A Major League Epidemic: Researchers Investigate, Decrease Baseball Bat Breakages

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have been studying bat breakage for nearly a decade. Research materials engineer John Considine recently stopped by Madison’s WORT FM’s 8 O’Clock Buzz to discuss the project’s progress and how scientists have worked to make wooden bats safer and stronger.

The project began in 2008, when the Safety and Health Committee of Major League Baseball reached out to the Lab to help slow a bat breaking epidemic and improve the safety of players and fans alike.

Considine said the project’s initial researcher, engineer Dave Kretschmann, concluded that multi-piece failures, bats breaking in at least two pieces, occurred more often after players began switching from ash to maple bats.

“Dave found out very, very quickly that there were two main problems regarding maple bats; one of them was that they were putting the trademark in the wrong spot,” said Considine. “They put the trademark in the same location as they would for an ash bat. But actually, because of the cellular structure of maple, they should have rotated it 90 degrees.”

According to research, a 90-degree orientation of the maple bat’s trademark allows players to hit the ball with the strongest ‘side’ of the bat.  Slope of grain also came into play. Researchers discovered that if the angle of the grain changed more than 2.5 degrees down the length of the bat, it was more likely to shatter.

“We’d known that in wood, for a very, very long time, when we design beams and things like that, that straight grain is much, much stronger than any curve in the grain angle,” Considine said. “So putting a limitation both in terms of rotating the trademark to 90 degrees, and then by limiting the amount of what we call slope of grain to less than two and a half degrees, there was a tremendous drop in the number of multi-piece failures in maple.”

Researchers also implemented minimum density requirements for bats as well as defect limitations.

Ultimately, researchers have been able to decrease breakages from approximately one multi-piece failure per game to 0.3 per game.

Considine also discussed the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer on the supply of baseball bats.

To learn more about baseball bat construction and how scientists have decreased breakages, stream the full episode of 8 O’Clock Buzz.

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta