Mizuno Hoping to Start a New Craze

The Craze is supposed to be different from previous Mizuno bats by virtue of its durability, but it is much more than that. The Craze is weighted unlike previous models with a more responsive sweet spot and unique sound; it also looks different than past Mizunos.

The things that make it more durable – the Black Array Carbon with its higher percentage of resin, the scoop-style end cap, and absence of end-weighting have combined to change the feel, the sound and the location of the sweet spot on the Craze. The end cap design mimics the scooped top of Mizuno’s wood bats which remove weight from the end making the bat easier to control; it also allows a hitter to swing a slightly heavier bat than before and adding mass – provided the swing speed doesn’t slow – adds distance. The end cap along with the bat’s balanced weighting moves the sweet spot away from the end of the barrel and puts the bat’s mass and hitting surface in the same place, and when the ball is hit right on that spot, the sound it unique and the distance is impressive.

The singular sound the bat makes was not intentional, the original look of the bat is. Designer Tsuyosh Ieta took the white handle of last year’s Frenzy model and redesigned the barrel in brilliant yellow with explosive graphics to help the bat stand out on the field. “That is something I’ve always harped on,” said Mizuno’s Chad Robertson. “I want anyone watching the game from the stands or field to know from 300 feet away what bat is being used. I think this design will do that.”

We’ve hit a number of impressive drives with this bat, even on pitches we didn’t think we got the whole bat on. We have also not seen any wear on the test bats despite constant use in tournament and league. The Craze doesn’t need breaking in as much as the hitter does – those of you who use end-loads will have to train your¬self to get the most out of this new design; those who already swing balanced bats will be pleased with the distance they will start getting. This bat performs like any top-of-the-line model, but at half the price which makes it mighty attractive to keep in our bag.

If you’re 40 and you’ve been playing softball for a long time, then you’ve seen softball equipment evolve – including every craze high-performance bats have gone through from aluminum to titanium to multi-wall to composite. And while you probably like the bat you are currently using, you still tell stories about a bat you loved 15 years ago that was so hot it came with a “No Warranty” caveat.

But if you’re 25 and relatively new to the game, then you’ve only ever swung one type of bat and don’t have anything else to compare it to. All you really know is using the best equipment does make a difference. And if you want a great bat you are going to spend somewhere between $300-$400.

With its new Craze, Mizuno has come out with a bat designed to evoke fond memories of bats past while introducing the next generation to a new way of thinking about high-performance bats. It’s also designed using revolu¬tionary materials and processes. And it’s designed to help Mizuno return to the top of the slow pitch world.

“Mizuno has had quite a rollercoaster ride with our slow pitch bats,” said Chad Robertson, business manager for bats for Mizuno. “We were really the first to develop a high-performance composite bat and introduce it to the market with the original Techfire, and we had a great year with the Crush in 2004; we’ve been trying to chase that success ever since.”

The Craze could be the bat to do it. It features a new fiber and resin combi¬nation, a new layering process, and new weighting for a Mizuno bat. It also introduces a completely new idea that could become a craze itslef – an afford¬able top-of-the-line bat.

“The durability side of things has been our Achilles heel in recent years,” admitted Robertson. “We’d make one bat that would last a thousand swings, we’d make the same bat and it would break quickly. We’ve been struggling with consistent durability … so we’ve gone back to the drawing board and started from scratch.”

Since new bat limits and standards changed the softball landscape in 2004, Mizuno has made some good bats – the Wrath and Frenzy, for instance – but the knock against them was breakage. That led to other problems – “We were getting lots of bats returned,” said Robertson, “and with them we were seeing a lot of shaved bats, rolled bats, fake receipts … go on any message board and you will see posts ‘need receipt.’” So Mizuno went to work on a solution.

The first step was creating a better bat.

The engineers in Japan – Toshiaki Kida, Michiharu Tsukamoto, Yutaka Yamaguci and Kazuhiko Shindome – came up with a design that would increase durability in a uniform way, making each bat as durable as the next and all bats more durable than those past.

“The biggest thing was the development of our cylinder seaming technique,” said Robertson. Cylinder Seaming Technique allows for consistent wrapping of each layer of fiber and eliminates the seams that represent the weak points in a hand-rolled bat. The team in Japan designed a machine to replace hand-rolling the composite. “We still start each bat by hand, but now the machine finishes the process which leads to more uniform wrapping. The fiber is also now wrapped at an angle so it eliminates the seams, and the consistent pressure of the machine gets all the air out of the fibers and resin which eliminates imper¬fections.”

Japan also developed a machine to test the bats’ durability. “This durability machine can hit the same spot over and over providing really harsh and repeat¬able testing,” said Robertson. “And in field testing we got a number of A-plus level players to hit hard balls in cold weather – which used to not be a good thing for Mizuno bats. From the field-testing standpoint we are getting better results and we are mimicking those results in the lab.”
Of course, durability is only half the equation. The Craze is about perfor¬mance as well and that is supplied by the new Black Array carbon/resin mate¬rial and a unique weighting design. “The materials are a part of it too and Japan worked very hard on this bat,” said Robertson. “The difference between Black Array and any other composites Mizuno has used for bats is this carbon and resin was designed with bats in mind as the end product. In the past we’ve always shared composites with other departments like golf.”

Black Array Carbon has 5% more resin and more glass fiber in its formula than previous formulas. The Craze has a coiled, sunken end cap that moves weight away from the end and into the barrel. And its balanced barrel helps move more mass behind the hitting surface of the bat. These changes give the Craze a different feel and sound – especially when the ball strikes the sweet spot – and a considerable amount of pop, which is quite shocking if you aren’t expecting it.

The second step was in making the bat attractive to players.

“We decided that the best way to stop the problem with returns was to reduce the price of the bat and make them “No Warranty,” said Robertson. “We ran the idea by players and retailers and got overwhelmingly positive feedback.”

The Craze carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $149.99. That puts a top-of-the-line bat in your hands for half the price of most other compa¬ny’s top bats.
“In a poor economy, it gives players an option to have a great bat for a low price,” said Robertson. “Another thing it does is allow the “rec” player who wants a great bat but can’t justify drop¬ping $350 on it a chance to get one. With our tremendous upgrade in dura¬bility and the fact that a rec player is not the type of player who is going to break a bat anyway, they can buy a great bat that will last a full year or more for just $150.

“And for the tournament player – they can spend $300 and buy both bats at the same time, because if you think about it, the price of the replacement bat is factored into the price of other bats anyway. So if one breaks they don’t have to wait the time it takes to ship the broken one back and get the new one delivered. They’ll already have the backup bat in the bag and they can get to work breaking it in before it’s needed so it will be ready to go when it is needed.”

If early returns are any indication, the Craze may just be the next wave in soft¬ball equipment – a bat that works just as well, lasts twice as long, and costs half as much as those in the past. Then we’ll all have stories to tell the next generation of players about $300 bats and manu¬facturers’ warranties. And they’ll look at us as if we are crazy.

By Michael Cisneros

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