Family sues bat maker over line drive

by Walter Olson on December 9, 2010

Some trial lawyers have been crusading for a while on the theory that aluminum baseball bats are unreasonably dangerous because they allow balls to be hit with more force. A lawsuit over a 11-year-old Little Leaguer’s injury may be the next to test that theory. [Chicago Sun-Times]


1 VMS 12.09.10 at 7:30 am

hmmm. From a physics/mechanics point of view, the velocity of the baseball leaving the bat depends on many factors. The material of the bat probably has the least effect.

What was the angular velocity of the bat?
Was the ball hit on the center of percussion of the bat?
How fast was the pitch?
How tightly was the ball wound?
What is the mass and shape of bat.

The bottom line is that an aluminum bat (because it is hollow) can be crafted to optimize the bat performance in terms of weight, location of the center of percussion, etc., to obtain maximum bat speed for a given batter. The difference is only a few percent, however, and the main factor is the speed at which the batter swings and how tightly the ball is wound (coefficient of restitution).

These injuries occur with wooden bats too.

In terms of reaction time of the pitcher, moving the mound back 5 more feet for little league play would probably help, but then the batters would be hitting more of the pitches hard.

2 Ron Miller 12.09.10 at 11:20 am

Wood bats would be a better idea. I’m remember hearing stories of the terror Bo Jackson created when he swung a aluminum bat. I think the problem is that they are just more expensive.

Some lawyers have brought some lawsuits. I’m a trial lawyer, I would not bring one. I’ll bet there are not 20 lawyers who have filed these claims. Accordingly, calling the aluminum bat issue a trial lawyer crusade is probably a bit hyperbolic. Certainly, there are 20 tort reforms who believe that all lawsuits should be barred. But I’m not sure it is fair to write that “tort reform advocates have been on a crusade to ban all lawsuits.” Right?

3 Benji 12.09.10 at 12:31 pm

I wonder if they could prove the injury wouldn’t have happened with a wooden bat. Even if you assume the struck ball would be slower, how much slower? I’m doubtful the difference would be enough added time for the pitcher to react or to make a direct hit to the head significantly less unpleasant.

4 Ron Miller 12.09.10 at 12:54 pm

That’s why I think the claims fail. Sure the ball is going to come slower off a wooden bat. Anyone going from college to the minor leagues will tell you that. But the problem is with causation. How you prove with expert testimony that the fielder (or whoever) would have not been injured with the same swing with a wooden bat. I think this problem is fatal to these claims.

5 John Bratt 12.09.10 at 1:06 pm

Or if the pitcher just had less on his fastball?

6 Walter Olson 12.09.10 at 4:45 pm

RM> OK, fair enough. Some trial lawyers.

7 RecentLawGrad 12.09.10 at 7:05 pm

Wasn’t this also a plot point in Grisham’s “The Appeal”?

8 gitarcarver 12.10.10 at 10:38 am

There is a difference in the speed a ball comes off a metal bat as compared to a wooden bat. There are a large number of factors that enter into injuries like this.

1) Metal bats are limited by rule to have a COR of 103%. That means that a metal bat can’t “launch” a ball with a speed more than 103% of its wooden counter part.

2) Metal bats are lighter. They are lighter to the point where rules are in place that the bat cannot be what is called more than “-3″ if you subtract the length of the bat minus the weight. A lighter bat means higher speeds through the hitting zone which means more force on the ball.

3) Metal bats have a larger “sweet spot.” This means that more hard hits are going to come off the bat.

4) Metal bats, unlike wooden bats, can customize where the weight of the bat is. More weight at the handle means the ability to rotate the bat head through the hitting zone at a faster rate. Faster rate equals more force on the ball. Governing bodies are generating rules to combat the distribution of weight and have implemented new rules for the coming years that metal bats must be of consistent weight distribution.

That being said, Little League (which is arguably the premiere youth “round ball / stick” governing body) has studied this for years and found no statistical difference between injuries with metal and wooden bats. Part of that difference is the shattering of wooden bats. This past season we saw a Chicago Cubs’ player impaled in the chest with a wooden bat that had shattered. The NHFS, governing body of most high schools sports, has the same conclusion: metal bats are statistically no more dangerous than wooden bats. The NCAA has a similar study going on, but there is some indication that the reporting is flawed as schools are reluctant to report on what may open the school up to a lawsuit. (Go figure, eh?)

This appears to be a case where science is meeting perception and perception is winning.

However, there is another factor – the pitcher. While some he have talked about the speed the pitch throws, the other issue is the position the pitcher finishes AFTER he releases the ball.

“Back in the day,” the classic finishing position was body square or just slightly off square to the plate. This left the pitcher able to move side to side and field his position. This was achieved by bending the knee of the “free leg” (the one the pitcher steps with) and getting the body out over the knee. The pivot foot would then follow the rotating hips and land beside the free foot, leaving the pitcher square to the plate.

Now the mechanic taught is more of a “whip” effect. The knee of the free foot is locked, and the pivot foot is, for the most part, still in the air as the pitch reaches the plate. Quite literally, the pitcher cannot move because they are off balance. The new mechanic gets a little more speed on the pitch, but it places the pitcher in a precarious position.

Finally, just a few observations: 1) governing bodies have tried to reign in metal bats. Fifteen years ago, bat manufacturers sued or threatened to sue any governing body that made rules that lowered the performance of a bat. 2) Parents and coaches put their pitchers in harm’s way with mechanics in order to get a few mph on the fast ball. 3) If you look at the picture of the injured child on the original article, he is carrying a metal bat. That doesn’t mean too much since most times when those portraits are taken, the photographer hands the kid the bat. But I would bet dollars to doughnuts that in the kid’s gear bag, he has a metal bat.

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