Most baseball bats used in Major League Baseball are made of maple, but other types of wood are used, too — ash and birch are the most common alternatives.
In fact, outside of professional baseball in North America, most bats are made from aluminum or composite — such materials tend to last longer, imparting cost savings to their teams and leagues. Those lighter bats, though, also tend to accelerate the speed of batted balls, making them dangerous projectiles and leading to various rules and restrictions to be enacted over the years.
In MLB, though, and in the minor leagues, bats remain wooden, as they have been for well over a century.
Here is a rundown of the three types of wood used for Major League bats, with the pros and cons of each.
Ash Baseball Bats
Ash bats were the most prevalent kind of baseball bats wood before the emergence of maple bats. These bats are more flexible, enabling players to whip the barrel through the zone, resulting in more bat speed. Ash bats are the lightest wood models and provide a good combination of strength and flexibility
On the downside, ash is a ring-porous wood, susceptible to drying out over time, which can weaken the bats and make them vulnerable to breakage.
Maple Baseball Bats
Maple is a dense, hard wood, which makes it both durable and solid, essential qualities for a Major League Baseball bat. In particular, higher density means the bats have more pop, especially important to help fuel today’s high-powered offenses. Also, since maple is a diffuse and porous wood with a tendency to compress when exposed to high-intensity force, it is less likely to shatter in the course of an at-bat — areas that strike the ball become even more dense with time and use.
Maple’s shortcoming is that, with time, it may absorb a significant amount of moisture, which can weigh it down — more weight means reduced bat speed, not exactly a hitter’s best friend.
Birch Baseball Bats
Birch is a durable wood, but it also tends to be soft. This has the advantage of creating more flexibility and “whip” as the player swings through the strike zone, but with the disadvantage of denting easily.
That sort of deformation on impact can lead to soft hits or unexpected ball flight, which often leads players to incorporating a break-in period before using a new bat in game situation to harden them up and increase their density.
While ash was, for many years, the wood of choice for Major League bats, maple has generally overtaken its older “brother” over the last two decades or so.
Today, about 70 percent of Major Leaguers use maple bats, with ash accounting for another 25 percent, and yellow birch bringing up the rear at around five percent.
Picking among the three wood types comes down to personal choice for the players, as well as recommendations from coaches and teammates, and considerations for what they’re trying to accomplish at any given time — more power, settle in with just a couple of trusted bats, break out of a slump, etc.
Whatever the case, it seems a lock that MLB will stick with wooden bats, and that familiar “crack!” for many years to come.