Last year I reviewed the Axe bat MB50, the best single-piece Aluminum USSSA BPF 1.15 bat my son had ever used. It was not just a good Axe bat. It was as good as or better than any single-piece aluminum bat I have ever seen used on a youth baseball field.
My son would still be using it if he could, but due to the new bat standard which went into effect January 2018, USSSA BPF 1.15 bats are no longer legal for use in recreation leagues. The new USAbat standard attempts to bring bat barrel performance in line with wood barrels. Bat makers selling into the recreation league youth baseball market therefore introduced many new bats to conform with the new USAbat standard.
Even without the new bat standard, it was time for my son to move from a drop 10 to a drop 8 bat. He’s 13 now, which means it’s a good idea to get used to swinging heavier bats before BBCOR is required in high school . . . or sooner (see 13u Player Bat Needs).
So how well did Baden’s first USAbat Axe bat offerings perform in comparison to last year’s BPF 1.15 models? I can’t speak for all of them, but I can speak to the 2018 drop 10 Element 2 5/8″ bat which my son began using just before he turned 13. Baden Sports was kind of enough to provide me a sample for review.
To buy the Element or other 2018 USAbat models of Axe:
For a 10% discount off the Element or any other Axe bat at the manufacturer’s site, FilterJoe readers may use code JGOL10 when checking out (The code is usually disabled when Axe is having a sitewide sale, as often happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas).
So how well did my son do with the Element Drop 8 USAbat?
As expected, this USAbat model performed worse for him than last year’s USSSA bat.
But how much worse?
Read on to find out what my son and I thought of this bat and the impact of the USAbat standard on the Axe bat line.
A Few Words About the Impact of the New USAbat Rules
Given that this is the first year for USAbat models, any review of one of these new bats is to a large extent also a review of the impact of this new standard on performance of youth bats in general.
I’m going to assume FilterJoe readers are already familiar with the USAbat standard. If you want to brush up on the details of the USAbat standard, you can start with this site’s USAbat article.
The point of this new standard is to reduce youth bat barrel performance to be in line with wood barrel performance. In actual practice, it worked. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “hot” USAbat model.
What I am seeing in our league across the board is that players can’t hit the ball as hard or as far as they did last year when using a new USAbat. What was very clear from this year’s Gamechanger stats was that hitting was much worse for both our team and opposing teams than I’ve ever seen before, while pitching results were much better.
A few of the biggest kids in each division still hit many balls to the outfield. Most smaller players do not. I’ve heard of only one over-the-fence home run in our rec league this year in any division, compared to a typical rate of around a dozen per year across the league in recent years.
However, it’s not just about the “pop.” It’s also about the weight and balance of the bats and how well they can be controlled. Did that change too?
Yes. The weight, balance, and controllability of USAbats has changed.
My overall impression is that, compared to their predecessor models, all USAbat models I have seen used in play feel heavier to swing and are more difficult to control. The result is fewer quality line drives and/or deep fly balls. Here’s an anecdote to illustrate.
My son has a friend about 6 months younger than him in the 12u division with league-leading hitting mechanics, or close to it. Last year, I saw him hit well during games with his Combat Vigor 2 5/8″ bat. He is even more impressive with the Combat Vigor in batting practice, line driving over 2/3 of hittable pitches to deep center field. He likes composite bats so he obtained the Rawlings Quatro, which had impressed early adopters relative to other composite USAbat models. I saw him swing with both of these bats doing batting practice off his dad’s BP pitching. The difference was dramatic, despite both being 30″ drop 10 bats. His swing speed was visibly slower with the Quatro and his normally beautiful swing mechanics did not look so beautiful. In his own words, “This bat feels heavy and I’m lugging it through to the ball.” The Quatro hit quality was much worse, with most hits being grounders, popups, fly balls, and foul balls. He did hit a few line drives, but not quite as far. In short, he had a much harder time controlling the bat.
Bottom line is that all USAbat models are harder to swing, have less pop, and are not as easy to control as their USSSA counterpart bats of yesteryear. This was certainly the case for the Element Axe bat as well, as I explain in detail below.
A Few Words about What 13u Players Need in a Bat
No age is more complicated than 13u when it comes to getting the right bat. For details on that and to get better context for this article, see my recent piece on bat needs for 13u players. A very big consideration for 13u players is the fact that heavy drop 3 BBCOR bats are just around the corner. Some players may already be required to use BBCOR for middle school teams. But even for the majority who aren’t yet required to use BBCOR, many will be on a 14u travel ball team come August 1, and will therefore be swinging BBCOR.
Many coaches therefore believe that 13u is a year to get ready for BBCOR by ramping up bat weight. It’s helpful to consider what kind of BBCOR bat the 13u player will be using in a few months.
It can be a challenge for players of average size and ability to swing a heavy 31″, 28oz ounce bat. For small, light, pre-pubescent players like my son, the challenge is nearly insurmountable. The advice I’m receiving is that he should use a 30″ bat when he first swings BBCOR. So it makes sense for him to continue using 30″ bats in his 13u year, ramping up weight as fast as he is able.
A Few Words about my Son
My son was 5′ 0″, 88 pounds throughout the Spring season. Last year (2017) was his best year of hitting thanks in part due to practicing more, but also because the Axe bat he used worked very well for him. He didn’t strike out much, and the majority of hits were hard hits to the outfield. Hitting is not the strongest part of his game, but it looked like he was starting to emerge as a solid 12u hitter.
However 13u is the age our league starts using the big field (we go from 50/70 field to 60/90). Hitting it to the outfield takes more strength, and when making this transition, he had to use a bat conforming to the new USAbat standard.
So how did he do with his new Axe bat?
So How Good (or Bad) is the Drop 8 Element?
The first drop 8 Element he tried was 31″ long. I received it in October and figured that he would grow a bit, and be able to handle it by the Spring season. His first swings with it were noticeably slower than with his existing 30″ bats. In every way we tested the bat, he performed worse than with his other bats, ranging all the way from the batting tee to live pitching. Quite telling was that when I pitched easy batting practice to him, he could rarely hit the ball well, and when he did, it usually didn’t go as far as with last year’s drop 10 Axe.
In the end, I had to conclude that I made a mistake in getting a 31″ drop 8 bat for a 5′ 0″ 88 pound player. He never did gain weight because he slacked off on workouts, and he didn’t grow much either. As I explained in the 13u bat needs article, it’s not a great move to increase bat length as a 13u anyway. Increasing bat weight is the way to go, to get ready for BBCOR. He abandoned using the 31″ Element mid-season.
He does like Axe bats though so he then tried the 30″ drop 8 Element. This was more like it. His swing looked good off the tee, and while he was not as good at first with batting practice pitches, he got pretty good with it after a few sessions, nearly matching his performance with the drop 10 Axe bat from last year in terms of consistency and how hard/far he could hit the ball.
However, his game performance remained poor, and never really picked up. Gamechanger doesn’t track whiff rate (number of swinging strikes), but his strikeout rate was the highest it’s ever been (32% of plate appearances), and the quality of his hits was low, certainly lower on average than all prior seasons.
Simply put, my son has always had good bat control with prior one-piece Axe bats. He had terrible control with the 31″ Axe Element USAbat, and while his bat control with the 30″ Element was better than with the 31″, it was not good enough to translate into good in-game results. What I mean by control is the ability to adjust mid-swing in order to square up the sweet spot well with the ball.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, though, this wasn’t just about an Axe bat that missed the mark. I saw this throughout our rec league—hit quality with the new USAbat models was down across the board, and I can’t say I really saw any player control a USAbat model really well this year, regardless of model.
Also—a number of FilterJoe readers have left comments or sent me private emails expressing satisfaction with the drop 8 Axe Bat Element, especially models that were 29″ or less in length. This makes sense. If the bats are more end-weighted and difficult to control than in prior years, a way to make it easier to control is to go down in length.
On the bright side, this bat is probably closer to what he’s going to experience with BBCOR than a USSSA bat would have been. My son has realized (belatedly) that it’s going to take a lot of work for a smaller guy like him to be able to swing a BBCOR bat. If he can’t even hit well with a drop 8 USAbat, it’s going to be all the harder with drop 3 BBCOR.
I normally report on the actual versus stated weights for all bats I review. In the past, Axe bats have consistently weighed approximately 1 ounce or so heavier than the weight specified on the bat. That is approximately what I found with these two 2 5/8″ bats:
|Year||Model||Length||Printed Weight||Actual Weight|
|2018||Element USAbat L139F||31″||23.0 oz||23.8 oz|
|2018||Element USAbat L139F||30″||22.0 oz||23.3oz|
I do wonder if he would have been more successful with the 30″ if it were only 1.0 ounces over, as opposed to 1.3 ounces.
Who Should Use this Bat?
I’m guessing that part of what’s going on here is that bat makers can no longer make aluminum barrels that are super thin as in prior years, because that would cause the barrels to have too much pop, failing testing for the USAbat standard. Therefore, with thicker barrel walls, USAbat models are more end weighted and therefore difficult to swing with good control than in prior years. It sure looks like it when I watch my son and many other players swinging these bats.
Therefore, many of the old weight/length charts for bats may be out of date. For example, were my son swinging a 30″ drop 8 USSSA Axe Bat, he might be doing fine. But at 88 pounds and 5′ 0″ tall, he is not quite big/strong enough to swing a 30″ drop 8 Axe USAbat very well. To regain control of his bat, he probably would have been better off swinging a USAbat model that was either 29″ drop 8, or 30″ drop 10.
So who should use this bat? If your player likes the Axe knob design, this bat is worth looking into if you size it correctly. If your player weighs over 95 pounds, the 30″ Axe Element USAbat model should work well, and I’m guessing something like 110 pounds for the 31″ model. The 30″ is already working well for my 88-pound son in batting practice so it seems plausible that he’ll start hitting well with it in games when he gains just a few more pounds.
The Axe bat knob has multiple benefits (which I described in my first Axe bat article) and there have been many reports of the Element working well for players who use a length matched reasonably well to their body weight. Don’t make the mistake I made of thinking your player may be able to soon “grow into” an Axe USAbat model, or any other USAbat model for that matter.
My son has used several Axe bats over the last few years. He much prefers the Axe knob design over standard knob design, and he’s really liked being able to control the one-piece Axe bats he’s used in the past. The Drop 8 Element has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for the Axe bat knob and one-sided hitting. However . . .
The 2018 Drop 8 Axe Element USAbat model is the first single piece Axe bat model he’s found difficult to control. It’s a big step down from the amazing USSSA 2 5/8″ drop 10 Axe bats he used last year. My son would obviously prefer to use a USSSA single-piece aluminum Axe bat anywhere it’s legal for use.
In fact, the other day he did get to use last year’s drop 10 USSSA Axe bat in a scrimmage, and while his hitting wasn’t spectacular, it was good enough—for the first time all season he reached 1st base with each plate appearance during a game. He will be allowed to use the USSSA Axe bat for a few games prior to August 1 this summer and is looking forward to having a few last games of hitting success before the BBCOR struggle begins this August.
The big question is how does the Axe Bat Element USAbat model compare with other USAbat models. After seeing a bunch of these USAbats in action, I’m not seeing any of them that stand out significantly above the rest. I have seen a few that seem especially bad. The Element does not seem to be among the particularly bad USAbat models, but I hope that next year’s model is easier to control than this year’s model. Until then, my advice is:
If you have to use a USAbat model, and you like the Axe knob, consider what length and weight you need. Then get a bat that is not as long or as heavy as what you thought you needed. From what I’ve observed so far, all USAbat models are more difficult to control than their equivalent weight/length counterparts in USSSA models, so only by reducing length or weight will players be able to regain control of their bats.
Note that when BBCOR first came out, the first year models did not impress. After several years of innovation, there are many BBCOR models that hitters far prefer over wood bats, despite the barrel itself having no more pop than that of a wood barrel. My expectation is that that, within few years or possibly as early as next year, there will be some USAbat models that are much easier to control than any of this year’s models.
This article may have come off as critical of the USAbat standard. Personally, I think it’s a good thing long run. Obviously USAbat models aren’t as easy to get hits with as prior year models. After all, that’s the point! And it worked. My son had his worst hitting results ever at the plate with his USAbat, with a .129 batting average. But he also had his best year as a pitcher. He did not even give up a run (earned or otherwise) in his first 13 1/3 innings of pitching.
Hitters’ losses are pitchers’ gains.
My son still loves the Axe bat design and is more eager to do batting practice with an Axe bat and its ergonomic knob than the alternatives. He didn’t hit all that well with one of Baden’s first USAbat offerings, the Element. But it did wake him up to the following reality: if he’s going to be swinging a heavy BBCOR bat a couple months from now, he’d better start practicing hitting a lot more than he ever has before.