For the past several years, the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Lab has been working with Major League Baseball to improve the strength of wood bats in an effort to stop them from shattering and possibly injuring players or fans.
Since 2008, the Products Lab has helped create a 50 percent reduction in multiple-piece failure rates in bats.
According to a USDA blog post, Dave Kretschmann, a research engineer at the Forest Products Lab has seen many videos of shattered bats. He’s tested and analyzed hundreds of bats, and recorded every Major League bat breakage since the 2009 season. Through his recommendations and the cooperative work of TECO, an independent certification and testing agency for wood products overseeing changes from the factory to the dugout, baseball players, owners and fans have reaped the rewards of increased safety through practical science.
“Most of my initial recommendations addressed “slope of grain” issues,” Kretschmann said. Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise is associated with less likelihood for breakage.
“One change made to address this issue, something that players and fans can easily see,” Kretschmann said, “is a small ink dot placed on the face-grain of bat handles. This helps identify grain characteristics at just a glance.”
These findings led to a limit in bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions and wood drying recommendations that were put in place last season.