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The Physics of Baseball Bats

Baseball Bat Science - How It Impacts Your Bat

Every sport is governed by the laws of science – physics, aerodynamics, kinematics, etc. Although most baseball players may not know the deep details, they usually understand that it is not just the skill and effort they put into their swing, but also the specifications of their baseball bat which will impact the success of the hit.

Step up to the batter’s box and get warmed up for the physics of baseball bats with this great video from ESPN Sports Science.

To get a better understanding of how science impacts your baseball bat, let’s explore a few key scientific principles.

  1. Mass Moment of Inertia (MOI) in Baseball

The mass moment of inertia (MOI) is a measure of the distribution of mass in the bat. A knob and end loaded bat may weigh the same, for instance, but the end loaded bat will have a higher MOI. Bat speed depends on MOI, and is an important component of laboratory performance tests.

Washington State University Sports Science Laboratory

You can get into the real nitty gritty of the science of MOI including complex equations by clicking through to the complete Bat-Ball Science Mass Moment of Inertia article, but we’ll put it in layman’s terms…

If you have two bats, each with the same weight – the bat that carries more weight in the end will perform better in terms of speed. However, it will also feel heavier when swung. Adding to that is the fact that bats have narrower handles than in the past which makes the bat less sturdy and more prone to breakage. All this means that if goal of the bat’s design is to provide more power and speed, it makes it more likely to to crack and shatter.

  1. Missing the “Sweet Spot” Can Cause Bat Damage

When a ball player hits the ball with the bat, it produces an enormous amount of force on the bat in a split second – the impact could mean up to 5,000 lbs of force. When a player has a bad hit and fails to hit the “sweet spot”, it causes vibrations which can cause the bat to bend or break. No player is perfect – so all players will miss hitting in the “sweet spot”, so every hit could result in baseball bat damage.

  1. Why does MLB still use wooden baseball bats?

In the late 1990s, the Crisco-Greenwald Cage Study found that bats made out of materials like aluminum perform better, for a number of reasons:

  • Aluminum bats are hollow so the distribution of mass is very different than a wooden bat, which makes it much easier to swing the bat and therefore produces higher speeds and more powerful hits.
  • Due to a phenomenon called The “Trampoline Effect”, the ball loses less energy when hit with an aluminum bat, which provides it with a larger initial velocity. A wooden bat will absorb more energy, causing the ball to move slower.

 

So, why does the MLB still use wooden bats?

First of all, it takes more skill. Hitting a ball incorrectly can make a wooden bat break due to the grain of the wood. Second, if players started using aluminum bats, every MLB record would be shattered within a year and the statistics of the game would be changed completely. Finally, if players started using bats made of a “better” material, the game would become dangerous as the baseball would start travelling much too fast. So, for the sake of the integrity of the game and safety, bats have remained wooden.

That said, composite and metal bats are still used by younger players who are still developing their skills. This makes the game easier to pick up and more exciting to watch – otherwise, every hit would only be a single.

 

How to Prevent Bat Sting

As discussed earlier, missing the “sweet spot” can cause vibrations in the bat. Players tend to feel a “zing” in their hands; often called “bat sting”. In recent years, an acoustics professor and engineer, Daniel Russell, from Pennsylvania State University helped develop a Kevlar-based vibration damper to help combat the painful sting of missing the “sweet spot” (only the physical sting, though).

 

How to Avoid Bat Breakage

Despite the likelihood of your bat breaking, there are things you can do to prevent it.

1) Hit with the label up – Manufacturers always place the label on the face of the grain. Scientifically speaking, this is the weakest part of a wooden baseball bat. So, if you make sure the label is up, it means that you will be making contact with the edge of the grain which is the strongest part.

2) Choose the right turn model – As discussed earlier, a wider handle will improve bat durability and reduce the likelihood of breakage. The ideal is the 110 turn model.

3) Care for your bat – Wooden baseball bats are susceptible to cold and moisture. So, after a rainy day game, ensure your bat is dry before you store it. Don’t store your bat in your garage or trunk of your car, bring it inside.

4) Good quality bat grip – Investing in a good quality bat grip will help improve your grip and increase your odds of hitting the ball in the “sweet spot” which can reduce the chances of breakage. Sniper Skin carries a line of great bat grips which are easy to install and remove while virtually eliminating the sticky gunk left on your bat.

If you are interested in diving deeper into the subject of the science of baseball bats, check out some of these great articles and research:

You don’t have to be scientist to get a sense of how baseball bats perform. What have you found works for you? Are you a fan of composite or wood? Why? Share your thoughts with us below!

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