Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Aluminum bats

A Montana jury has awarded damages totaling $850,000 to a family whose son was killed when a line drive off an aluminum bat hit him in the head and proved fatal. The money is coming from Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger and various other similarly-branded bats. The jury claims that the bat itself was not defective, but that H&B did not clearly indicate the dangers of using said bat.

It astonishes me that nobody thinks this is ridiculous, but before I get into the common sense reasoning behind why this is dumb, let's talk about batted ball speeds and bats.

The basic school of thought behind the "aluminum bats are bad" crowd is as follows:
  1. The bats allow players to hit the ball harder.
  2. The bats give the players more reaction time to hit the ball because they are lighter.
These are both, for the most part, accepted facts. A study showed that average batted ball speed was between 3 and 8 mph faster when hit with an aluminum bat versus a wood bat. With that in mind, let's assume a batter hits a ball directly at a pitcher. How much time does a pitcher have to react?

The average batted ball speed in major league baseball is 110 mph. Let's replace that with a metal bat, add 10 mph, and take a look at reaction times. It's 60'6" to home from the pitcher's mound.

110 mph ball: 161 ft/sec, .356 sec RT
120 mph ball: 176 ft/sec, .343 sec RT

What the anti-aluminum crowd is saying is that .013 second is the difference between life and death. In case you're wondering, a blink takes between .3 and .4 second.

13 milliseconds. 13 milliseconds between life and death, between getting hit in the head and diving out of the way. I don't think so.

All of this, of course, is math, and easy math, and proof that jurors are stupid, particularly when it comes to assigning blame to a company who makes a product explicitly designed to immediately reverse the direction of a projectile towards a group of humans. But this ignores the most important fact of all:


I play hockey, and I play goalie. My job is to stop a frozen, 6 ounce rubber puck traveling between 90 and 130 mph. I play at the lowest level of competition and routinely find myself with bruises on my legs and arms despite wearing extremely protective modern equipment. This is a dangerous game. I accept the risks every time I put on my mask and skate onto the ice.

As such, any player who takes the field in any sport must understand and appreciate the very real risks surrounding him. Parents who allow their children to play baseball must understand and appreciate the very real risks surrounding their kids. 13 milliseconds would not have saved Brandon Patch's life.

As a species, we need to start understanding the difference between assumed risk and negligence. If aluminum bats sprayed line drives at 150 mph, then yes, I'd respect this lawsuit. But 13 milliseconds and 8 mph is not the difference between getting hit in the head and diving away. It's not even the difference between average batted ball speeds among players on a team. What it is, though, is $850,000 in psuedoscientific emotional verdicts.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I agree 100%, I want to petition myself for Czar of Common Sense. I will sit in my apartment and read emails, if anyone sues anyone for over 200,000 I will look at the suit and decide if they are dumb or not.

The other problem in America is if something tragic happens it needs to be someones fault. It's no ones fault that kid died, its dumb luck.

And the warning part is dumb, you should know if you swing a large chunk of aluminum at a 4 ounce sphere of leather it becomes a projectile.