So it's your turn to bat for your team and you rise from your lawn chair and approach the plate. Before stepping in the batter's box you must first make a decision. 'Which bat do I choose?' In our league batters have the choice of two bats but many leagues do not give hitters any options. Even now it is quite common for leagues to only allow the use of the skinny yellow bat. So why the fuss? Does using a bat other than the yellow bat matter? Well, it depends on who you ask. It's been a divisive issue that has plagued wiffleball leagues across the nation for the past few years. The skinny yellow bat is seen by many as a package deal with the ball since they are both made by Wiffle Inc. So, by that philosophy, they should be used together otherwise it's not really "wiffle" ball. I suppose that is a valid point.
It seems that while most of the leagues across the country share the opinion of yellow bat purists there is a steady increase in leagues using other bats. As the amount of wiffle leagues has risen over the past decade so has the options of adult sized bats. Two of those bats, the Easton ProStix 1000 and Louisville C271, are becoming quite popular in a few leagues including our own. Both bats look similar to baseball bats and the bigger barrel supposedly increases the likelihood of making contact. This is a common belief among wiffleball players and when I put together the first issue of Wiffler's Digest magazine in July 2011 a friend of mine, Ryan Winfield, penned an article ridiculing the use and price of non-yellow bats entitled Wiffleball and the World of Performance Enhancing Bats. The article created a firestorm of debate involving several leagues and the relevance of the skinny yellow bat. From that moment I began to wonder 'Does it even matter?'
I then began to wonder what would be needed to prove or disprove that using bats with bigger barrels effected a batter's overall performance. I kicked this idea around for nearly two years before I finally began to gather data. The first thing to consider is that most leagues that use non-yellow bats are fast pitch leagues. Some of those leagues have pitchers that can throw in excess of 90 mph. Facing such a pitch with a skinny 30'' piece of plastic is a daunting task. So it doesn't really require a PhD in physics to understand that using a bigger bat is a great equalizer for someone throwing at Major League speed.
We started the inaugural HWL season last spring using the original yellow bat and the Sandlot Stick and the offensive performance was less than impressive. The league as a whole only hit 16 home runs the whole season. The league leader (Greg Sowards) only hit 4 home runs. It is for that reason that we decided to use different bats this year and the results have been much more pleasing. As a league we've hit 243 home runs so far. In 2012 the average league in the National Wiffleball League Association (NWLA) hits 314 home runs. I looked at the amount of home runs hits in 29 leagues in the NWLA. Leagues used in this data had to have consistent statistics from last year to be included. Among these 29 leagues 18 of them are strictly yellow bat leagues while the others permit the use of other types of bats. Out of the 9,121 home runs hit by these 29 leagues, 6,926 of them came from yellow bat leagues while only 2,195 came from leagues that use other bats. The average amount of home runs hit in a yellow bat league is 384.7 compared to 199.5 in the other leagues. This pretty much shatters the notion that yellow bat leagues are less likely to have a high frequency of home runs than leagues that allow other bats. According to this data yellow bat leagues average almost twice as many home runs than other leagues. I also looked at the 2012 statistics of the Palisades WBL, a league that uses a bat bigger than any of the leagues on the chart use, to see if anything popped. The league hit a total of only 129 home runs and their home run leader, Rich Guillod, his 16 home runs. These are facts.
Next, I wanted to see what the individual performance of the bats we use are compared to the yellow bat. I tried to do this myself but I failed to hit a significant amount of home runs worthy of research. I then turned to James Clagg and Ryan Briers for help on collecting the data necessary to come up with any conclusions. Clagg is leading the league in home runs with 27 and is one of the league's best hitters (.733, 27 HR, & 55 RBIs). Briers is second only to Clagg in the home run race with 19 home runs (.667, 19 HR, & 39 RBIs). I figured the best way to analyze how each bat performed would be to have a home run derby test for each bat with Briers and Clagg getting 10 hits to see how many home runs they could each hit. We let them take any breaks as needed so fatigue would not skew the data. The yellow bat yielded the least amount of home runs but the results were much closer across the board than I expected (see chart). There was not much difference in how the bats performed in regard to frequency of home runs hit. The real difference seems to be the distance (see chart). We estimated the approximate distance of the furthest hit ball of each bat and found that the yellow bat fell short 20-25 feet compared to the other two bats. So depending on your league's field dimensions that could drastically decrease the amount of home runs in a yellow bat league.
It seems very weird that a bat that is almost twice the barrel size of the skinny yellow bat does not really cause a big shift in amount of home runs hit. But I guess when you consider the odd nature of the wiffle ball itself it really shouldn't be all that surprising.