When Perception Is Not Reality

Warning, if you’re not a baseball fan, you have my permission to stop reading this post right now, and read any one of my other blog posts which can be found at jborden.com 

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story the other day about the use of a weighted baseball bat as part of most players’ practice routine.

The idea behind the weighted bat is that if you tae a few practice swings with a heavier bat, and then use a lighter bat when it is actually time to face the opposing pitcher, your bat speed will be faster, leading to a better chance of having a successful at bat.

Baseball players covet a fast bat because the added speed gives them more time to decide whether to swing or take, and on contact, it makes for a more powerful hit. In the “The Physics of Baseball,” a book first published in 1990, Robert Adair reports that an 85 mph fastball hit solidly in the sweet spot by a bat swung 70 mph will travel 400 feet. But if it’s struck by the same bat at 80 mph, it will travel 450 feet. That’s potentially the difference between a routine fly ball and a home run.

So yes, bat speed is critical.

However, research shows that using a weighted bat does not help increase a player’s bat speed, and in some cases, may actually harm it.

While the studies are admittedly not large scale studies involving thousands of athletes (and pro athletes were not used), the evidence at this point seems to support the idea that weighted bats do not help with bat speed, and could actually harm a player’s swing mechanics. So the suggestion is to just warm up with your regular bat.

What is interesting is that despite this line of research, the author of the WSJ article suggests that professional players may likely ignore it. If batters believe swinging a weighted bat makes them faster, even if it doesn’t, then successful professionals are not likely to change their routine.

I understand the importance for professional athletes of having the right mindset and a positive attitude. If a player thinks that keeping a rabbit’s foot next to him on the bench is going to make him a better hitter, that may be just enough to raise his confidence to make him a more effective hitter. Obviously, the rabbit’s foot has no direct impact on his hitting ability, but it may have put him in the right frame of mind, which then led to success as a hitter.

But with the weighted bats, it seems different. It may be true that using the weighted bat gives the player the perception that it helps him to increase bat speed, and if it really doesn’t, it seems to be the same situation as with a lucky rabbit’s foot.

But it’s not. The lucky rabbit foot doesn’t directly affect how a player swings the bat, but going from a weighted bat to an unweighted one has the strong potential to affect your batting mechanics, which could hurt the batter’s performance.

So while the perception may be there that practicing with a weighted bat leads to improved bat speed, it doesn’t mesh with reality. The research shows that using a weighted bat does not help, and could actually harm performance.

So how do you get a player to change a deeply ingrained habit?

To me the first step would be to share the research with the players, have them try it in practice situations first, and track the results. If the results reflect what the research says, then it should be fairly easy to get the players to move away from the use of weighted bats for real games. Once enough players do this, then it should be easy to get everyone else to join in.

But I’m not optimistic that such changes will be made to a player’s routine. If I were to watch a baseball game 50 years from no, I would bet that players would still be using weighted bats.

As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.

Or in this case, you can show a player a better way of doing something, but you can’t make him use that better way.

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

2 thoughts on “When Perception Is Not Reality”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *