Many baseball players are probably familiar with what the hamate bone is. Many of them have either injured it or have even broken it due to pressure from traditional round-knob bats. And in baseball, there has never been much in the way of options when it comes to bats.
However, one company is finding out that altering the traditional look and feel and utilizing an axe-inspired handle proves to be a completely different story, one that doesn't involve injury to the well known hamate bone.
What is the Axe Bat?
The Baden Sports brand Axe Bats not only eliminates much of the risk for injury from using the round-knob, but also uses an axe-inspired handle to create a grip designed to fit the 11-degree angle of a wrist for a flush contact point all the way down the palm.
But by redoing the grip of a bat, Axe Bats also created the concept of "one-sided hitting."
“Because of the angle of the knob, it puts the wrist in a neutral position when you first grip the bat,” Hugh Tompkins, Baden Sports director of research and development, tells SI.com. That gives batters up to 20 degrees more whip on a swing.
Courtesy of Axe Bat
Unveiled on Aug. 25, the Axe Element L138D takes the concept of one-sided hitting and embraces it with a new HyperWhip composite cap that allows collegiate or high school players to still choose a stiff one-piece alloy bat, now balanced better than even a two-chamber bat.
Using carbon fusion technology, Axe Bats eliminated the end cap and molded the last three inches of the bat into the barrel, fusing it while it slopes away from the contact side.
“It takes a ton of weight out of the very end of the bat,” Tompkins says, explaining that losing half an ounce at the end-cap feels like three ounces at the hand.
With the weight reduced at the end of the bat, Axe Bats shaved another eighth of an ounce by trimming the non-hitting side back. It also gave us the first-ever asymmetric barrel ever approved by the NCAA.
To save a bit more weight—“one of the things we know is that the sweet spot is dictated most directly by lack of perimeter weighting,” Tompkins says—Axe Bats combined TPU plastic and a lighter, softer urethane to shave off another quarter of an ounce on the handle. The lightweight shock-absorbing material adds comfort without weight.
And for hitters, reducing weight on either end only enlarges the sweet spot.
How will the Axe Bat influence MLB?
Obviously there’s no carbon fiber or composite materials used in either all-maple or all-ash wood bats, but Baden Sports has partnered with Victus to manufacture the Axe Bat for MLB.
To give MLB players one-sided hitting advantages, Axe Bats works with players to ensure that when swinging the axe-handled bat the “face grain,” the strongest part of the wood on the bat where you commonly see the manufacturer’s label, comes across the hitting zone.
“No player has a swing plane hitting perfectly perpendicular,” Tompkins says. “They are three to seven degrees off that plane.” But using a marking ball with the pros, adding in the axe knob and personal swing bias, Baden can rotate the grain to “eek out more performance and lock into that position.”
Each of the custom MLB bats gets cut in a Mennonite-run woodworking shop in Pennsylvania on a mill the size of a SUV, Tompkins says. And the list of clients in the pros has started to grow. Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Predroia swings with an Axe Bat, along with Mike Napoli and Hanley Ramirez.
“We are seeing a flurry of pros using it and are getting requests from players we’ve never contacted asking for samples,” Tompkins says.
Axe Bats started with a new way to grip. Now they’ve added a new way to hit.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.