After the accident, in which the pitcher was in a coma for several days but is now slowly recovering, metal bats were replaced with wooden bats in the Marin County Athletic League. MCAL officials also sought to knock metal bats out of use in the North Coast Section playoffs, which start May 25. But their proposal struck out when NCS board members voted 35-12 to continue to allow metal bats.
The Marin County teams have agreed to continue to use wooden bats in the NCS playoffs, despite the fact that their opponents will be hitting the ball with metal. That could put the Marin teams at a disadvantage because metal bats have been shown in several studies to slightly outperform wooden bats.
And not everyone is in agreement with the Marin officials that wooden bats are necessarily safer. “I’m from the days where you used wood bats,” said Deer Valley High baseball Manager Dennis Luquet. “And I saw some liners fly at pitchers. So a wood bat can just as easily go right at the pitcher as a metal bat. And they are pretty similar. People think (balls) won’t fly off of wood. But you know what? They will. I have been coaching 30 years and I have never seen a pitcher get hit in the face or the head yet. So, you know, I’m not saying they won’t – that kid did.
“But overall we can’t afford wood bats. That’s probably the biggest thing is the cost. They are $60 to $100. A parent will buy their kid an aluminum bat, but other kids (borrow the bat) because not every parent can afford to buy one. And we can’t afford to buy them. If you get wood bats, they are not going to let somebody use their wood bat because it will get broken.”
Luquet said that other than the cost, the main difference between metal and wood bats is that there’s a larger hitting surface on metal bats because they don’t shatter like wood often does when hitting a pitch that’s in on the hands: “With the metal bat, the ball can still go over a first baseman or third baseman or infielder’s head” on an inside pitch.
One study of 19 hitters swinging wood and metal bats in batting cages showed that the ball left the metal bats between 2 and 8 miles per hour faster than wood bats. There are several reasons for this, according to Kettering University physicist Daniel Russell’s Web site:
• Metal bats can be swung faster because the weight is more evenly distributed along the bat, instead of being heavier toward the barrel, as in wood bats.
• There’s a “trampoline effect” with metal bats in which more energy is transferred to the ball because it’s compressed less as it contacts a metal bat than it does when contacting wood.
• While both bats have similarly sized “sweet spots,” metal bats have more effectiveness just outside that area, sort of a “semi-sweet zone.”
• Metal bats don’t break, allowing for more singles on inside pitches, as Luquet pointed out.
NCS officials are considering exploring alternatives to wooden bats in order to improve safety, such as mandating the use of helmets for pitchers, infielders and base coaches.