Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Making Better Baseball Bats


Cutting the Rate of Shattered Bats
by 50 Percent
 

Researchers say it's the slope of the maple grain wood
that makes a better, safer wooden bat
 
 
 
As a long-time baseball mom -- from Little League to the Wood Bat World Series -- I couldn't help but notice the U.S. Department of Agriculture is doing it's part for America's favorite pastime and working to save baseball parents a few bucks, as well as making the game safer.


Sacramento team members check cracked bat during
a 2008 Wood Bat World Series game
 
With the 2013 Major League Baseball (MLB) season sliding into the All-Star break, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says results of U.S. Forest Service research, funded by MLB, show how professional and youth baseball players can have fewer broken bats. Good news when good wooden bats go for more than $100 a piece.
 
I have a whole collection in the garage, which needs to go; won't even make decent firewood. But that's another story.
 
"This innovative research will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation," said Vilsack in a prepared statement. "The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated it can improve uses for wood products in practical ways."
 
Here's how: The lab tested and analyzed thousands of shattered Major League bats, developing changes in manufacturing that decreased the rate of shattered maple bats by more than 50 percent since 2008. Researchers said while the popularity of maple bats is greater today than ever before, the number of shattered bats continues to decline.
 
"Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball to help make America's pastime safer," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "I'm proud that our collective 'wood grain trust' has made recommendations resulting in a significant drop in shattered bats, making the game safer for players as well as for fans."

 
 
The joint Safety and Health Advisory Committee of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association began working to address the frequency of bats breaking into multiple pieces five years ago. FPL wood experts looked at every broken Major League bat from July to September during the 2008 MLB season.
 
The research team found that inconsistency of wood quality, primarily the manufacturing detail "slope of grain," for all species of wood used in Major League bat manufacture was the main cause of broken bats. Also, low-density maple bats were found to not only crack but shatter into multiple pieces more often than ash bats or higher-density maple bats. Called multiple-piece failure, shattered bats can pose a danger on the field and in the stands.
 
Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise means less likelihood for breakage.
 

With the help of TECO, a third-party wood inspection service, the FPL team established manufacturing changes that have proven remarkably successful over time, researchers said. Limits to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions and wood drying recommendations have all contributed to the dramatic decrease in multiple-piece failures, even as maple's popularity is on the upswing.
 
The Forest Service research team has been watching video and recording details of every bat breakage since 2009. The team will continue monitoring daily video and studying broken bats collected during two two-week periods of the 2013 season, working to further reduce the use of low-density maple bats and the overall number of multiple-piece failures.
 
The U.S. Forest Service maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. And, if you don't find me in the garden during the All-Star game, look for me in front of the TV with my rally hat on -- Go National League!