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Better bats

Technology marches on.

As part of new MLB regulations, manufacturers use ink to test bats’ stability. If the dot bleeds more than a quarter inch, indicating low density, that wood isn’t major-league caliber.

Thanks to that practice and more implemented since 2008 when bat breakage has been studied by the U.S. Forest Service, the rate of shattered maple bats has decreased 50 percent, according to results of the study released Friday by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Referred to as “slope of the grain,” the straighter the wood appears along the bat, the less likely it breaks and hits other players or fans. Regulations put in place because of the study call for three degrees or less slope on the wood — essentially a straight line — for use in MLB.

The changes have affected half of Louisville Slugger’s bat production, as MLB’s leading bat manufacturer still produces half of its bats from ash.

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In the five-year study, experts with the U.S. Forest Service and MLB examined every broken major-league bat from July through September of the 2008 season and found inconsistency in the wood’s makeup caused maple to splinter on contact.

Data collection isn’t over, though, as the USDA team will continue recording and analyzing video of every broken MLB bat since 2009, including some from the new-regulation bats in 2013. The goal is to keep bats with potential to fracture out of players’ hands — and away from fans.

This is a safety issue, since splintered bat fragments flying all over the place are an obvious hazard. It’s also a cost issue, especially for college baseball programs. The reason college programs used aluminum bats for so long is that aluminum bats hardly ever break, and thus can last a long time without needing to be replaced. Now that college teams are required to use wood bats, making sure those bats are less likely to break will be a boon for their budgets. On the down side, it probably means no one will ever again get a Chair of Broken Dreams like the one that Mariano Rivera recently received. But then that was likely the case anyway.

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