Houston Astros: Diving Deep into Martín Maldonado’s Bat Situation
Did Houston Astros catcher Martín Maldonado create an unfair advantage with his bat? What even is the big deal with maple bats?
Before game two of the World Series, MLB decided to disallow Houston Astros catcher Martín Maldonado from using bats recently gifted to him by former teammate, Albert Pujols. As a former competitive amateur adult baseball player utilizing only wood bats in games, here is my take.
Maldonado’s bat itself, likely a Marucci Albert Pujols 5, known colloquially as an AP5, features a slightly bigger barrel than a traditional turn model such as Louisville Slugger’s C271. Craig Biggio liked the C271 turn model—considered a very balanced bat with a medium-sized barrel, not end-loaded like Pujols—and made it to the Hall of Fame. One day, so will Albert Pujols.
What is end-loaded?
Pujols’ AP5 manufactured for him by Marruci is end-loaded, meaning that more of the bat’s weight is located in the barrel. In theory, this extra weight helps power hitters achieve increased exit velocity on batted balls, ultimately leading to more extra-base hits.
The Marucci AP5 is many power hitters’ dream. The maple bat features a slightly larger barrel but at the expense of possessing a thinner, less sturdy handle. Balanced bats such as Craig Biggio’s, unlike end-loaded bats, can still hit home runs, too. It’s just thought by many in professional baseball that end-loaded bats produce home runs more consistently.
What’s the big deal about the manufacturer, Marucci?
Marucci wood bats are highly coveted among professional players. The manufacturer based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, started making wood bats in the early 2000s and has since taken a substantial market share from Kentucky-based competitor, Louisville Slugger.
Marucci boasts a reputation among hitters for making high-quality, durable wood bats that are incredibly popular both in the minor and major leagues. Some Astros use Marruci woods bats, including Alex Bregman.
It’s not just a bat’s look, but its performance that matters to players. After all, their careers depend on them. And hitting a baseball is one of, if not, the hardest things to do in sports.
Players spend thousands of swings experimenting to find bats that they feel best improve their chances of getting hits. Even two wood bats that weigh the same, and feature the same dimensions from two different manufacturers can seem unequal in performance to a professional hitter upon swinging both of them. Often, the hitter can find a real difference in performance.
What do different types of wood bats feel like to use?
Wood bats now have very specific ranges in weight, length, and substance to be legal in professional baseball. So from a certain standpoint, Maldonado’s bat gifted to him by Pujols was legal—but only for players who were grandfathered into using them.
A rule change nearly a decade ago stipulated some bat models pose an increased risk to others’ safety when they break during games.
Maldonado, lacking the service time of Pujols at the time of the rule change, did not possess the years of service necessary to receive the same privilege as his former Angels teammate.
During the World Series, Major League Baseball cited the concern with Maldonado’s bat due to player safety. In effect, implying that Pujols’ bat—now in the hands of Maldonado—demonstrates an increased risk of shattering and thus posing an increased risk of injury toward defensive fielders. But there is truth to the fact that any wood bat, regardless of its species, poses a risk to any personnel on-field.
As a former wood bat player, I can attest to my own bats breaking, splintering, and pieces literally flying into the infield toward position players during games. Breaking a bat is very common. And it happens incredibly fast.
In the moment, as a hitter you are thinking, or for a better word, reacting. Bats break before you are even done swinging. And where pieces of a bat travel to are beyond a hitter’s control.
The hitter can often feel a bat break while holding the handle, but doesn’t always know how bad the break is or where the pieces of the bat travel. In the course of a split-second upon making contact with a pitch, a hitter’s job is becoming a runner, sprinting mercilessly toward the bases. There is no time to assess the bat or process the break during the moment.
Maple is already more durable than other legal bat species
On another note, there appears irony in Maldonado’s World Series bat being disallowed. After all, the bat in question is maple. Maple bats generally are more sturdy. All wood bats break, but maple, many argue, break the least frequently.
In contrast, ash bats, which MLB players predominantly used before the likes of Barry Bonds and the maple revolution, break and splinter into pieces much more often than maple bats.
Ash bats, as well as birch bats, upon contact with a pitch feel like a stretching band as the ball makes contact with the bat. I remember from playing games while swinging ash and birch bats, that the barrel ever so slightly bends backward upon impact with the pitch before trampolining forward. For a fraction of second, you can actually feel the barrel trail your hands as you are gripping the handles in the middle of the swing.
With maple bats, there is not that same sense of give. A maple bat feels true and rigid upon contact as it impacts the pitched ball, as if dictating that the baseball will know its place—to move forward toward the field of play.
Maldonado, like so many other major leaguers do, was using a maple bat—a bat gifted to him by Pujols. The former Cardinals and Angels great may go down as the best hitter of his generation. If the league allowed one of the greatest hitters in the history of the sport to use a piece of equipment to chase 700 home runs this season—a home run chase ultimately boosting revenue for the league—it should extend the same privilege to all hitters to have the option of using the same type of bat. Or conversely, the bat should be banned to all players.
If Maldonado can’t use these types of bats for the World Series, neither should Pujols have been able to use them for chasing his home runs. Consistency is key.
That stated, Pujols is a great player and earned his hits. They should not be taken away from him for using his preferred type of bat. As someone who has personally used the AP5 against live pitching in games, I don’t see the bat as creating a competitive advantage. That stated, I respect the data displaying the bat’s propensity to break and create potential danger. However, all wood bats are dangerous.
Nevertheless, the real story here should be the inconsistency of Major League Baseball’s rule book. In other words, if some players are disallowed from using a particular turn model, then all players should be. Competition should be an even playing field. The idea that some hitters should be able to use a piece of equipment on-field while others cannot based on their service time, does not represent the on-field integrity we must expect from Major League Baseball.