When Tyler Colvin was impaled in the chest by a bat shard over the weekend, it reignited what's becoming an increasingly familiar debate over maple bats, and what Major League Baseball ought to do to improve its workplace safety. Bleed Cubbie Blue discusses a protective coating being used on cricket bats. SB Nation Chicago discusses BatGlove - another coating - while another blog also talks about BatGlove in great detail. Maple bats explode, there are possible solutions out there on the market, and more and more, people are taking MLB to task for not addressing what is among its greatest safety concerns.
I'm not going to talk about that. At least, I'm not going to add to the argument about coatings, because I don't have anything meaningful to contribute. I can say that I think they should be used, and used all the time across the board, but that's about it. What I do want to talk about, however, is the difference between maple and ash bats, and why maple bats can explode the way they do. As the saying (sort of) goes, ash bats flake, while maple bats shatter. I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain just why that might be. A little extra knowledge never hurt anyone, and this strikes me as a potentially important subject to understand.
The difference is actually pretty simple. What it boils down to is the structure of the wood, and the grouping of the pores. Ash is what's known as ring-porous. In ring-porous wood, you get a dense collection of large pores for moisture transport in the grain, and in the growth ring, you mostly get solid wood fiber. So you can picture an alternating pattern - porous grain, solid fiber, porous grain, solid fiber, porous grain, and so on.
Maple, meanwhile, is diffuse-porous. Diffuse-porous wood doesn't bear the same alternating pattern. Rather, there are smaller pores dispersed more evenly throughout. In case you're more of a visual learner, here's ash, and here's maple. The differences there are pretty dramatic.
And we can trace a lot back to this cellular structure. Ash bats are weakest along the grain, in the regions of dense porosity. Bat-and-ball contact can cause the cell walls of the pores to collapse. What happens then is that the hitter observes softening, splitting, or flaking along the length of the bat.
Maple bats, meanwhile, don't have the same weak regions. You can think of bat cracks as a sort of connect-the-dots, where the dots are pores. The dots in ash bats run lengthwise along the grain. The dots in maple bats are more scattered. What this means is that cracks in maple bats can form in pretty much any direction. One can see why the word ‘shatter' can sometimes be appropriate.
So the direction of cracking is one issue. Another one - and a bigger one - is how easy those cracks are to notice. As mentioned, ash bats tend to split lengthwise rather conspicuously. Cracks have a long way to travel before they're complete, and batters tend to notice them and switch to a new bat before total failure. The cracks in maple bats aren't as visible or easy to observe. Not only can cracks more readily approach the surface of the bat; the batter often won't have any idea that such thorough cracking is taking place.
So a hitter will be more likely to hit with a weakened maple bat than with a weakened ash bat, and therefore a hitter will be more likely to see his bat come apart with maple than with ash. It isn't really that maple is a more brittle or ‘explosive' sort of wood than ash. It's actually stronger, which is one of the reasons it's come into vogue. Rather, the issue is that batters will swap out a damaged ash bat for a new one, while the frequently won't have any idea whether or not their maple bat is still structurally sound. Cracked maple bats are swung more often than cracked ash bats, and so it's observed that maple bats are generally at the heart of the most dramatic bat failures.
The ring-porous versus diffuse-porous nature of wood isn't the only reason we see bats come apart the way we do. Another huge factor is the slope of the grain, and how close to parallel the grain is with the length of the bat. The more parallel, the stronger the bat, and the fewer failures we see. Even so, the fundamental difference in ash and maple structure is significant. It doesn't matter that ash bats may be just as likely to break as maple bats. What matters is that developing ash bat failure is a lot easier to detect than developing maple bat failure, which is a big part of what makes maple bats so dangerous. Hitters just don't know when they're swinging the lumber equivalent of a shrapnel grenade.
Based on various studies, bats aren't shattering as often as they were a few years ago, thanks to new regulations placed on bat manufacturers by Major League Baseball. However, as long as accidents like Tyler Colvin's are still taking place, there exists a very real danger in the game that may one day take someone's life, and this is due in large part to the structure of the wood being used. That problem isn't going to disappear on its own. Something does need to be done.
With that discussion out of the way, we advance to this week's MLB power rankings:
SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout
2010 record: 51-98
Last week's rank: 30
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30
Here's a stat that might surprise you: despite not having a winning season since 1992, the Pirates only have two 100-loss seasons since 1954. They'd need to go 12-1 the rest of the way to avoid making 2010 the third. At least the franchise record is out of reach, though. The Pirates lost 112 games in 1952. Even if they didn't win a single game the rest of the way, the 2010 Pirates would only lose 111.
29. Seattle Mariners
SBN Blog: Lookout Landing
2010 record: 57-92
Last week's rank: 29
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29
Aside from Felix Hernandez's pursuit of the AL Cy Young, the only other thing that's really going on is the team's steady sink to a 100-loss season. Fans continue to cling to the hope that the team falls just short, sparing them certain embarrassment, but for my taste, if you're going to be bad, you should be really really bad. Sometimes you just want to be remembered. Fun fact: the 2009 Mariners won 85 games while allowing 692 runs. The 2010 Mariners are on pace to win 62 games while allowing 690 runs.
SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit
2010 record: 59-91
Last week's rank: 26
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22
At the start of September, it looked like interim manager Kirk Gibson was making a good case to become permanent, guiding the team to their first winning month. However, since the 4th, Arizona have won only three of fifteen, including a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Pirates - who had never swept Arizona, and hadn't swept anyone in three for 120 games. Gibson's overall win percentage of .394 is now almost identical to his fired predecessor, AJ Hinch (.392).
SBN Blog: Royals Review
2010 record: 61-88
Last week's rank: 28
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28
Alberto Callaspo is still 5th on the team in doubles and 7th in total bases. A) He wasn't even that good. B) He hasn't been a Royal since July 21. If you can't hit and probably can't field, if you're willing to play out of position, the Royals will eventually find you.
SBN Blog: Federal Baseball
2010 record: 62-88
Last week's rank: 25
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21
If the Nats play the 'Stros in the forest, and only this guy watches, do they make a sound?
SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!
2010 record: 62-88
Last week's rank: 24
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25
SBN Blog: Camden Chat
2010 record: 60-90
Last week's rank: 27
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26
Things continue to go well in the Showalter era for the Orioles, who have gone 11-4 over their last 15 games. Who knows? With a youthful team that could well mature any given year, maybe 2011 will be different for Baltimore. Ultimately, to end this season with some glimmer of hope for the near future is all any Orioles fan could've realistically asked for.
SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball
2010 record: 69-80
Last week's rank: 22
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19
The Brewers were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday and, at 69-80, they're in danger of finishing in fifth place in the NL Central for the first time since 2004. The team has won at least 75 games in five straight seasons (a pretty sad franchise record), but that streak is in jeopardy. Unless they can find a way to take six of their last 13 games from the Reds (five games), Marlins (four games) and Mets (three games), they'll fall short.
22. Chicago Cubs
SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue
2010 record: 68-81
Last week's rank: 23
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24
Maybe the Cubs should have made the switch from Lou Piniella to Mike Quade months ago: since Quade took over, they're 17-7 and just finished an 8-1 road trip through Milwaukee, St. Louis and Florida. In an interesting schedule quirk, the team could also be a significant factor in the finish in the NL West. They host the Giants for three games starting Tuesday and travel to San Diego for four games next week.
21. Houston Astros
SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes
2010 record: 73-77
Last week's rank: 20
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27
With 12 games left to play, a .500 season still remains within reach for the Astros, who play the Nationals, Pirates and Cubs nine more times, and have three more against the Reds. They'd need to go 8-4 to reach 81 wins. As things stand right now, they need one more win to match last season's total (74). They might also have figured out a long term plan for Carlos Lee: he's played in 13 games at first base since Lance Berkman was traded and hit .304/.319/.609 there, compared to .250/.291/.425 on the season.
SBN Blog: True Blue LA
2010 record: 73-77
Last week's rank: 18
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18
Joe Torre says his team hasn't given up. Could have fooled me, since Los Angeles has lost six of the last seven series, and owns a 5-12 record in September. The offense, like its manager, appears to have handed in its four weeks' notice, batting .204 this month and scoring 2.7 runs per game. Torre also announced he'd let a couple of players manage games in the final series of the season, against the Diamondbacks. No word yet as to whether Torre intends to catch some of those contests.
19. New York Mets
SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue
2010 record: 74-76
Last week's rank: 21
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20
18. Florida Marlins
SBN Blog: Fish Stripes
2010 record: 74-75
Last week's rank: 17
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13
It shouldn't be lost, in an otherwise forgettable Marlins season, that two of the most exciting young hitters in the game have debuted in Miami. Logan Morrison, at age 23, has a .428 (!!) OBP, while Mike Stanton, not yet 21, is hitting homers at a pace that would make Ryan Braun blush. Stanton reached 20 homers in just 81 games (simple math: that's a 40 HR season-pace). At the very least, the Marlins lineup will be stacked when they open their new stadium in 2013.
SBN Blog: Halos Heaven
2010 record: 74-76
Last week's rank: 19
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23
From the All-Star break through the middle of September, Brandon Wood was allowed to start just four games and make just 22 trips to the plate. However, a probable sports hernia for Erick Aybar has opened the door for Wood to get back in the lineup, and over five consecutive starts, he's gone 3-18 in a stretch that actually improved his season OPS to .417. That OPS is lower than the OBPs of Justin Morneau, Logan Morrison, and Joey Votto. I don't know where Wood is going to play next year, but I'm damn sure he's not gonna start.
SBN Blog: South Side Sox
2010 record: 79-71
Last week's rank: 12
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17
The White Sox and Twins were tied on August 11th, which really wasn't that long ago. Nevertheless, the White Sox look like they'll end up winning 85 or 86 games, which most of the time in the AL Central means you get to be relevant until the last week of the season. Oh well, they at least proved everyone wrong with their "building your DH around defense" idea. Lest we have it go un-remarked upon, Paul Konerko had a randomly awesome season.
SBN Blog: Athletics Nation
2010 record: 75-74
Last week's rank: 15
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16
The A's have spent exactly five gamedays this season more than four games away from .500. Meanwhile, they've spent 31 gamedays at exactly .500. The A's might be the most .500 team in baseball, which is appropriate, because it's the perfect place for a team to keep from drawing too much attention to itself. A good team gets attention. A bad team gets attention. A streaky team gets attention. An average team that is very consistently itself is about as scintillating as driftwood. And I don't mean those awesome big pieces of driftwood. I mean like wet little toothpicks.
SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter
2010 record: 75-74
Last week's rank: 13
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5
A couple of wins against the Red Sox isn't going to wipe away the sweep they suffered at the hands of the Orioles. The Blue Jays are winning close games and losing blowouts, which isn't a good sign if the team wants to avoid its second straight losing season.
13. Detroit Tigers
SBN Blog: Bless You Boys
2010 record: 76-74
Last week's rank: 16
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12
The Tigers "pulled a White Sox", only it happened two months ago, so we've long since forgotten about it. Detroit made the AL Central interesting as long as they could, and for a brief period it looked like we might bear witness to that rarest of beasts: a true three-team race. Too bad the Tigers were never really that good. Detroit certainly has some interesting pieces in place for 2011, but it isn't obvious if they can truly compete or not. A bold move, one way or the other, might be called for.
SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos
2010 record: 77-72
Last week's rank: 14
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11
After leading the NL Central for much of the season (and by as many as five games at one point), the Cardinals could be eliminated from the playoffs by the weekend. If they'd managed to keep the Reds a little closer, this would have been a good opportunity to make a run at the playoffs: the Cardinals' next nine games are against the Pirates, Cubs, and Pirates again. Meanwhile, rookie stud Jaime Garcia will skip another start with fatigue, but says he could pitch again this season. It'd probably be best for the organization to look to the future and shut him down at this point.
11. Cincinnati Reds
SBN Blog: Red Reporter
2010 record: 85-66
Last week's rank: 11
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15
At 85-66, the Reds have the largest division lead in the NL (seven games over the Cardinals), and have the league's third-best record (behind the Braves and Phillies). They still, however, aren't sure if they have a manager for 2011. Dusty Baker is still considering the team's offer of a contract extension.
10. San Diego Padres
SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball
2010 record: 83-66
Last week's rank: 7
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7
The pundits who predicted San Diego's failure are smelling blood after the team dropped out of first. They did take two of three in Colorado, but then lost three of four in St. Louis. Since August 25th, the Padres' 7-17 record is the worst in the National League, and at 35.5%, their post-season odds are currently the lowest they've been since April. Remember when they were a 97.2% shot to make the playoffs? If they don't, it will become the seventh-worst collapse of all time in baseball.
SBN Blog: Over The Monster
2010 record: 83-67
Last week's rank: 10
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6
Remarkably enough, Boston has gotten some of the help they needed from the recently-mediocre Rays and Yankees. But with their own house collapsing around them with series losses to the Blue Jays and Athletics, it's now just a matter of waiting for mathematical elimination for the Red Sox.
SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles
2010 record: 84-66
Last week's rank: 8
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14
A 3-3 week was enough, albeit just, to put San Francisco on top of the NL West for the first time since May 6th. The offense is still struggling mightily - they've scored zero or one runs in the majority of the last eleven games. But the pitching has allowed three or less in the past fourteen; that's an ongoing streak, not surpassed in the National League since the 1963 Giants. The Giants have a 1.66 ERA this month, with the worst pitcher for them in that time being Barry Zito: he has a horrific 3.32 ERA.
SBN Blog: Purple Row
2010 record: 82-67
Last week's rank: 6
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8
Colorado remains tantalizingly close to the playoff picture, but just out of frame, after a 3-3 week kept them 1.5 back. This week will be crucial: they will want to win the series in Arizona, before heading back to Denver for a vital set against San Francisco. Troy Tulowitzki is having a monstrous streak at the plate: in the past sixteen games, he has 32 RBI, with an overall line of .354/.408/1.092. Tulowitzki also became only the third player ever to hit 14 home runs during a period of 15 games.
SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball
2010 record: 83-66
Last week's rank: 9
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9
They lost five in a row, then they won seven in a row, then they lost a series to the Mariners. The Rangers are something of a moving target. Significantly, Cliff Lee has allowed just two runs over his past two starts, spanning 16 innings, and though he was uncharacteristically wild in one of them, and while the other was against the Mariners, this is still a promising indication as the team nears the playoffs. Less promising are the health concerns of Josh Hamilton, and while we should see him in October, one wonders how close he'll be to 100%, if he's close at all.
SBN Blog: Talking Chop
2010 record: 86-65
Last week's rank: 5
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4
Ask me in two days. Tonight and tomorrow, the Braves' kids, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson, will face two grizzled Roys, Halladay and Oswalt, with Atlanta's Wild Card berth on the line. And while they may not have the best pitching match-up, the Braves have to be favored in a WWE-style battle royale, should it come to that.
SBN Blog: DRays Bay
2010 record: 89-60
Last week's rank: 1
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
The Rays, like the Yankees, have been playing a lot of very close games. But a series loss to the Angels and Monday's shellacking of Matt Garza by the Yankees has kept them firmly in second. And with their rotation suddenly a mess outside of David Price and Wade Davis, they might have bigger problems to worry about. On the other side of the coin, can anyone believe that John Jaso still has 50% more walks than strikeouts?
SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley
2010 record: 91-59
Last week's rank: 3
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2
It's been a deceptive week for the Yankees, dropping three one-run games while carrying a run differential of +9 over the period-much better than their showing during the 1-6 stretch immediately before. With three more games coming up against the Rays, the A.L. East title will likely be decided over the next few days. How nice it is to have Andy Pettitte back after all this time.
SBN Blog: The Good Phight
2010 record: 90-61
Last week's rank: 4
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10
Jayson Werth walked off against the Nationals for the Phil's seventh straight win, and walked into the arms of super-mega-agent Scott Boras. Werth's contract with Philadelphia is up after the season, and the Phillies have a rocky history negotiating with Boras. Philadelphia's ability to re-sign Werth has been in doubt since they committed $125 million last season to Ryan Howard. Now, Boras is hinting that Werth will also try to break the $100 million mark. So while the Braves are motivated by Bobby Cox's imminent retirement, the Phillies may also be playing out the last year of a mini-dynasty.
SBN Blog: Twinkie Town
2010 record: 90-60
Last week's rank: 2
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3
The Twins won their 90th game of the season on Monday night, which is already the most they've managed in a season since 2006, win they won 96 games. (Remember, in both 2008 and 2009, the Twins also played 163 regular season games.) That '06 team, one of the very best in the franchise's history, was swept out of the playoffs by the last great Oakland team of the Moneyball Era. The takeaway? While it's tempting to feel like this year's team might be a different beast in the post-season, there's really no way of knowing what will happen or what it might mean. Baseball's weird in short stretches.