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Simple solution to bat issues


DrungoHazewood

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About once every month or two Bill James comes up with some wonderful idea that he ends up posting in an article or a "Hey Bill" question/answer on his web site. This time it's regarding the bat problem, or perceived problem.

As we all know there are lots of complaints about bats breaking, maple bats, the effect of light/hard bats on homers and power. So Bill has a solution:

Hey Bill: You wrote a compelling argument this year in the Gold Mine for minimum (and gradually increasing) bat handle widths. Here's another: It could be my imagination, but it sure seems (at least in the games i watch) like a lot more bats are flying into the seats these days, either from being broken or slipping out of the hitter's hands. Today, Buster Posey's bat drilled an Arizona fan in the head, and he had to be immobilized and carried out on a stretcher. Assuming it isn't my imagination, the skinny bat handles would seem to be likely culprits. Shouldn't (and will) this be enough to get some action from MLB?

Asked by: wafna

Answered: September 6, 2010

Bill's Answer: Well. . .yes. There is a really, really simple solution to this problem that is absolutely certain to work. You make a rule that if the bat OR ANY PART OF THE BAT is thrown by the batter more than 40 feet from home plate, the batter is automatically out, and it goes as a strikeout. If you do that, I guarantee you that hitters will discover real quick that a) they CAN hold on to the bat, and b) they can find bats that don't shatter on contact.

The absence of such a rule allows the batter to get the benefits of a vicious cut and a bat designed for maximum bat speed, but excuses him the dangerous consequences of this combination. That's unnatural. The natural thing is simply to hold the batter responsible for the bat.

I kind of like it. Gets the league out of the business of mandating some exact size or weight of bats. Puts the onus on players to come up with a bat that matches their style of hitting and won't kill anybody. Side benefit of probably bringing back bats that are a little bigger, thicker-handled, and will help stem the ever increasing number of Ks.

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Reason?

Characters.

It's gimmicky. Oh, I threw my bat? Well did it fly the requisite 40 feet? Or is it at 38 feet and do I get to keep my at bat going? Hold on, someone get a tape measure....

I understand the concern for breaking bats and throwing bats and I would agree that something needs to be done, however I think a batter has enough to worry about at the plate in addition to whether or not he holds onto the bat. Some batters hold it lightly, some batters have a death grip...just how it goes.

Yes, bats flying into the stands is an issue, however I'd argue that line drive foul balls to the stands are just as big of a hazard...You've seen it hurt fans as much as the rare bat into the stands and yet we're not sitting here arguing for plexiglass being built to shield fans are we? And how many times have we seen a bat go into the stands, some dopey fan catch it, hold it up and have the usher come down, give it back to the player and the player have to give a non game bat to the fan?

Not to sound callous, but one fan gets hit with a bat and this is cause for national concern?

No, fans at games know that foul balls are a reality and anyone sitting close should be aware. Same with the rare bat into the stands...it's a buyer beware part of going to a game. What are the odds that this person wasn't paying attention?

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It's gimmicky. Oh, I threw my bat? Well did it fly the requisite 40 feet? Or is it at 38 feet and do I get to keep my at bat going? Hold on, someone get a tape measure....

Almost all rules in all sports are arbitrary. Why is the mound 60' 6" away, or the bases 90'? If you don't like 40 feet it could be something more concrete, like if the bat enters the stands, or passes 1st/3rd base, or the mound, or whatever.

I understand the concern for breaking bats and throwing bats and I would agree that something needs to be done, however I think a batter has enough to worry about at the plate in addition to whether or not he holds onto the bat. Some batters hold it lightly, some batters have a death grip...just how it goes.

Yes, bats flying into the stands is an issue, however I'd argue that line drive foul balls to the stands are just as big of a hazard...You've seen it hurt fans as much as the rare bat into the stands and yet we're not sitting here arguing for plexiglass being built to shield fans are we? And how many times have we seen a bat go into the stands, some dopey fan catch it, hold it up and have the usher come down, give it back to the player and the player have to give a non game bat to the fan?

Not to sound callous, but one fan gets hit with a bat and this is cause for national concern?

No, fans at games know that foul balls are a reality and anyone sitting close should be aware. Same with the rare bat into the stands...it's a buyer beware part of going to a game. What are the odds that this person wasn't paying attention?

I don't think the safety of fans is as big a concern as a couple other issues, but it's not trivial, either. I'm surprised there aren't more safety devices like nets or plexiglass in place, because fans get hurt by balls all the time, sometimes seriously.

The other issues include the unregulated increase in Ks, safety of players (especially pitchers), and the generally unregulated size/weight of bats and its impact on offense and strategy.

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Almost all rules in all sports are arbitrary. Why is the mound 60' 6" away, or the bases 90'? If you don't like 40 feet it could be something more concrete, like if the bat enters the stands, or passes 1st/3rd base, or the mound, or whatever.

I don't think the safety of fans is as big a concern as a couple other issues, but it's not trivial, either. I'm surprised there aren't more safety devices like nets or plexiglass in place, because fans get hurt by balls all the time, sometimes seriously.

The other issues include the unregulated increase in Ks, safety of players (especially pitchers), and the generally unregulated size/weight of bats and its impact on offense and strategy.

My point wasn't the arbitrary distance, my point was that it was gimmicky. ;) I guess the example I threw out there took umbrage with the arbitrary distance, though.

I'm just not a fan of the idea for the gimmick factor as well as I generally like the way the game is played and other than adding in some technology to keep things fair and make sure umpires get stuff right, it should by and large be left alone.

You correctly identified a bunch of changes that the game would have to take into account and I'm just not sure it's worth an overhaul due to an errant bat every so often.

I think broken bats are more of a hazard that needs to be taken seriously, with the sharp shards and everything. Even then, players are going to complain.

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About once every month or two Bill James comes up with some wonderful idea that he ends up posting in an article or a "Hey Bill" question/answer on his web site. This time it's regarding the bat problem, or perceived problem.

As we all know there are lots of complaints about bats breaking, maple bats, the effect of light/hard bats on homers and power. So Bill has a solution:

I kind of like it. Gets the league out of the business of mandating some exact size or weight of bats. Puts the onus on players to come up with a bat that matches their style of hitting and won't kill anybody. Side benefit of probably bringing back bats that are a little bigger, thicker-handled, and will help stem the ever increasing number of Ks.

This sounds good on the surface but from my observation, w/o any statistical reference, most broken bats that shatter and travel more than 40 feet or whatever, usually end up in outs anyway don't they? I'm not sure this will solve it but as they say, I may not be right. :o I like the thinking, however.

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It's not directly to the point, but I will add that baseball seen through a screen or netting is horrible. If you watch HS games, that's almost the only way you get to watch it, and the barrier is usually chain link. Some college stadiums have high extended fences, too.

I don't know how Plexiglass would be, although the sensation would be strange at first.

In our litigious (and probably over-protective) society, we are increasingly being excluded from experiences that carry even a distant risk of harm. It won't surprise me to see MLB go that route. Those who have never seen a game from the first few rows at Wrigley or Fenway really ought to do it while you can.

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About once every month or two Bill James comes up with some wonderful idea that he ends up posting in an article or a "Hey Bill" question/answer on his web site. This time it's regarding the bat problem, or perceived problem.

As we all know there are lots of complaints about bats breaking, maple bats, the effect of light/hard bats on homers and power. So Bill has a solution:

I kind of like it. Gets the league out of the business of mandating some exact size or weight of bats. Puts the onus on players to come up with a bat that matches their style of hitting and won't kill anybody. Side benefit of probably bringing back bats that are a little bigger, thicker-handled, and will help stem the ever increasing number of Ks.

Would the strikeout rule be enough incentive for batters to change behavior?

How often do the extreme events of a broken bat flying the requisite distance happen per game? Two times total? To me, an additional strikeout or two per game is not signficant enough event to influence batter behavior. Hitters rarely cut down on their swings to induce contact now instead of the strikeout, would they really compromise bat speed for fear of an isolated strikeout?

Nice idea, Bill. But the risk/return trade-off is not balanced to achieve your desired results.

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Not to sound callous, but one fan gets hit with a bat and this is cause for national concern?

No, fans at games know that foul balls are a reality and anyone sitting close should be aware. Same with the rare bat into the stands...it's a buyer beware part of going to a game. What are the odds that this person wasn't paying attention?

Pitcher safety is perhaps a larger issue than fan incidents. There have been multiple reports about bat shards stabbing pitchers.

It makes too much sense for baseball not to run a comprehensive study and at least understand the risks associated with splintered bats. Results could influence a minimum thickness threshold/ratio that would achieve desired level of protectiveness.

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Pitcher safety is perhaps a larger issue than fan incidents. There have been multiple reports about bat shards stabbing pitchers.

It makes too much sense for baseball not to run a comprehensive study and at least understand the risks associated with splintered bats. Results could influence a minimum thickness threshold/ratio that would achieve desired level of protectiveness.

Including the type of wood. The perception is that maple is worse, but is it really?

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Including the type of wood. The perception is that maple is worse, but is it really?

Good point. Thought that majority of bats used to be made from ash, but insect infestation significantly reduced amount available and coincided with switch to maple.

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I wonder if some combination of minimum handle width and type of wood would solve the shattering issue.

Offset the likely drop in offense by legalizing corking!

Or make everyone use a composite bat. Those have some sort of plastic material for the handle and wood for the top of the bat. The handle has a shaft running through the upper part of the bat so when they break, they don't really shatter or break in two pieces.

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I always wondered what it would be like to use synthetic materials (no metals) to manufacture bats. Maybe even place a core inside the wooden bat that strengthens it but doesn't add any extra weight. A rod of high strength, lightweight material, would maybe work to keep the bat from disintegrating. Something like carbon fiber, almost like going the way of golf club materials, minus the metals.

Being a former skateboarder (current longboarder) I know that guys cring at the idea of using anything other than wood for the deck. But there's companies right now making longboard decks and surfboards with carbon fiber. Molds have to be made (expense), and the art form is lost in shaping them, but if the demand is there the expense is lessened.

Edit: Nevermind, they're already doing it! http://www.rawlingsgear.com/baseball/baseball-bats/bb5150c.html

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