Axe handle bat new weapon of choice for Braves’ Swanson

Grant McAuley
May 19, 2018 - 11:41 am
Dansby Swanson

© Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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The Atlanta Braves will welcome starting shortstop Dansby Swanson back to the lineup on Saturday. When he returns, he’ll be swinging some brand new lumber.

Swanson is one of a growing number of players utilizing a bat that features a carved axe handle. He’s hoping it will provide a little relief to his left wrist, added comfort to his swing and perhaps a jolt to his numbers.

Axe handle users make up a small portion of baseball’s general population, but more than 70 players have used one over the past four seasons. Boston’s Mookie Betts and Houston’s George Springer are among those who do so full-time, but players are typically keen to try new things when it comes to equipment. For example, Nationals star Bryce Harper and Cubs slugger Kris Bryant have used an axe bat on occasion this season.

Bats have typically been manufactured in a similar fashion since the late 1800s, using a lathe to form the traditional model with the symmetrical handle we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in players’ hands.

So, just how did this relatively new bat find its way to Swanson?

Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki played a part. He’s been using an axe handle bat since 2016. That break from tradition has coincided with a late-career resurgence.

Swanson first used the new axe-style grip when he resumed hitting last week. He carried it over to regular batting practice and then to a rehab game with Low-A Rome on Thursday.

“It felt good,” said Swanson. “I’m trying to get used to it still just a little bit.

“A lot of it is just getting used to that you can’t just grip the bat anywhere. It’s a set position where you need to hold it. The biggest thing is, ‘Oh, I need to hold it like this.’ Especially going in the box, if you feel like moving your bat around, I need to reset it to where it needs to be. But other than that, as far as the actual hitting, it was cool.”

Unlike a bat with the conventional rounded knob, the axe handle design is molded to the hand. That in turn benefits a player’s swing.

A representative from Axe Bat in Seattle said the main benefit of the design is a more stable grip with less force. That is meant to add speed and power to the swing while allowing the hitter increased control of the bat barrel.

Swanson confirmed those claims when we chatted about his new bat on Friday.

“I noticed the difference as far as when you swing, it almost dynamically fits better, just different than the traditional rounded bat,” said Swanson. “When you grip it, it’s not moving around in your hands as much. You don’t have to grip it as tight to make it stay put.

“If you think about chopping with a baseball bat, chopping actual wood, that’d be kind of difficult because it’s rounded a certain way. With this, it fits in the groove of your hand better.”

It’s not uncommon for players who are recovering from a hand or wrist injury to try the axe handle bat. As Swanson can attest, the shape creates an added level of comfort because the standard bat knob is not pressing into the palm of the bottom hand.

That was a key selling point for Swanson, a right-handed hitter dealing with a left wrist issue.

Between Suzuki’s suggestion and working with Atlanta’s training staff to treat the wrist inflammation, Swanson felt the time was right to stop swinging a bat and start swinging an axe.

“Kurt has always been my ear about it just a little bit,” said Swanson. “He mentioned it a little bit and then once the whole wrist thing came about, the trainers and everybody were like, “Hey, this may not be a bad option for you to try.”

Swanson agreed it was worth exploring. If nothing else, he can always switch back. That said, the subtle change requires some adjustment for a new user to build comfort.

“I’ve been rolling with it and just kind of trying to get used to it, because people that have used it have sworn by it,” said Swanson. “It’s kind of one of those things, to commit to it and just go with it and don’t give up on it after a couple of days, so that’s where we’re at. Just trying different models with certain things and trying to get used to it in BP, hitting with it and that stuff. Each day learning more”

Axe Bat owns the patent to the Axe Handle and has licensed the design to MLB-approved wood bat makers including Victus Sports, Tucci Limited, Chandler Bats and Dove Tail Bats.

Suzuki, meanwhile, is an axe handle convert with no plans of ever switching back. He was swinging a Victus model when he set a career-high with 19 home runs with Atlanta in 2017.

His numbers since the switch in mid-2016 are undeniable. Suzuki averaged a .255/.312/.369 slash line with 12 homers per 162 games from 2007-2015. Since switching to the axe bat, that line jumped to .279/.338/.492 to go along with 31 home runs in his last 181 games.

Suzuki has a relatively simple philosophy about it all.

“It’s just the feel,” he said. “I think with any bat, axe handle or not axe handle, I think just to have the feel of the bat in your hands is really important.

“Baseball is kind of all on feel. If it feels good in your hands, then you’ve got that confidence and you just kind of move forward. I haven’t stopped using it since.”

Time will tell if Swanson becomes the latest player to make the axe handle bat an essential part of his game.

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