Madison Lab Helps MLB Make Bats Safer

Fewer baseball bats are shattering into pieces these days, making the game just a little safer, thanks to the help of a Madison based laboratory.

A typical Major League Baseball season sees about 5000 bats snapped. But in 2008, half of those 5000 shattered into multiple pieces.

That's a dangerous and alarming statistic, that led the MLB to seek the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison for answers.

"Maple bat usage kept increasing and increasing and increasing, and so did the multiple piece failures, " said David Kretschmann, a Forest Products Laboratory Engineer.

The lab found that many big leaguers used maple bats because players say they are superior to ash bats, they are stronger and lighter...

Maple bats do have lighter rings, which makes it difficult for manufacturers to line the slope of the wood grain paralell to the bat...In other words, it increases it's risk to shatter...

"They weren't as familiar with maple as they were with manufacturing out of ash. They're's very distinctive rings, but if you look at the maple, it's not nearly as clear what the wood fibers are, " said Kretschmann.

The lab's findings helped encourage the MLB to regulate bat density, and the results are staggering. This season alone, less than one in four bats are shattering into pieces, even though ten percent more Major Leaguers have choosen to swing maple since 2009.

"It all goes by feel and what the player likes, looking like more and more maple bats are being used now than ash," said Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, who has been using a maple bat since he was in the minor leagues.

The Northwood's League has a contract with Rawlings, which obligates them to use their bats, which are made out of ash.

The difference between a strong ash bat and a weaker one, on a stronger ash bat, the lines of grain are more seperate where with a weaker one, the the lines are closer, which in time, a weaker bat, is more likely to shatter.

"It feels better off the bat, and the ball kinda travels a little bit better, off from the maple rather than the ash bats," said Wisconsin Woodchucks outfielder Garrett Rucker.

"The maple is just a stronger wood, when you hit it, it just goes further it feels like, and then the ash it's not as strong," said Woodchucks first baseman Matt Tellor.

The MLB continues to work with the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, by sending bat shipments to the clinic a few times each season.

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