New Little League Injury Report

Today I received an email from Little League International containing a link to their latest injury report which has just been released. It makes for very interesting reading, especially if you’re either a baseball parent or coach. Since they invited me to forward the email to anyone else who might be interested in the information, following is the text of their correspondence and the link to the report on their website:

For more than a half-century, Little League International has maintained extensive records on injuries in Little League games and practices. These records have been used over the years to monitor trends and, when necessary, to effect positive changes in the Rules and Regulations.

In many cases, these changes have eventually been adopted in other youth baseball and softball programs, as well as professional baseball. It is just one of the many aspects of Little League that sets us apart from all other youth baseball and softball programs.

 For the first time, Little League International has produced a comprehensive report on the history of Little League’s efforts and accomplishments regarding the wellbeing of its participants and volunteers. This white paper entitled “Hits and Runs, Bumps and Bruises: Health, Safety and Injury Prevention are the Keystone of Little League” provides an extensive review of advancements in these areas.

We invite you to review this important document, produced by the Little League International Communications Division. The white paper can be found at the Little League International web site by clicking on the link to the PDF below, or by pasting it into your web browser: 

http://www.littleleague.org/Assets/forms_pubs/Hits_Runs_Bumps_Bruises08.pdf

Please drop me a line and let me know what you think of this report.

Game Updates 9/12-9/14

Wood bats very definitely change the nature of the game. Somehow it has a more classic feel and helps the kids focus on the fundamentals of both hitting and fielding since more frequent grounders challenge the players to constantly execute. Errors are costly and make all the difference in the box score. Also the games are very close and far more competitive since even the best hitters are challenged by wood bats.

We’ve seen a broken bat in each game so far, one was MLB-style spectacular where the bat burst apart & a section of the barrel went flying through the infield (bet the crowd favoring the banning of non-wood bats have never seen that in person).

Here are the Season’s results so far:

Friday 9/12: Rangers lasso Cubs 7-4

What a great game and a real good start to the season! The Cubs played a very competitive game against the Rangers in a steady rain, ultimately losing 7 – 4 after the lead changed hands twice. The Rangers are a strong team that had already recorded 1 win by a margin of over 12 runs.  The Cubs kept them in check until the late innings. Bobby pitched great over 4 innings while the pitching conditions were far from ideal, requiring multiple treatments of Speedi-Dri to keep the mound from being a total mud pile.  Ben O, Thomas & Matt were 2 for 2 on reaching base.  Bobby, Jonathan, Eric & Matt all had hits.   Great job on the field and behind the plate!

Saturday 9/13: Cubs steal win from Pirates 12-11

An unbelievable game where the Cubs stole the game from the Pirates in the bottom of the 6th inning with an amazing 4-run rally to clinch the win after trailing the entire game. Matt pitched well over 3.3 innings despite a sore wrist, striking out 7 and allowing only 3 hits. The entire line-up went for hits during the game, with Bobby clubbing an inside-park home run and Matt drilling a line-drive double. Matt also stole home in a key momentum-changing play. Lesson of the Day: NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE IN!

Sunday 9/14: Braves defeat Cubs 4-3

A very close and well-matched game throughout. The Cubs started off a quick lead of 2-0 in the first inning thanks to the efforts of Bobby, Matt & Eric at the top of the order. Bobby hit a triple, driven in by Matt with an RBI single. Eric then drove in Matt with an RBI double. SMOKIN! The Braves came back and capitalized on errors and opportunities through the rest of the game to take the lead and hold onto it. The Cubs bats stayed alive, but it wasn’t quite enough to finish the job. Eric and Jonathan both clubbed doubles while Lucas and Kile hit singles. Jonathan was starting pitcher and struck out 3 over 2.6 innings while Raghav struck out 2 over 2.3 innings in relief.

Bullpen Session #1: Accuracy Drill

Here is the first installment of Bullpen Sessions, offering easy pitching drills, tips & techniques designed to help coaches and Baseball Dads assist in the development of youth baseball pitchers. 

ACCURACY DRILL

Youth pitchers first need to develop accuracy and location more than velocity.  One mental barrier young pitchers often need to overcome concerns a fear of hitting the batter. This fear can cause them to throw “away” from the batter, thereby giving up use of half the plate and leading to walk-a-thons.

An easy way to fix this with an accuracy drill is to occupy both sides of the target plate with either an adult or another object like a barrel or chair in each batter’s box. This challenges the pitcher to consistently pitch down the middle, using the whole plate area without hitting either simulated “batter.”

The pitcher should always use proper mechanics for delivery, but begin by throwing softer. When the pitcher can consistently throw strikes, increase the intensity of the drill by adding velocity to the pitches. When the pitcher is up to a normal working speed and consistently throwing strikes, crowd the plate on one side to reduce the target zone. Again when the pitcher is consistently on target, crowd the plate on the other side.

Using this progressive drill, pitchers should learn how to throw in the strike zone with confidence rather than fear of hitting the batter.

The Great Baseball Bat Debate

METAL VS. WOOD

Every season there is a renewal of the debate regarding metal vs. wood bats: Which performs better on the field, which is safer for youth play, which is best to train with, etc. It is a subject for which there are many different opinions and answers depending on the specific topic.

Generally the discussion on metal vs. wood bats focuses on which is “safer” for youth play. Indeed, currently there are several pending lawsuits against both manufacturers and baseball organizations concerning some rare traumatic injuries sustained by players (especially pitchers) which are attributed to the use of metal bats. The basic contention is that the baseball comes off metal bats faster than wooden ones, giving players less time to react and protect themselves against screaming line drives.

The news coverage of these rare injuries and the lawsuits that have followed has developed a groundswell of parental concern about safety, resulting in many youth leagues opting to mandate only the use of wood bats in games in order to avoid potential liability. The fact that these same worried parents are equally likely to sue for injuries sustained from the use of wood bats (including flying bat fragments) appears to be entirely beside the point.

The actual physics involved in this discussion is best understood by rocket scientists. What I aim to do here is simply point out in layman’s terms the characteristics of metal vs. wood bats and some other facts from the larger debate.

VIDEO: BALL-SPEED ISN’T ALWAYS ALL THAT

As the video at the top of this post illustrates, many experienced hitters (especially older players) find no significant difference in the baseball “exit” speed off a metal vs. wood bat. Rather, the primary difference is in the balance point of the bat itself, the resulting speed of the swing and the size of the “sweet spot” that enables metal bats to be more “hitter-friendly” than wood ones of the same length and weight.

FINDINGS AND FACTS

Those who are in favor of banning metal & composite bats from youth play often cite a 2002 Brown University study that showed the speed of a ball off metal bats was higher than off wood ones. However, in the same year the National Consumer Product Safety Commission found no evidence that metal bats were a greater risk to players than wood.

In fact, since 2003 metal bats have been required by the NCAA & National Federation of State High School Associations to comply with a “Bat Exit Speed Ratio” that limits the maximum velocity a ball can be propelled by a metal bat to be comparable to the best wood bats given the same pitch and bat speeds. Likewise, bats used at the Little League level are governed by an additional “Bat Performance Factor” standard that requires the rebound effect of a batted ball off non-wood bats to not exceed that from wooden bats.

In 2007 another study conducted by Illinois State University on the subject of non-wood vs. wood bats also determined there was no statistically significant evidence that using non-wood bats increases the risk or incidence of severe injury to players.

The REAL difference in metal or composite bats vs. wood bats lies in the fact that non-wood bats can be physically swung faster by players of equal strength and ability. They are also more “forgiving” of off-center hits.

NON-WOOD BATS: THE UPSIDE

Metal bats have been in popular use since their inception in the 1970’s. In recent years sports equipment technology has utilized space-age materials in the construction of composite bats which have become ever-lighter and more flexible than their all-aluminum counterparts. It is a hugely profitable business driven by a market of competitive players willing to spend often ridiculous sums in pursuit of better performance, forgetting that it is player training and development more than the equipment itself that ultimately makes the difference. Having said that, following are a few characteristics of metal & composite bats that DO give the hitter a definite advantage:

  1. Greater bat speed. Metal & composite bats have hollow barrels which makes the distribution of the bat’s weight along its length very different than that of solid wood bats. In particular the bat’s balance point (center of mass) is closer to the handle which makes it easier to swing regardless of its actual weight. Wood bats inevitably have their weight concentrated in the end of the barrel which makes them seem heavier to swing.
  2. The “trampoline” effect. Because the barrel of a wood bat is solid, the baseball compresses when struck by it. In this process the baseball can lose at least half of its kinetic energy, requiring greater applied strength from the batter to propel it forward into the field. By contrast, the hollow construction of metal & composite bats permits their surface to flex. This not only preserves more of the ball’s initial energy, it also reapplies the energy back to the ball that was originally absorbed by the bat. The result is that the ball “springs” away from the surface of a metal or composite bat while it must be “pushed” away with a wood bat.
  3. The larger “sweet spot.” Essentially this is the area on the striking surface which yields both optimal contact and efficient transfer of energy to make the ball go as far as possible. Due to their flexible surface, metal & composite bats have a functionally larger area to work with than do wood bats.

NON-WOOD BATS: THE DOWNSIDE

All of this is to say that metal & composite bats enable poor and mediocre hitters to have more success than they might otherwise deserve. Metal & composite bats do some of the work for them, both in terms of hitting balls farther and also in terms of getting cheap base hits that would not have happened using wood bats. This false sense of performance often leads to a rude awakening later when players accustomed to metal & composite bats advance to a higher level that requires wood instead. This is a classic issue for high school & college draft picks when they start playing professional ball in the Minors. For this very reason, college and pro scouts prefer to evaluate a player’s true hitting abilities by observing them using wood bats rather than those of other materials.

WHAT I LIKE

If you ask me which type of bat I prefer;

  • From a Baseball Dad’s competitive point of view I prefer metal for the improved hitting results.
  • From a coach’s point of view I prefer wood for the improved mechanics and hitting skill it demands. (In my view you can immediately tell whether a hitting coach or instructor is worth your time and money based on whether they work only with wood in training.)
  • From a purist’s point of view I prefer wood for both the aesthetics of the sound it makes and the classic “small ball” strategy game it cultivates.

I do not favor bans because I believe the “risks” of non-wood bats are over-stated and based on anecdotes rather than compelling evidence. But I do favor playing with wood as much as possible because it makes for better baseball players and a better quality game.

What do you think?