PULLMAN, WA Major league baseball players competing in Sunday’s Home Run Derby in Phoenix could have added an extra 40 feet had they been able to use a bat specially designed at Washington State University.
Lloyd Smith, an associate professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, was recently hired to design a special bat for an attempt to break the Guinness World’s Record for the longest home run. Last month, Philadelphia Phillies star Jimmy Rollins used the bat to drive a ball 463 feet as part of a special event sponsored by Red Bull, but fell short of the 576 foot record.
“We didn’t come close,” said Smith. “But he did beat his personal best by 40 feet.”
Smith, the director of Washington State University’s ‘Bat Lab’, otherwise known as the WSU Sports Science Laboratory, is a well-known softball and baseball bat researcher. While technically breaking the rules of major league baseball, his team tested bats until they found the highest performing composite baseball bat and the best performing baseball.
The lab specializes in measuring the performance of bats and balls for amateur baseball and softball. In their attempt to break the longest batted ball distance record they found an ideal bat, and carefully softened its barrel to increase its performance even more. They then tested the bat in the lab to reach an ideal performance that can make the ball soar without the danger of shattering. They also weighted the bat, so that it would feel just like the wooden bat that Rollins normally uses. Finally, they compared the performance, lift and drag of baseballs to select an ideal ball in their quest for distance.
“We tuned the bat up to give it some extra umph,’’ said Smith, using the non-scientific term.
Smith’s research has helped lead in the development of improved bat testing techniques for the American Softball Association (ASA) in the mid-2000s after the agency became concerned about improved softball bats that were making it too easy for players to hit homeruns. His team is also working with the NCAA. Smith’s lab is one of three in the country that tests bats to the new standards.
Researchers at WSU recently debunked several baseball performance theories in their work published in this months’ American Journal of Physics article, “ Corked Bats, Juiced Balls, and Humidors: The Physics of Cheating in Baseball.”