12 May 2014

A Whole New Wood

This past week the United States released the National Climate Assessment. To many it announces that what was once thought as ivory tower pontification and political ramrodding is actually real and rigorous science.  To those of us closer to that field, it is simply a reminder that the public discourse is so far behind what we actually know and that there is still this insistence on treating a scientific issue like a moral one.  Here at the Depot, we are fond to ruminate on these things.  It is utterly fascinating to us how such a large contingency will ignore the reality of the situation and believe in things that are comfortable and convenient along lines of emotional and traditional thought.  In a lot of ways, the use of metrics in baseball is very similar to public understanding of issues like climate change.  People choose to feel through a question instead of using rigorous scientific method to ask and attempt to answer questions.  One might think that readers of this site feel comfortable enough to challenge their own preconceptions, to test them.  To those, me writing a paragraph on climate change is kind of silly because there should be no debate over its existence and no debate over humans being the primary driver of this current phenomena. There surely is no debate in the specialized scientific world, a place that so benefits those who can defend contrarian views.

But, yes, climate change and baseball.  One aspect where the warming of this continent will impact the game is that in your lifetime you are likely to see the commercial extinction of the white ash.  A hundred years ago, this country saw something similar when a bark fungus from Asia was introduced on the Eastern Seaboard and destroyed the chestnut population.  This time around an eastern Russian insect known as the Emerald Ash Borer is aggressively annihilating ash forests slowing down only toward the northern extent of the ash's range. What limits the freeze to death when the air temperature gets below -15 degree Fahrenheit.

The somewhat cyclical reappearance of a strong Polar Vortex resulted in the exploding populations in Northern Minnesota to reduce the population by 80%.  However, those temperatures were rare and the Polar Vortex was more temporary than long term cold.  In Southern Minnesota, the die off was around half that at 40%.  The periodically cold winters seen in Pennsylvania and New York are thought to have only a very mild impact on the Emerald Ash Borer.  The populations are intact and are thought to bounce back relatively quickly.  With warming in play, these vortexes will not stretch down as far with as cold of an impact and the Emerald Ash Borer will advance and a race to the Arctic will commence.  Regardless, such a reduced environment for the ash would commercially be a death knell. 

So with respect to baseball, it means that we just might need to find new lumber to consider.  With that in mind, I compiled a list of over 100 different tree species from within the United States and a few lumber varieties found in other countries.  My interest was to find a collection of wood species that might be of use.  We know that Louisville Slugger is experimenting with yellow birch as an alternative wood, so we used our grading scale to identify species more similar to white ash and sugar maple than yellow birch.  Here is that list:

Tree Species Average Specific Gravity, Oven Dry  Sample Static Bending Modulus of Elasticity (E) Impact Bending, Height of Drop Causing Failure Compress. Parallel to Grain, Max Crushing Strength Compress. Perpen.  to Grain, Fiber Stress at Prop. Limit Shear Parallel to Grain, Max Shear Strength

(0-1.0) 10^6 psi inches psi psi psi

Maple, Sugar 0.63 1.83 39 7,830 1,470 2,330
Ash, White 0.60 1.74 43 7,410 1,160 1,910
Oak, White 0.68 1.78 37 7,440 1,070 2,000
Oak, Swamp Chestnut 0.67 1.77 41 7,270 1,110 1,990
Oak, Northern Red 0.63 1.82 43 6,760 1,010 1,780
Oak, Pin 0.63 1.73 45 6,820 1,020 2,080
Beech, American 0.64 1.72 41 7,300 1,010 2,010
Elm, Rock 0.63 1.54 56 7,050 1,230 1,920
Oak, Black 0.61 1.64 41 6,520 930 1,910
Oak, Laurel 0.63 1.69 39 6,980 1,060 1,830
Afrormosia 0.61 1.77 45 7,483 - 1667
Oak, Water 0.63 2.02 44 6,770 1,020 2,020
Ash, Green 0.56 1.66 32 7,080 1,310 1,910
Honeylocust - 1.63 47 7,500 1,840 2,250
Ash, Blue 0.58 1.40 - 6,980 1,420 2,030
Opepe 0.63 1.73 - 7,483 - 1900
Birch, Sweet 0.65 2.17 47 8,540 1,080 2,240
Hickory, Pecan 0.66 1.73 44 7,850 1,720 2,080
Oak, Cherrybark 0.68 2.28 49 8,740 1,250 2,000
Oak, Overcup 0.63 1.42 38 6,200 810 2,000
Maple, Black 0.57 1.62 40 6,680 1,020 1,820
Oak, Willow 0.69 1.90 42 7,040 1,130 1,650
Para-angelim 0.63 1.94 - 7,454 - 1595
Hickory, Nutmeg 0.60 1.70 - 6,910 1,570 -
Hickory, Shellbark 0.69 1.89 88 8,000 1,800 2,110
Oak, Swamp White 0.72 2.05 49 8,600 1,190 2,000
Birch, Yellow 0.62 2.01 55 8,170 970 1,880
Oak, Post 0.67 1.51 46 6,600 1,430 1,840
Oak, Chestnut 0.66 1.59 40 6,830 840 1,490
Walnut, Black 0.55 1.68 34 7,580 1,010 1,370
Kapur 0.61 1.60 38 6,222 - 1770

What does one want in a bat?  I can think of four things.  First, you want wood with a low density.  That means you can decrease mass while keeping the head size.  That process decreases potential momentum, but it enables hitters to wait on a ball and be more patient.  Second, you want some elasticity.  Otherwise, you are going to feel the vibration of the bat through your arms.  Those first two reasons are major ones why hickory was so rare amongst baseball players outside of extreme contact hitters and, strangely, Babe Ruth.  Third, you want a bat that can tolerate a lot of abuse without snapping.  Finally, you need a good source of lumber.

As mentioned above, Louisville Slugger is concerned and is experimenting with yellow birch, which confuses me.  Yellow birch has ideal density, is resistant to breaking, and is widely available.  However, it does not have much elasticity.  You are going to feel every ball come off that bat with some awful vibration.  Perhaps by naming the yellow birch they are trying to keep other bat makers in the dark.  Lumber supplies are incredibly important in this business and you would likely want to be able to get the trees you want.

When I look at the above list, the woods that spring forward as potential replacements would be the Pin Oak, American Beech, and Opepe.  Opepe, also known as Bilinga and Aloma, is a wood that grows commonly from Sierra Leone to Uganda.  Essentially, this tree grows where you seem to find non-laboratory ebola outbreaks.  Currently, this wood is used as a building material outside of its native region and is on the higher end of the imported wood market.  There certainly is a large number of trees to drop for bats, but shipping them across the Atlantic will raise the cost quite a bit.  If you ignore that, it doubles nice in many of the characteristics for white ash.  Perhaps, more important, the opepe will be of importance if the game is able to spread to Africa.  Being able to locally source your own wood for bat would make things a lot easier.

The Pin Oak is found in the mid-Atlantic as well as in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.  It is not the most robust of trees and needs some help if it would be used commercially.  It has a tendency to prefer swampy or wet areas and can grow only at low altitudes.  The wood is used for cheap construction work and for timber due to the presence of knots.  Knots would be an issue.  It would greatly impact the stability of the bat.  I am not aware of how often these knots arise, but this too could be a wood of importance overseas as well.  In Australia, the Pin Oak has invaded and spread easily.  I do not know if anyone in that country has experimented with it for bats.

Finally, the American Beech looks interesting to me.  However, it must be inappropriate because beech has been used for some bats over the past decade.  Instead of the American one, the European Beech has been used.  Louisville Slugger has done some test runs with European Beech and has provided bats to Adam Dunn and David Ortiz in the past.  Their attempts to secure a supply site of European Beech have failed and the bats produced remain in small batches.  Smaller companies have shot up trying to make a name for themselves in producing bats made of beech, but have gone belly up or are still small in scale.  In fact, if you are interested, Maryland area Extra Innings stores carry European Beech bats.  I am at a loss as to what the issue is with the American variety.  Perhaps the summers are too kind and the tree grows too quickly.

On the face of it, there does appear to be a few trees that could be a suitable replacement for ash.  Hopefully, it does not come to that.


Anonymous said...

There are plenty of scientists who disagree with your "rigorous scientific" conclusion:

Khabibullo Abdusamatov, mathematician and astronomer at Pulkovo Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences[27]
Sallie Baliunas, astronomer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics[28][29]
Tim Ball, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Winnipeg[30]
Robert M. Carter, former head of the school of earth sciences at James Cook University[31]
Ian Clark, hydrogeologist, professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa[32]
Chris de Freitas, associate professor, School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, University of Auckland[33]
David Douglass, solid-state physicist, professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester[34]
Don Easterbrook, emeritus professor of geology, Western Washington University[35]
William M. Gray, professor emeritus and head of the Tropical Meteorology Project, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University[36]
William Happer, physicist specializing in optics and spectroscopy, Princeton University[37]
Ole Humlum, professor of geology at the University of Oslo[38]
Wibjörn Karlén, professor emeritus of geography and geology at the University of Stockholm.[39]
William Kininmonth, meteorologist, former Australian delegate to World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology[40]
David Legates, associate professor of geography and director of the Center for Climatic Research, University of Delaware[41]
Anthony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri[42]
Tad Murty, oceanographer; adjunct professor, Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa[43]
Tim Patterson, paleoclimatologist and professor of geology at Carleton University in Canada.[44][45]
Ian Plimer, professor emeritus of Mining Geology, the University of Adelaide.[46]
Arthur B. Robinson, biochemist and former faculty member at the University of California, San Diego[47]
Murry Salby, former chair of climate at Macquarie University[48]
Nicola Scafetta, research scientist in the physics department at Duke University[49][50]
Tom Segalstad, head of the Geology Museum at the University of Oslo[51]
Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia[52][53][54]
Willie Soon, astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics[55]
Roy Spencer, principal research scientist, University of Alabama in Huntsville[56]
Henrik Svensmark, Danish National Space Center[57]
George H. Taylor, former director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University[58]
Jan Veizer, environmental geochemist, professor emeritus from University of Ottawa[5

Jon Shepherd said...

That list is not very interesting. I mean look at how few actually student climate. When you look at those with that specialty there really is now discussion going on about it. The issue on that regard is settled. Evidence truly is overwhelming. It is not a matter of belief but one of acceptance. That is a cool thing about science. It is true regardless of your belief.

Anonymous said...

While my list is not very interesting to you, their daily work is in compiling empirical evidence to complex questions such as climate change. Aren't you curious as to why the multi-national corporations that are the cause of green house gasses finance the campaigns of politicians whose solution to climate change is to create a global carbon tax among other draconian plans? Dig deeper!

Anonymous said...

"That is a cool thing about science. It is true regardless of your belief."

Kind of like Darwinian Evolution which is scientific fact right? How many of the accepted scientists who believe in global warming also believe that bacteria turned into frogs which turned into snakes, birds, monkeys and then men? If you reach further back into evolutionary science and chaos theory then you have to ask how did matter come into existence? The first law of thermodynamics teaches that energy is constant and can't be created, so where did energy come from? Something can't create itself, so these "scientists" all believe in magic..lol. So much for your silly idea about the infallibility of the science community. Stick to Orioles baseball.

Jon Shepherd said...

Eh...I know more about climate science than I do about baseball. Also it is silly to think of science as infallible. There are certain things we are pretty certain about and others things that we are not. I mean...flat earth science is out the window. Are we going to question the fallibility of that series of observations and application of scientific method?

Jon Shepherd said...

Also..not to be mean, but that magoc statement is by far the most poorly reasoned thing I have ever read. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to read any credible response to anything questioned on this site. You make statements but can't back them up. Your visitors are just supposed to take you at your word. You present yourself as an intellectual yet your work is extremely shallow and easily dismissed. You know very little about baseball and even less about science. Flat earth ad hominem simply means you can't defend your silly Darwin faith. Until you give empirical evidence to support your positions you show yourself to be the fraud your words reveal.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, I do not feel much of a need to go into much scientific thought beyond linking to rigorously studied science. That said, I think your confusion in evolution and how it relates to abiogenesis is rather illuminating in showing that you do not understand evolution or really science for that matter. It is your right to feel how you wish and it probably is beneficial to recognize that how you feel does not exactly impact with what is.

Anonymous said...

Climate Change Remains Unsettled, Say 31,072 Scientists


Jon Shepherd said...

Scientist is a broad word. There are a lot of scientists who know very little about climate change and are overcome by other perspectives. What is more important is to look at the research and recognize how our observations, understanding about mechanisms, and models play out. It is all rather conclusive that global warming exists and humans are the main driver. That point is almost universally accepted by scientists in this field. We are talking somewhere above 97 or so percent of active climatologists. When people cherry pick scientists to try to prove a preconceived notion, you will find a rather peculiar grouping of people such as mathematicians, research doctors, etc. It is basically like talking to your car mechanic about your HVAC. Similar fields, but the car mechanic can often be incredibly wrong. This is really a much better resource than a Newsmax article: http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus

W. Blake Gray said...

Jon: Let it go, it's not worth arguing with anonymous idiots.

On my blog I simply refuse to engage with people who hide behind anonymity. Don't encourage the uneducated coward.

Nice post BTW. What about maple? We saw a lot of maple bats in recent years.

Jon Shepherd said...

Thanks...yeah, Maple is used by about 55% of players today. Some prefer the feel of ash, so I think there will be some push to find something that acts similarly in addition to maple. Maple and beech are probably the woods of the future as far as baseball is concerned.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon Shepherd said...

If people wish to comment, then remember to act like an adult and use proper language. It is rare that we have to remind people of this, but the deleted comment above requires me to issue these reminders.

The gist of it was that me being an environmental toxicologist does not make me an expert on global warming, which is very true even though I have constructed models on how sea water temperature and freshwater temperature changes have impacted salmon migration in the Northeast. I am not a climatologist, which is why I pay attention to over 97% of people in this field who have figured out it exists and that people are the main driver of it. That question has basically been settled with the remaining questions going more into the detail of the elasticity of the mechanics. The political discussion should be what to do about it.