Maple vs. Ash
From the early days of baseball, ash has been all the rage when it comes to wood bats. It’s light; it’s tough; the ball jumps off at contact. Ash is to baseball bats what sugar is to candy: the essential ingredient, right? Well…yeah, that’s what we all thought. That is until the early 2000’s when maple started gaining popularity among Big Leaguers and eventually replaced ash as the preferred wood of choice across the game. Now, don’t get us wrong; we’re not hating on ash. The material that made baseball what it is can’t just be discarded. It’s important to understand the cause of the shift to maple, though. The majority of professional players over the last 10-15 seasons have noticed a difference, but many have stuck to old faithful. In fact, over ¾ of Big Leaguers used maple last season.
Two questions arise: What’s the difference? And, are you an ash guy, or a maple man?
The answer lies in the biological distinctions between the two species and the impact those differences make when hitting a baseball. Understanding what makes both bat types unique gives us insight into the look, feel, and performance, of maple and ash bats and can help you decide what you’re taking to the dish.
We’ll start first with the weight of the bats. Maple is a naturally heavier wood, and for many years wasn’t even considered in baseball bat manufacturing because of its weight. Lighter weight equals greater bat speed, right? That’s one of the big factors for ash; it’s probably the lightest wood that maintains enough hardness and durability to be used consistently for baseball.
That brings us to our next point: hardness. While ash is light and dense enough for bat-making, maple is dense and light enough for bat making. Don’t blow your mind over that brain buster. Simply put, maple is heavier and also much denser. Maple, while heavier, is a harder wood than ash, yet not too heavy to swing.
The reason for maple’s density lies in its grain structure, which is the most visually noticeable detail between the two woods. Maple has a very tight grain structure with not much space between each grain. This lack of space makes the wood very hard. Ash, on the other hand, has a looser grain structure with more space between. Think of it like a punch versus a slap. When your fingers are closer together in a fist, your hand is a lot harder, and thus, causes more damage than a slap. That’s good news for you, but not so much for baseballs.
Grain structure has a massive impact on performance. And, no, hitting a baseball with ash isn’t like slapping it, but that’s because ash’s grains affect a ball differently than a slap would on someone’s face. The space between the grains actually allows more compression upon contact, and thus, a trampoline effect upon exertion. If you watched it in slow motion, the looser grains allow the wood to flex on contact (the bottom of the trampoline bounce) then expand with the force on the ball, sending it into flight (the top of the trampoline bounce). Pretty cool, right?
Maple, on the other hand, does not flex. Much like our fist example earlier, the tighter grains cause a higher energy transfer on contact, thus more power. The compression occurs on the ball, rather than on the bat. The result is greater velocity and further distance. Big Leaguers noticed this difference and bat manufacturers like Marucci responded causing a massive migration over to maple.
Here’s the catch for maple. Because the grains are so tight, the “sweet spot” on the barrel is not as large in area as it is on ash. The result is more mishits, making maple a little less forgiving. For ash, the rub lies in the grain structure as well. Over time and with heavy use, those loose grains begin to separate further and delaminate, resulting in flaking or chipping.
Knowing the difference between ash and maple can help you in making your decision, as well as help you understand what to expect from each type. The decision is really based on your individual feel and preference. Inexperienced hitters should stick to ash or a maple with a larger barrel. Power hitters who are comfortable hitting with wood would probably prefer maple. It really is up to you.
No matter which type of wood you choose, one thing is certain about Marucci, and that’s the quality of our products. By controlling our own wood supply and mill, we can ensure that only the trees put on Earth to make high-quality baseball bats will ever be cut and sent to our facility in Baton Rouge. From there, only the wood that looks and performs to our highest standards will ever leave this facility and go to you, or Jose Bautista, or Albert Pujols, or any other Big Leaguer who trusts our quality and craftsmanship.