Tech Tuesday: Sweet Spots Take The Sting From The Swing
It’s time for another installment of Tech Tuesday, where we corner Hugh Tompkins, Baden’s Director of Research & Development, and pepper him with questions about some technical aspect of bat making. Today, we address an important, but unseen, part of the bat: the sweet spot. Let’s get to it.
Q: First of all, what is the sweet spot?
A: The sweet spot is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented attributes in bats. When we say sweet spot, we’re talking about the point on the bat where the ball comes off the barrel causing the least amount of vibration in your hands. It’s where — when you hit the ball — it almost feels like you’ve hit nothing.
Q: Is there an easy way to find the sweet spot?
A: For players, the easiest way is to take some batting practice. Hitting will give you a good feel for the bat and help you identify both the location and size of the sweet spot. How quickly you’re able to find the sweet spot is a good indication of its size.
Now, if you wanted to make this more of a physics problem, you could find the exact location of the sweet spot by calculating two key points on the barrel called the node and the center of percussion. The closer these two points are together, the bigger your sweet spot and the more predictable its location.
Q: How big is a typical sweet spot?
A: Generally, sweet spots across the industry range from about 1/4-inch (small) to 1-1/2 inches (big).
Q: Where is the sweet spot on the Axe Bat?
A: It’s different depending on the size and model, of course, but typically, you’ll find it between the “A” and the “X” on the top-side barrel graphics when the bat is gripped correctly.
Q: Does the ball go farther if you hit it on the sweet spot?
A: Not necessarily. In fact, that’s one of the bigger misconceptions about sweet spots. The ball does feel better coming off the sweet spot, but if you were a robot and didn’t feel pain, you’d actually want to hit the ball about two inches below the end cap every time. That’s the farthest you can get from the fulcrum of the swing without barrel performance being compromised by the end cap. In other words, it’s the point where you get the most leverage and speed from your swing. But it doesn’t work that way because hitting the ball there on most bats hurts.
Q: So the benefit of the sweet spot is all in your head?
A: Not really. Studies have shown that athletic performance is hindered not only by pain, but by the expectation of pain. So, as a hitter, if you are going to the plate anticipating pain — maybe the knob is digging into your hand or the bat you’re using has a small sweet spot and vibrates harshly — you won’t swing as hard. Even if you tell yourself to forget the pain, your body won’t let you do it. We’re hardwired that way.
So a bat with a larger sweet spot helps eliminate this involuntary response to anticipated pain and allows you to maximize your swing potential.
Q: What are some of the other misconceptions about sweet spots?
A: One of the most common is that players often think the size of the barrel impacts the sweet spot. I’ve even seen marketing materials from bat companies that imply a larger barrel automatically makes for a bigger sweet spot. The sweet spot is not something you can see that easily. Scientifically — no matter the size of the barrel — the sweet spot still is a measurement determined by the distance between the node and the center of percussion.
Q: As a bat manufacturer, how do you ensure your bats have the largest possible sweet spot?
A: We’ve found through experimentation and experience that sweet spots are negatively impacted by perimeter weighting, meaning weight in the handle and the end cap. Generally, when a bat has a more homogeneous distribution of weight, the larger and more predictable its sweet spot.
Q: How has the Axe Bat’s sweet spot changed over time?
A: Our sweet spot is getting bigger every year. One of the early issues with the Axe Bat was its knob was one of the heaviest in baseball. Not only did that limit our ability to put weight elsewhere in the bat for performance and durability, it also gave us perimeter weighting, which we know shrinks the sweet spot.
Larry Carlson, our Head of Engineering, and I have been working tirelessly the last couple years to shave weight out of the knob. The current knob is much lighter than the knob we had when I started in 2012. And that alone has increased the size of our sweet spot.
Q: How did you reduce the weight of the knob?
A: It was a combination of materials and better design, which we talked about a couple months ago in Tech Tuesday. The biomechanical benefits of our knob and handle far outweigh the extra couple grams that might be in there compared to a traditional round-handled bat, so there’s virtually no effect now on our sweet spot.
Q: What else have you done to increase the size of the Axe Bat’s sweet spot?
A: The other design change we made to reduce perimeter weighting (and increase sweet spot) was to use a composite end cap. We introduced that in 2013 and it’s something we offer now on all of our Elite and Element models. Most every other bat manufacturer uses a heavier end cap.
Q: What are some of the things bat makers do to make the sweet spot feel larger?
A: The most common workaround is to use vibration-dampening technology. This masks some of the pain associated with not hitting the ball on the sweet spot and can make a sweet spot feel larger than it actually is. A lot of players like this effect, but there is a small contingent of old-school types who hate it because the technology prevents you from getting honest feedback about where you’re hitting the ball.
Q: Where should sweet spot rank among criteria for purchasing a bat?
A: It depends. If the sweet spot is too small or in an unpredictable location, it shoots right to the top — if your bat stings your hands unless you hit the ball right on the screws, everything else sort of falls by the wayside.
If your sweet spot is not bad, the difference between good and great is fairly insignificant compared to other attributes of the bat like balance, handle ergonomics and barrel performance. Most bats have at least a good sweet spot, so the other parts of the bat are more critical. That’s why it’s amusing to see bat makers advertise how big their sweet spot is. This goes back to the incorrect notion that the ball comes off the barrel better on the sweet spot.
Do you have a question that wasn’t addressed above? Leave it in the comments and we’ll do our best to get it answered.by