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Friday, May 6, 2011

College and High School Baseball Power Outage: BBCOR Bats

Colleges and high schools introduced new metal bats to reduce the speed of the ball as it comes off the bat in order to increase the safety of pitchers and come as close as possible to the speed that the ball comes off wood bats. Bats now must adhere to the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standard, which measures the collision between bat and ball to determine the liveliness of the bat.

As a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News noted ("New Bats Cut Homers"), the new standards appear to be working. According to NCAA statistics, scoring nationwide is down 20 percent this year and the number of home runs is nearly half of what it was last year (my nonrandom, unscientific observation of several high school games this year has left me with a similar impression). Silicon Valley college teams have experienced varied results. While Cal, St. Mary's and Santa Clara's offensive production is down, Stanford's is about the same and San Jose State's is up slightly. The article's author seems somewhat puzzled by this, but I think the obvious answer is that State simply has better hitters this year. In other words, if State's hitters were still using the same type of bats as they did last year, their offensive production would be way up, not just a fraction.

Professional baseball scouts seem to like the change because the new bats are more like the wood bats professional players use, which makes it easier for them to separate the wheat (i.e., the ones who consistently hit the ball on the good part of the bat) from the chaff (i.e., the ones who don't). Opinions among college coaches is mixed, however. San Jose State's head coach Sam Piraro (Sam was SJS's assistant coach when I was playing and that was a long time ago!) seems to like the change, while Stanford's Mark Marquess doesn't.

Personally, I like it because the game is much more like the one I played in high school and college (we used wood bats when I first started high school, and then switched to aluminum. However, the first aluminum bats didn't have a whole lot more pop than our wood bats did. The primary advantage aluminum bats gave us was the fact that they didn't break as easily as wood bats.). Moreover, even if the number of pitchers injured by batted balls was relatively small before the change, any increase in safety is worth it.

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