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The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

Posted December 21, 2011 3:52 PM by HUSH

No one saw the baseball strike pitcher Brandon Patch's head on a 2003 summer day in Montana. Instead, fans and teammates in attendance only saw Patch fall to the ground, seriously injured. Patch would die four hours later and the beginning of the end of metal baseball bats could be determined as his legacy.

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via SambatAluminum bats via Lineup Forms

Take a look at your favorite MLB club or local professional team and you'll notice dozens of wooden bats on hand for sluggers to swing. Ash, maple and bamboo bats are prevalent-Babe Ruth swung a hickory stick-but you won't find a metal baseball bat. Take a look at a university or high school baseball team and wood bats will be hard to find.

This inconsistency is hard to dismiss. Baseball is America's pastime: as virtuous and simple as the ideals this country was founded upon. Yet the debate of wood vs. metal bats is changing the way the game is played, and possibly creating an unsafe atmosphere for players.

Pictured: America

Metal vs. Wood: Performance

Metal bats were introduced to the sport in the 1970s as a way to curb the costs of replacing wood bats. Original metal bats were crude and often were imperfect, but by the '90s metal bats had progressed significantly; enough so that both the NCAA and some high school athletic sanctioning bodies had adopted protocol to regulate metal bats under the equation of BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio).

Metal bats are engineered from scratch, allowing manufacturers to better balance the bat resulting in better control during the batter's swing. The hollow nature of a metal bat means a larger 'sweet spot,' or the optimum spot for striking a pitched ball with the bat. An advantage of metal bats is their ability to put inside pitches into play, where as players using wooden bats get 'jammed,' meaning they cannot get the bat barrel around in time to contact the ball on the sweet spot. Using a wooden bat for inside pitches usually results in a ground ball and in some cases, a broken bat. Another benefit of a metal bat is what is called the 'trampoline effect' which speaks of the ability of a metal bat to bend after collision with the baseball. This increases the acceleration of the ball off the bat by up to 7 mph.

There seems to be little debate that metal bats inflate offense. In the 1998 College World Series, the first year before the NCAA adopted any metal bat regulations, a record 62 home runs were hit in 14 games. For sake of comparison, the MLB mean batting average for its 30 teams was .255 in 2011, while Division I NCAA teams finished with a mean batting average over .300.

Can it be argued that technical progression is harming America's second most popular sport? By any means metal bats definitively augment statistics and can make evaluating college players difficult. The NCAA knows this to be the case, as evidenced by their tightening of metal bat restrictions prior to the 2011 season. Some coaches worried about a wane in interest from more defensively-focused games.

Not-famous and former professional ballplayer Ron Cacini speaks about metal vs. wood.

Metal vs. Wood: Safety

In the tragic case of 18-year-old Brandon Patch, it has been argued-and legally concluded-that use of metal bats is what ended his life. After a seven year legal case, Patch's parents sued bat manufacturer Louisville Slugger for close to $1 million. Patch's case is hardly unique; other players have been paralyzed or comatose from similar incidents.

Players have just milliseconds to react to a batted ball, especially balls hit at over 100 mph which will arrive at the pitcher in a blistering .38 seconds, no matter the type of bat. It's been estimated that players need at least .32 seconds in order to make a decision on the trajectory of a batted baseball. To understand how often batted baseballs accelerate over 100 mph, consider that in order to hit a home run the ball must be batted at least 110 mph. The high number of home runs in both the major leagues and in collegiate play should indicate the regularity with which balls are struck with such velocity. A ball traveling 110 mph will arrive at the pitcher in just .35 seconds.

Via Daniel Russell, Kettering University. BBS: batted ball speed (initial velocity); Arrival time: time to reach pitcher; Arrival speed: velocity ball arrives at pitcher after drag;

So the difference between tragedy and a fly ball can be a miniscule .03 seconds. Considering that data, it's amazing more serious injuries don't occur each season. It does explain why a large number of governments are considering bans on metal baseball bats.

In 2007, New York City passed a ban on playing with metal baseball bats, making the municipality the first in the nation to ban metal bats. Statewide bans in Montana, New York, California and New Jersey have been proposed by legislators, but have been defeated with varying degrees of success. As of this writing, New York City remains the only entity in the country to have made the bats illegal, though many leagues are assuming a ban is forthcoming and are already eliminating metal bats from competition.

Bat manufacturers employ lobbyists and cite the lack of concrete evidence to keep metal bats in the hands of the playing faithful. Proponents of the bans cite anecdotal evidence and a clear need to keep players safe.

Metal vs. Wood: Opinion

As an amateur baseball player I have staked out my own perspective on this unique issue. I have some collegiate as well as elite wood-bat league and tournament experience. As with any sport, some onus is on the player to understand the risks associated with participation. A football player can get concussed, a basketball player can have their tendons torn, a soccer player can get a compound fracture their leg, and all of these can result in never being able to play the sport again.

Considering that baseballs in excess of 100 mph are regularly played, independent of the type of bat used, I feel as though metal bat bans are ineffective. In the case of Brandon Patch, he had an estimated .37 seconds to react, meaning the ball was in flight at over 100 mph. If 7 mph is the largest difference between the acceleration of the ball between metal and wood bats, Brandon Patch would still have only had about .4 seconds to react if the ball was hit with wood. According to Daniel Russell's information, Patch would have needed at least 32 hundredths of a second to react, resulting in a tiny 8 hundredths of a second difference. That means Brandon Patch would have only been provided with another 3 hundredths of a second had the ball been hit with a wood bat.

Defense lawyers for Louisville Slugger positioned that Patch's unfortunate death was an accident and an anomaly; and I'm inclined to agree.

I will admit, much of my stance is anecdotal just like that of the ban's proponents, but I've seen pitchers take line drives off the head and usually the pitcher sits out the rest of the game and perhaps needs a trip to the hospital. Rare is it that the result of a line drive to the skull results in such a tragedy as that of Brandon Patch. In some instances, the pitcher even remains in the game to continue play.I find it difficult to believe that if Brandon Patch was provided another .03 seconds that the disastrous accident that ended his life could have been avoided. I feel sympathetic for Patch's parents, who feel like a minor change in what is just a game could have saved their son's life. My sympathy doesn't determine my thoughts though and I think that turning Patch's unfortunate death while doing something he loved into a rallying cry to stop the natural mechanical progression of a beloved sport is misled.

Resources:

NCAA D1 Baseball

MLB stats on ESPN

Science Daily: Batter Up

Daniel Russell via Kettering U

NYT 1 & 2

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#1

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/21/2011 5:36 PM

Instead of regulating the bat, why not give the pitcher the option to wear protective gear (if they don't have that option already). Sure some will not opt for the face mask as it may interfere with their pitching....but then it's a risk they can actively protect themselves.

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 8:13 AM

they adopted protective gear for bull riders, for a much safer soprt and it didn't effect the rider.

Baseball can be a difficult game, back when Aluminium Bats first came out, everyone used it because they thought it improved there batting average because they could hit it farther, I stuck it out with wooden, realizing they have to hit the ball before an aluminium can have an affect, because I realized it not the bat but the player.,

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 10:50 AM

...when Aluminium Bats first came out, everyone used it because they thought it improved there batting average because ...

I was able strike out equally well with both metal and wood bats.

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#7
In reply to #5

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 11:25 AM

i.e. the only way to improve your batting average is to use the DH.

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 11:42 AM

Actually, I've got quite a good average now....but in little leauge I was horrible. I think I made all three outs one inning.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 2:39 PM

What's to keep "them" from building a metal bat with the identical performance of a good wooden bat and using that.

I think all bats should be equal, so the hitter's skills will determine how far the ball goes, not bat technology.

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#15
In reply to #12

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 3:15 PM

Would you also require that all hitters use the exact same sized bat, too?

The bat (size and material) that's optimal for one hitter (large mass, long muscular arms) may not be optimal for a hitter of different stature.

How far the ball goes is not the only way to rate hitters. The proper bat in McGwire's hand puts the ball over the fence. That bat in the hands of Ichiro may not produce good results. However, the proper bat in Ichiro's hands produces a high on-base percentage as well as rbi's, but in McGwire's hands will result in fewer home runs (and poorer performance for McGwire). Ichiro gets on base so frequently, not by hitting the ball far, but by strategically hitting it where defenders aren't.

I fear such a change to the rules would result in a more homogenious set of players and a more boring game.

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#19
In reply to #15

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 4:03 PM

Why not? The balls are all the same. Why should some steroid giant get to use a custom bat to further enhance his hitting ability?

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#22
In reply to #19

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 4:37 PM

Who says it would be advantageous to steroid giants? What if the bats were what Ichiro uses?

My point is that by forcing them to use the same bat, the rules then exclude a huge number of athletes and the game evolves to where all the athletes are roughly the same. What if all golfers had to use the same length clubs and those clubs happen to be the ones engineered for 5'8" males? The winner's circle would look quite different.

Coaches choose their players to have a variety of weapons. Sure Mark McGwire hit a lot of home runs and in 17 years accounted for more than twice as many runs as Ichiro has in his 11 seasons in the MLB, but if you look at 2001, the only year they were in the league at the same time (to keep inflation out of the picture), Mark McGwire was costing St. Louis $150k/rbi whereas Ichiro was a bargain at $81k/rbi for the Mariners. s

Don't get me wrong, I'm not in suggesting players should be able to walk up to the plate with anything they care to drag in? Let the player choose what suits them best.

It's interesting...for a player who was greatly focused on home runs, Mark McGwire used a wood bat. No? I would expect if one material was considerably greater than another, there would be a very definite migration to that technology.

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#24
In reply to #22

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/23/2011 11:12 AM

You obviously know far more about the game than I do. There wasn't enough level ground where I grew up to play baseball anyway.

Happy Holidays.

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#25
In reply to #24

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/23/2011 11:43 AM

There wasn't enough level ground where I grew up to play baseball ...
You should sue you parents! .
Del

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#26
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/23/2011 11:47 AM

I would if I knew who they were.

Seriously, we lived on the side of a hill. Drop any sort of ball and you'd be chasing it all the way to the bottom, about 200 feet down. We never had to worry about floods.

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#27
In reply to #25

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/23/2011 11:48 AM

Now you're thinking like an American Del.

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#2

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 5:15 AM

So another triumph for the lawyers.
Guns don't kill but metal baseball bads do???
The reporting is poor, what actually happened? Was the guy struck by the bat or the ball. Just re-read it... the ball struck him... so why didn't he have adequate head protection and why was the bat rather than the ball deemed to be at fault?
Accidents happen...suing the a$$ of some bat manufacturer won't stop it.
I just don't get the American psyche, guns cars all sorts of things kill people, some kid dies in a freak sporting accident and some one has to pay.
Surely protective head gear should be worn?
I'll probably get sued for posting this...
Back to the main discussion, I think wood is great stuff and should be used, far more environmentally friendly and feels good too.
Del

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#4
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 8:24 AM

if one every saw a wooden bat explode from a pro ball player pumped with steroids, the lawyers can play both sides...........here is what will become of this:

NERF Bats

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 10:56 AM

The pitcher pitched the ball; the batter, using an aluminum bat, hit the ball; the ball hit, retraced it's original trajectory and hit the pitcher in the head. The arguement was, an aluminum bat hit the ball and sent it at a much higher velocity than if it had been a wooden bat. The pitcher didn't have enough time to react (change position, raise glove to protect face, etc).

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#9
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 11:29 AM

Dunno how they got any money out of the bat manufacturer... it's just personal negligence not wearing a helmet, end of...
The whole thing is a nonsense, if they want to sue anyone, it should be the sports governing body who should make the use of protective equipment compulsory.
Presumably it was a game in some sort of official league, not just kids having a knock.
Del

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#10
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 11:32 AM

don't have all the info, but helmets are required for batters, from Tee-ball on up.

In the last Little League World Series last fall, The team that won it, which happened to be a U.S. team from California I believe. in one of their earlier games, the batter hit it right back to the pitcher. And what saved the pitch was that the ball hit right at his visor on his regular baseball cap and deflect the enough.

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#8
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 11:28 AM

Stranger: Are your Mr. Cat?

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Stranger: Mr. Del the Cat

Del: why yes I am, who wants to know?

Stranger: hands him an envelope, and Announces, "You are now served with a court summons......"

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#13

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 3:00 PM

Hey folks,

I appreciate all the feedback. Really. I just wanted to note that it clearly says Patch was a pitcher: a defensive position with no safety gear available.

Also, I added the resources I used so you can follow the story more in depth. My material covering Patch was brief and I just wanted to use his story as a poignant example of the potential risks.

Thanks.

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#14
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 3:04 PM

Pitcher: a defensive position with no safety gear available.
That makes no sense what so ever...
Do pitchers spontaneously combust if they try to don a helmet?
In what way can a helmet prevent you throwing a ball? Or am I missing something?
Del

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 3:18 PM

Exactly...and couldn't a glove be considered considered 'safety gear'? What about a cup? Talk about a head injury.

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#20
In reply to #14

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 4:25 PM

Del, I suppose I should have said no specialized equipment is available for pitchers. It's actually against MLB rules for a pitcher to wear helmet currently. Pitcher's gear is analyzed more than any other position, due to the ability of a pitcher to nick, tear or smear a baseball and change it's natural curve with hidden implements.

Some sources have speculated that pitcher's helmet could be near, but as of today, nothing. http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/7598/pitching-helmets-are-coming

Finally, to be on the same page cricket =/= baseball.

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#21
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 4:36 PM

It's actually against MLB rules for a pitcher to wear helmet currently...

BINGO! Then they the people who make/enforce the MLB rules are the ones who should be sued, not the maker of the bat.
To prohibit the wearing of a helmet is self evidently negligent. What incompetent lawyer did the bat maker employ?
I rest my case and i'll get off your back too now... thanks for your patient explanation, as, being a Brit I know zip about baseball.
Del

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#17
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 3:33 PM

No safety gear....

ah, the pitcher has a glove.

As far as risk, there are risks in everything. One thing about engaging in sports is the risks are greater, which makes it more exciting for both participant and spectator.

You take that away, what do you have?

Compare this sport to tiddley-winks, which would you rather watch.

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#18
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/22/2011 3:59 PM

Depends on who's playing....the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders or the guys on Myth Busters.

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#23

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/23/2011 11:03 AM

Suppose a pitcher got killed by a batter using a WOODEN bat. Would a law suit be filed against the maker of the wooden bats? I seem to remember hearing of pitchers being killed by line drives many years ago, but they were regarded as accidents and nothing more. There are more ambulance chasers in this country than all the rest of the countries combined.

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#28
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Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/23/2011 1:38 PM

In today's society, you are responsible for your own actions, it someone el$e.

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#29

Re: The Science of Swat: Metal Bats vs. Wood Bats

12/26/2011 7:40 AM

I was at a coaching clinic recently - panel included minor league and college coaches; there's already a battery of tests and certifications that a metal or composite bat has to pass to be useable on a baseball at a sanctioned event (e.g. little league or college), but based on comments at the clinic it sounds like they will be forcing the performance curve downward again in the near future to make the metal and composite bats perform more like the wood.

Interestingly, composite bats were in the spotlight for regulators at the little league level in the last few years because over time some composite bats were found to deliver more energy to the ball than when they were originally manufactured and certified. I have not heard the technical explanation (?additional cross linking of the polymer matrix maybe?), but it let to a whole new battery of tests for these super light bats.

The only constant in all of this is that if you have a kid in little league now, the bat you buy them today won't be useable in a few years because it won't have the right stamp or certification on it...

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