equipment bags full of bats for players who can’t afford new ones, supposed to do with these bats? Should these programs, which–unlike the governing organizations–have most severely experienced dwindling enrollment, have to purchase a new supply of bats? It is likely the burden of cost will all be shifted to the parents and not all can afford it.
I agree that the regulation of ball performance would have been a much smarter approach as it is a consumable of the sport that has to be repurchased and deteriorates more quickly, whereas a bat is not. Sure, players outgrow bats, but then those bats are passed down to the next generation. I think this abrupt change is going to fleece the consumer and line the pockets of bat manufacturers while enthusiasm for the $port becomes even more threadbare.
A more equitable solution should have been favored over this standards change that puts too great a financial burden on the players’ families.
I completely agree with your stance (and most people that have replied for that matter) and opinions regarding the new USA Bat Standard change. As I have been a Little League coach for over 17 seasons in So. California, I have a lot of things to say regarding this matter. I believe that 2 of the major influences for USA Baseball to make the change are: the success of the BBCOR and a financial boost in a declining market.
As you pointed out, USA Baseball clearly stated that the change is “to protect the long-term integrity of the game.” Personally I think that it benefits bat manufacturers’ wallets. If you would kindly read my post regarding this subject matter, I think you’d find that we share a similar opinion. Thanks!
Thanks for sharing your opinion, Aaron. Can you provide a link to your post about USAbat?
This is all BS. No need to even spend on a bat. Why pay so much for a bat if it only performs as a woodie? Can get a decent wood for $19.95. The better performing bats simply speed up the game and at the 11-12-13 ages when the bases start moving back its good to have a bit of a hotter ball so the kids can become familiar with the actual speed of the game. The integrity of the game? USA has no integrity. I see this as a simple ploy to sell stamps and stickers, by force. Lets just use wiffel balls and bats that would be really safe or fuck it lets just play baseball on the XBox. This is going to be detrimental for the game. Especially regarding the kids who are playing the outfield. Less balls hit to them, less activity for them and less interest in the game. Batting is for most kids the most exciting part of the game and the new standards will only work to diminish that excitement. Now just selling over priced piece of shit bats. Way to go dicks.
Frank – you’re not the only one who shares this sentiment about the change to the USAbat standard. It sounds as if you’re suggesting it’s impossible (or at least much more difficult) to have a fun game of baseball without a high tech bat that provides a lot more pop than wood. However, before 1970 there were only wood bats at all levels of baseball. Yet many people, including young players, enjoyed the game before 1970. It’s a change for sure, and not everyone welcomes it. I think it’s an open question though as to whether kids enjoy baseball more now than they did in 1970.
With all the advances in high tech bats over the past decade, there’s been a steady decline in the number of U.S. participants in youth baseball. That may have more to do with video games or other reasons having nothing to do with high tech bats. But if high tech bats add so much to the game, how come there hasn’t been a huge surge of interest in baseball during a time when bats have never been better?