None of the teams I normally root for were in the World Series this year. Yet, it was one of the more interesting World Series I’ve watched. We saw some terrific fielding. There were a few steals and bunts to add a little spice to the games. We got to watch Kershaw and Verlander put on good pitching shows. Yes, I know, the Astros did manage to get to Kershaw in the 4th inning of the 5th game . . .
But what will probably be remembered most about this World Series were the record 25 home runs, 15 hit by the Astros, and 10 hit by the Dodgers. The MVP was awarded to George Springer on account of his 5 Springer Dingers.
Curiously, I never heard any of the World Series broadcasters discuss Springer’s bat.
It’s an Axe bat.
The fact that his bat was never discussed suggests to me that Axe bats are no longer curiosities used by some college teams and a few well known major league players (Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, etc.). Axe bats, while not quite mainstream, are common enough to no longer merit special mention.
And yet, I’m still not seeing too many Axe bats used in youth baseball. I think that’s going to change over the next few years, and not just because of Springer’s Dingers. Here’s why:
The Axe Handle Offers Benefits Beyond the Wrist
Baden Sports has been making Axe bats since 2010. The most obvious difference is the Axe-like knob which is ergonomically more comfortable and helps better position the wrists correctly when contacting the ball. But that’s just the beginning of the benefits.
I went into technical detail about all the other benefits in prior articles on this site, especially the first one:
To briefly summarize:
- Hitters can practice much longer before experiencing hand and wrist fatigue
- While no bat can magically turn an average hitter into a great hitter, the knob does force some aspects of hitting mechanics to improve, especially related to positioning of the wrists. There is even science to back up this claim.
- Bats can be designed to be stronger and/or more durable on the surfaces where the ball is going to hit. Baden calls this one-sided hitting though really it’s two sides, because the bat can be used by right-handed or left-handed hitters. But regardless of handedness, no hitter will hit the ball on the bottom of the bat.
- One-sided hitting provides an opportunity to remove an unnecessary portion of the end of the bat. Baden introduced this asymmetric barrel as a high-end bat feature in 2016 and rolled it out to the complete line in 2017.
If you read through the Axe bat articles on this site you’ll see that youth Axe bats have steadily improved over the past 3 years. While the first Axe bats my son tested were pretty good, the MB50 he used this past season is by far the best bat he’s ever used. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to claim that, since 2017, the best single-piece aluminum bats in baseball are Axe bats.
But what about composite and 2-piece bats?
My son’s only experience with a two-piece Axe bat was the 2015 Axe Bat Elite. While he occasionally hit the ball hard with it, he had trouble controlling it and eventually stopped using it in favor of one-piece aluminum Axe bats. He’s happy with one-piece Axe bats because he gets consistent results which improve when he spends time working on his hitting. He has never tested a pure composite bat from Baden, nor have I ever seen any other player use one.
From what I’ve been able to observe on the youth baseball field, Easton has the best performing composite bat models, while DeMarini generally gets top honors for two-piece bats. Occasionally another company such as Combat comes out with a high-end bat that does really well. I don’t fully know the reasons why, but these companies have invested heavily in R&D for years in perfecting the use of composite material in bats, connecting pieces between the handle and barrel, and high-tech end-cap materials and technology. They recoup R&D investment by charging $250 – $400 for the premium bat models that incorporate all this tech.
But there’s another factor in high tech bat success that just disappeared: a subpar methodology for bat testing.
Composite bats were first used in softball in the 1980’s and within a decade spread to youth baseball and began to be regulated. In recent years, a standard called BPF 1.15 was used. The original intention was for bat barrels to have an approximately wood-like performance but due to flaws in the testing methodology, bat makers learned how to design around the testing procedure to produce bats with much more pop than wood bats. Aluminum alloy bats could do this to some extent, but composite bats even more.
This began to change in 2011 when bats used by college and high school players had to follow a new, stricter standard, called BBCOR. The improved testing procedure caused the performance of high-end bats (and therefore home run rates) to decrease, while the performance gap narrowed between the most and least expensive bats.
A standard similar to BBCOR for youth baseball called USAbat is going into effect for most recreation baseball leagues in 2018, which you can read about in New USABat Standard Coming in 2018 for Youth Baseball Bats.
So what does all this have to do with the Axe bat brand?
I’m expecting that, as with BBCOR, the USAbat performance difference between the most and least expensive bats will narrow, as manufacturers will no longer be able to work around the BPF 1.15 standard to produce barrels with much more pop than wood (actually they will still be able to do this for USSSA travel ball for the time being, but that’s a separate story).
This USAbat standard does not hinder the use of the knob on Axe bats, one-sided hitting design, or the asymmetric end-cap. In other words, some of the advantage of high-tech barrels has been taken away, but none of Baden’s advantages have been removed. My guess is that the high-end Easton and DeMarini USAbat models are not going to be anywhere near as good as the BPF 1.15 models, which provides an opening for Baden Sports to develop high-end composite or two-piece models that perform as well or possibly even better than those from Easton or DeMarini.
Baden is definitely investing in USAbat models. Axe was one of the only four brands to have USAbat models ready when USAbat models first rolled out on September 1 of this year. More USAbat Axe models are coming in December, so clearly Baden is attempting to compete for the hearts and minds of recreation league baseball players buying bats with the new USAbat standard.
So Will Axe Bats Become Super Popular?
USAbat models are only starting to get into the hands of ball players so it’s still too early to tell if any of my speculations about Axe bat will prove out. I’ll have more to say next spring when I see many players swinging the new models. I’ll also have more to say about the new Axe USAbat model my 12 1/2 year old son has recently started swinging, a 31″, 23 oz 2018 Element USAbat.
Of course, I could be missing the forest for the trees. Maybe nobody cares about all these technical details, and it will be all the home runs Springer hit in the World Series that inspires young ballplayers to try using an Axe bat.
Congratulations to Springer and the Astros, as well as the runner up Dodgers. Both teams played very well in the regular season, the playoffs, and the World Series. It was fun to watch two really terrific teams battle in an exciting 7-game series. Despite Verlander starting game 6, I was so sure the Dodgers were going to force a game 7, because it was just that kind of a series.