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Play Ball! Forest Service Research Cracks Major League Baseball Problem

Posted by James Spartz, Forest Products Laboratory, USDA Forest Service in Forestry Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017
Testing and analyzing thousands of shattered Major League bats, U.S. Forest Service researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) developed changes in manufacturing that decreased the rate of shattered maple bats by more than 50 percent since 2008. While the popularity of maple bats is greater today than ever before, the number of shattered bats continues to decline. Photo Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.
Testing and analyzing thousands of shattered Major League bats, U.S. Forest Service researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) developed changes in manufacturing that decreased the rate of shattered maple bats by more than 50 percent since 2008. While the popularity of maple bats is greater today than ever before, the number of shattered bats continues to decline. Photo Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.

Rate of shattered maple bats down 50 percent.

In 2008, Major League Baseball (MLB) came to the U.S. Forest Service, asking our Forest Products Laboratory to investigate why baseball bats were increasingly shattering into multiple pieces on contact.

The Forest Service team, led by David Kretschmann, dug in, swung for the fences and scored big time!

Kretschmann’s research, which was fully funded by MLB, has led to major improvements in the manufacturing of bats and helped make America’s favorite pastime safer.

By testing thousands of shattered bats, watching video and recording details of every bat breakage since 2009, the Forest Service determined key elements that needed to be addressed to build a better bat.

They found that the inconsistency of wood quality, primarily the ‘slope of grain’ was the main cause of shattered bats. 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.

In addition, low density maple bats were found to not only crack but to shatter into multiple pieces.  MLB was rightfully concerned that the shattered bats posed a danger to players and fans alike, and worked quickly to address the issue.

MLB accepted the recommendations of the Forest Service team, and the specifications for manufacturing of MLB bats have since changed because of the project.  The results have been remarkable. Limits to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions, and wood drying recommendations have all contributed to a dramatic decrease in broken bats.  In fact, the rate of shattered maple bats is down by more than half since 2008.

“The U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball to help make America’s pastime safer,” said 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.”

So, next time you are at the ballpark, think about that Forest Service research team from Madison, Wisconsin. Play Ball!

Category/Topic: Forestry Research and Science

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Jul 16, 2013

I hope MLB paid for the research and not tax payers.

Jul 16, 2013

Marc, thankfully MLB did fund the research according to the article: "Kretschmann’s research, which was fully funded by MLB"

Jul 16, 2013

The article's third sentence begins with... "Kretschmann’s research, which was fully funded by MLB,..."

Jul 16, 2013

Yes, Major League Baseball requested the research and continue to fully fund the project.

Jul 16, 2013

This is such a cool research project for the Forest Service to tackle.

Billie Jo
Jul 16, 2013

I don't care if MLB paid for it in full or not. We in Northeastern Oregon are consistently told the FS has no budget for basic infrastructure work or that issues are causing environmental damage. How about having staff focus on the issues at hand of managing the forest instead of wasting their time studying baseball bats. Would of this man's time been better spent researching alternatives to road treatments to reduce sedimentation, or better yet, out managing a project to install practices that would reduce those issues. But of course not, because that doesn't play into the role of locking the public out of public lands. I know, it's fully pay for by MLB, but the time taken away from treating resource concerns on the landscape is the issue, not who did or didn't fund it.

Jul 17, 2013

What a great study! And pooh on those who complain about how to manage staff. There is no "everyone will be happy" magic potion. But, what you CAN do is springboard off of this article/project and use it to explain to non-clients why the FS is so important, and in addition to these headline-grabber stories, what the folks in the "trenches" are working on. Its a great article to get people excited about the FS and then all of the other great things they do!
Sometimes, its funding like this that helps keep jobs alive!

Jul 17, 2013

The primary researcher on the MLB bats project is an engineer who continues working simultaneously on multiple other wood-resource projects. The Research and Development arm of the USFS applies its work across a wide variety of projects, all focused on using the nation’s forest resources efficiently and safely. This array of research comes in many forms. In fact, this well-respected Forest Products Laboratory engineer has also worked to develop stronger, safer wood highway guardrail posts and has helped to analyze proposed changes to the Southern Pine In-Grade program, among many other wood-strength related projects. MLB had a big problem on its hands with players, umpires, and even fans coming into unwelcome contact with sharp, high-velocity shards of hard maple bats. They naturally turned to one of the nation’s top wood-strength engineers to help investigate the problem. Results were dramatic, positive, and have now seen relatively long-term success.

Jul 17, 2013

I wonder how many other hit characteristics such as distance and speed and control are also affected by the woods' characteristics? Does bat wood impact home runs? Number of hits? Fly balls vs ground balls? Should MLB teams or players have their own special secret groves for bats? Or is this all just leading to performance enhanced wood :)?

Jul 17, 2013

A spin-off benefit too is that in advent of the Emerald Ash Borer having its way with our White Ash trees, all baseball bat manufacturers will increasingly over time be looking toward maple and birch to produce wood bats. This research enables maple to remain a viable option thereby protecting U.S. markets for domestically grown wood. Well done USFS-FPL!!

Jul 18, 2013

The Forest Service research folks are known as world leaders in wood product development because of their cutting edge technologies and professional expertise. No wonder Major League Baseball went to them to help solve this problem. Bravo Forest Service and the Forest Products Lab !

Jul 18, 2013

good work forest dept.


Jul 18, 2013

SG - "pooh on you", man that's deep. So we are suppose to just let the USFS keep locking us out of our mountains on the claims of no one to do the work and no budget to complete the work, but yet they continue to allow staff to do things like this? It's because of a lack of attention to such openly wasteful projects that the agency has lost it's way. Then again, I wouldn't expect a commenter of "pooh on you" to be a real critical thinker.

George Teachman
Jul 22, 2013

R.kumarasamy - what kind of wood are cricket bats made out of? Do cricket bats often break like baseball bats?

Aug 06, 2013

Just like wood you would use at a construction project. The more straight the grain, the less likely it will break.

Sep 12, 2014

As I recall, MLB and FPL worked on this project through issaunce of a Collection Agreement, with MLB paying for the research. FPL also maintained certain rights in terms of publishing the research findings.

Oct 22, 2019

I hope the time it took to "Play Ball" was made up somehow. I work for the FS and we are understaffed and underfunded and I am surprised, funding or not, that these FS researchers have the time for this. There isn't some private wood products lab that could figure this out?