My son likes Axe bats so much that he now refuses to swing bats without an axe-like knob. Though he likes all of the Axe bats he’s tried, the MB50 is the first bat he’s truly loved. He loves the appearance and grip (designed by Mookie Betts). He loves the feel of the swing. But more than anything, he loves the performance off live pitching.
This review is for my son’s first big barrel bat, the 2017 MB50 2 5/8″ barrel, 30″, 20 oz. (for 10% discount, use code JGOL10), which Baden Sports provided to us for testing:
The $129.99 MB50 differs from the $99.99 L144E Origin big barrel only in appearance and the tape used for the handle, so any experience with the MB50 applies to the L144E as well.
How did the MB50 work out for my son?
The short answer:
My son recently turned 12, though you might think he just turned 11 given his size.
My son’s hitting performance with the MB50 is his best ever. In games, 75% of balls he puts into play make it to the outfield, as compared with a consistent rate of approximately 40% in prior years.
Despite being the smallest and lightest player in his age group, my son is for the first time hitting the ball harder and more consistently than all but a few players in his rec league.
Unsurprisingly, my son loves this bat far more than any other bat he has ever tried. He loves the knob. He loves the paint job. Most of all, he loves the performance. The combination of the axe-like knob and HyperWhip barrel design makes it easy to control despite having a big barrel.
Note: Before buying this or any other bat in 2017, consider that this bat may not be legal for your local rec league starting in January 2018. Please read about the new bat standard coming out in 2018 for details.
The MB50 can be purchased at the company web site. If you choose to buy this bat, be sure to type in the following code for a 10% discount:
Note that the L144E is also available on Amazon.
The rest of this post is the long answer to how the MB50 worked out for my son.
What Kind of Hitter is my Son?
In my opinion, understanding the kind of player doing the testing helps understand the bat. My son received this bat as a sample from Baden Sports in November 2016. He turned 12 while testing the bat over the past few months.
My son is the smallest player in his rec league’s 12u age group at 4′ 9″, 77 Lbs. This is his 8th year playing PONY baseball. He has also played summer baseball since he was 8, mostly with select/all-star teams. He took 7 hitting lessons when he was 10.
Before this season, my son didn’t strike out much, but was not able to hit the ball as hard as the top 10 hitters in his rec league. This season, he is consistently hitting the ball much harder than he has in the past, and harder than all but a handful of players.
If you are considering getting a bat for a small 12-year-old, average to slightly-below-average size 11-year old, or above-average size 9- to 10-year old, then this review would be especially relevant for you.
This review is based on data collected over several months, just like prior reviews. My son used the MB50 in a wide variety of settings, including games. I have seen many players swinging bats well in practice settings such as tee, soft toss, front toss, and cage work, only to struggle during games using the same bat. So it’s important to me to observe how well the bat works in a wide variety of settings, especially games.
In prior reviews, I did some testing at the cages. Unfortunately, my son refused to test this bat at the cages. Why? Because he loves the MB50 so much. He didn’t want to risk harming the bat from harder cage balls, nor did he want to scuff up the paint.
What is Different about an Axe Bat?
Axe bats have an oval, angled, asymmetrical knob design, just like the knob of an axe. This design helps position wrists for optimal power, which for many youth hitters doesn’t come naturally or easily. The knob also has ergonomic benefits. Axe bat users are much less likely to injure their hamate bone. Axe bat users also last longer at batting practice before getting tired . . .
At a recent all-hitting baseball practice, the hitting coach told the players on my son’s team that they were going to swing their bats so much over the next 90 minutes that he expected everyone to come home with sore hands. So of course my son has to blurt out “not me, I’ve got an axe bat.” His hands were not the least bit tired after that practice.
Yet another benefit of the Axe bat design is that it can only be held in one of two ways (right-handed or left-handed), which means that only certain parts of the bat ever hit the ball. This allows Baden Sports to engineer bats with more durability or pop on certain parts of the barrel. This also makes it possible to design the end of the bat differently, which is something Baden Sports in fact did starting in 2016 with their most expensive BBCOR bats.
Axe Bat’s new HyperWhip Design
The different bat-end design is very relevant to this review. Baden Sports introduced the HyperWhip feature to high end bats in 2016 and incorporated this feature throughout most of the 2017 Axe bat lineup.
With the HyperWhip design, the last couple inches of the bat slope away from the contact side(s) of the barrel. This removes close to an ounce of weight from the part of the bat that adds most to the perceived swing weight. A side effect of shaving weight off the end (and also off the handle) is that the sweet spot is lengthened.
Some bats with the HyperWhip design have no end cap, but the MB50 has a white endcap. The following image shows examples of this HyperWhip design:
What does all this technical jargon mean in practice? It means you can design a big barrel bat with a big sweet spot that is also easy to swing. I find this especially interesting for single-piece aluminum bats. To clarify:
In recent years, big barrel bats with a composite barrel have become very popular. They are lighter than single-piece aluminum designs and can be designed with weight shifted away from the barrel. These types of bats do not require players to be nearly as strong or mechanically sound as they need to be with single-piece aluminum bats of the same weight.
Because of the reduction in barrel weight caused by the HyperWhip design, single-piece aluminum Axe barrels are now about as fast-swinging as composite barrels, while retaining the control advantage that many players experience with single-piece aluminum. For more detail on this, see Why You Never Again Have to Sacrifice Bat Speed for Barrel Control.
It works. My son said it hardly feels heavier to swing than the drop 12 Origin model he swung last year. His 2016 Drop 12 Origin model does not have the HyperWhip design so it feels nearly as heavy to swing for him as the MB50, which weighs nearly 3 oz more:
|Year||Model||Length||Printed Weight||Actual Weight|
|2016||Origin L135C||30″||18.0 oz||19.0 oz|
|2017||MB50 L145E||30″||20.0 oz||21.75 oz|
I always weigh bats because actual bat weight typically differs from what is stated on the bat. These two bats use the same aluminum alloy, and differ in weight by 2.75 ounces according to my scale. I can only conclude that the HyperWhip design explains why this bat is nearly as easy to swing as last year’s much lighter model.
How the MB50 Performs
My son has used the MB50 with a tee, soft toss, easy batting practice pitching, and during games.
I don’t have any devices for measuring ball exit speed so I just have to use the “eye test.” With tee and soft toss it is very clear that he hits balls harder with the MB50 than with his lighter bats. It looks like his swing speed is only very slightly slower than with his lighter Origin bat. He is just as consistent, if not more consistent, at hitting line drives and his mechanics appear unchanged. Though not a big kid, it is clear that 4′ 9″ and 77 lbs is plenty big enough to swing this bat.
With heavier, more end-weighted bats, my son’s swing speed is very noticeably slower, with an occasional hit that is harder than anything I’ve seen on the MB50. But he has much more difficultly consistently squaring up a heavier barrel to the ball. His hit quality is therefore much better, on average, with the MB50.
A couple days after receiving the MB50, we went to a small baseball diamond with fences located about 170′ away from home plate (the field used for ages 8 and below). I gave him some easy pitches to hit from about 45′ away. The results were stunning. With his 2 1/4″ Axe bat he could hit the ball pretty well, but typically 100′ to 120′ and only occasionally to the fence. With his MB50, most balls went past 120′, around 30% made it to the fence, and 1 in 15 went over the fence. Over 90% of swings resulted in the ball travelling at least 100′.
Note: 5 days after this was published, my son hit a batting practice home run over a 195′ fence with his MB50.
He also tried his Anderson Techzilla bat, which is heavier and more end-weighted. Just like with the tee, he could occasionally hit the ball harder than with the MB50, but the majority of hits were of low quality as he had difficulty controlling the Techzilla. Nearly all of his hits with the MB50 are of high quality when I pitch to him.
While tee, soft toss, and batting practice pitching are modestly useful, what we all care about most is how a bat actually does against live kid pitch during games, when the goal of the pitcher and defense is to get an out.
I don’t think batting average or OBP is the best way to measure how well a bat is working, because whether a ball hit into play results in a hit has a large random element. Strikeout rates and percentage of balls that make it to the outfield are less random. There’s also the “eye test.”
After 29 plate appearances, my son’s strikeout rate at just under 1 in 7 plate appearances is close to prior year rates. However, the number of balls in play that made it to the outfield increased to 75%, as compared with 40% in the prior 3 seasons. I could easily tell with my eyes that he is hitting the ball into play much harder this year. Two of the 25% that didn’t make it to the outfield were hard line drives that went right to a shortstop’s glove.
So Where Did the Hitting Improvement Come From?
I would love to fully understand where my son’s improvement comes from. To some extent he’s improving as a hitter, but I find it hard to believe he hit 40% to the outfield for several years and then suddenly jumped to 75% just from gradual improvement. He is finally big enough to handle a heavier 2 5/8″ barrel instead of a 2 1/4″ so some of the improvement is likely due to a bigger barrel with a bigger sweet spot.
However, the MB50 weighs nearly 3 ounces more than his prior bat. My son would not have been able to control this bat so well if there wasn’t something going on to make this less end-weighted. That something is HyperWhip, as already explained above.
There may also be a gradual improvement in Axe bat quality over the last few years, though that’s not something I can test.
I suspect there’s also a more subtle reason for the improvement. My son has used 2 1/4″ one-piece aluminum bats for most of the 8 years he’s played baseball. These bats generally have less pop than bats with composite barrels, and no “whip” that occurs with some two-piece or composite bats. Most importantly, one-piece aluminum bats tend to have smaller sweet spots. What these stiff aluminum bats do give you is better control.
Given the smaller sweet spots on the bats my son has used, he’s spent 8 years developing bat control. Many of the bigger all-star caliber players in our league started using big barrel bats around the age of 9 or 10. While many of them had higher strikeout rates, they also more often hit the ball very hard. Now that my son has finally made the switch to big barrel, he’s had 2-3 extra years of squaring up a small sweet spot. My theory is that the extra 2-3 years forced him to develop more precise mechanics. With a big barrel, you can be slightly off on squaring up and still get solid contact off the sweet spot. With the MB50, my son almost always gets solid contact off the sweet spot.
My son is sold on the idea that 2 1/4″ bats with small sweet spots force him to be more precise. He has enthusiastically started using the 2 1/4″ wood version (-5) of the Axe bat, both to build up his muscles and to continue challenging himself to be more precise with his swing.
As I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, the batter matters more than the bat. The batter needs to be appropriately ready before each pitch, then see the ball, then hit the ball. The “readiness” and “seeing” have nothing to do with the bat. The “hit the ball” part is more influenced by body type/size and mechanics than bat technology. So despite all the hype about high-priced high-tech bats, the batter still matters far more than the bat.
Is my son hitting better than ever with the MB50? Yes.
Is my son’s improvement entirely or even mostly due to the MB50 or the switch from 2 1/4″ barrel to 2 5/8″ barrel? Probably not. But . . .
Wouldn’t it be great if certain types of bats could help a player develop better and more precise mechanics?
I had a conversation earlier this month with Axe Bat’s Product Marketing Director, Trevor Stocking. Trevor played Division I college baseball, ran a youth baseball academy for over a decade, and worked for several years at sports sensor company Zepp Labs (which sells training products and measurement devices for baseball and other sports). Our conversation revolved around what types of bats best promote player hitting development at what ages? Aluminum or Composite? 2 1/4″ or 2 5/8″? One piece or two piece? Are underweight/overweight bats helpful (and if they are, at what age do you start)? Tee work or live pitching?
As our conversation came to a close, Trevor told me that one of the main reasons he joined Baden Sports’ Axe Bat team was because he believed that Axe Bats have advantages over bats with regular knobs for aiding players’ hitting development. This belief comes from large amounts of data he gathered while working at Zepp Labs.
I too believe that the Axe bat helps long-term development of player mechanics. There is the obvious benefit of the knob of getting the hands into the right position at contact. But there is also the fact that there are now a few aluminum big barrel bats on the market—Axe bats with the HyperWhip barrel design—that are as easy to swing as composite bats. This matters because one-piece aluminum bats are stiff and therefore easier for most players to control. Players who prefer the stiff feel of one-piece aluminum no longer have to settle for an end-weighted barrel that is slower to come around than composite.
That’s what makes the MB50, the L144E, and presumably any other big barrel one-piece aluminum Axe Bat (with HyperWhip) such a unique and effective bat.
To say that my son is doing well with this bat would be an understatement. He’s doing very well with it, and he loves it.
This bat is an ideal bat for kids between the ages of 9 (very big kid) to 12 (small kid) who value contact and control and want a bat which well compliments efforts to improve mechanics.
I highly recommend Baden’s MB50 Axe bat, as well as the nearly identical L144E.