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There's a new bat in town - Central Oregonian
April 7, 2012Crook County High School
Don’t expect to see a lot of home runs in high school baseball this year.
It’s not going to happen.
Last year, the NCAA switched to a new set of bats for its baseball season. This year, the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS)?followed suit.
“It’s obviously taken a lot of distance off of the ball,”?said Crook County head baseball coach Terry Larimer. “A lot of balls that would have been home runs or at least clean hits last year are just routine fly balls this year.”
Baseball began to change in the 1970s when both college and high school teams began to use bats made out of materials other than wood.
The original bats were made of aluminum and were heavy. Their primary advantage over wood bats was that they didn’t break. Over the years, bat manufacturers found new, more high tech, materials to make baseball bats out of.
The result was an increase in offensive output, more home runs, and eventually a concern over the safety of pitchers.
As line drives came back towards the pitcher’s mound at faster and faster rates, an increasing number of pitchers were being injured by batted balls.
Recently, the standard for both college and high school baseball was the BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bat. The bats could be made of aluminum, or of high-tech composite resins. Bats were tested to measure the speed of the ball coming off of the bat. However, some composite bats that met the standard when new no longer met the standards once they were broken in — leading to balls that were hit faster than the standards allowed.
An underground cottage industry sprang up to artificially “break in” bats to increase performance. Individuals began rolling bats in a press to break down the resin fibers leading to bats that were “hot” and hit the ball harder and farther.
As a result, in 2009 the NCAA began a study which concluded that the BESR?standard for bats was no longer adequate and began testing for a new standard, the BBCor (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution).
In 2011, the NCAA?switched to the new standard of bats, and offensive production plummeted.
NCAA?statistics show that home runs dropped from .94 per game in 2010 to .52 in 2011. NCAA?teams combined to hit .282 in 2011, down from .307 the previous season, and runs scored dropped from 6.88 runs per game to 5.82 runs. Both totals were the lowest since the late 1970s and the advent of aluminum bats.
Experts expect to see similar changes in high school baseball this season.
“Home runs dropped by nearly 78 percent in college last year,” Larimer said. “I think you will see the same thing this year in high school.”
Crook County has played 10 games so far this season, with no home runs hit in any of the games.
The goal of both the NCAA?and the NFHS is for aluminum and composite bats to behave as closely to wooden bats as possible.
Because a wooden bat is dense and has no give, when a ball hits the bat the ball compresses and energy is lost. By contrast ,when a ball hits an aluminum or composite bat ,the bat flexes, and causes the ball to compress less, retaining more of the balls energy, thus adding to the speed that the ball is hit at.
To meet the BBCor standards, bats are required to be stiff enough that the ball loses half of its energy as it strikes the bat.
The belief is that this will closely mirror the characteristics of wooden bats. According to ESPN’s SportsScience, a ball hit 400 feet with a BESR?bat will only travel 375 feet with a BBCor bat, a drop in performance of nearly seven percent.
“As far as the kids are concerned, it’s a bad thing,” Larimer said. “But as far as I’m concerned it’s a good thing. It makes for a more exciting game to watch and it makes the innings go faster. It’s what you saw in our Redmond game earlier this year. Last year, they would have relied on the long ball. Instead, they were forced to bunt to manufacture runs.”
Although it is still early in the season, there has been a slight drop in run production from most high school baseball teams in Oregon. Last year, Oregon’s Class 6A, 5A, and 4A teams averaged 6.4 runs per game. So far this season, the average has been 5.96 runs per game, or a drop of nearly half a run a game.
Games are also taking less time to play, averaging an estimated 19 minutes less than a year ago. However, the biggest change has been the drop in home runs.
“The new bats are weight different and they feel different in a player’s hands,” Larimer said. “They’re a whole different creature.”
Although Larimer sees the changes as positive, they have come at a price.
“Last year’s bats are worthless,” Larimer said. “We took $300 bats from last year and we just threw them away because they aren’t worth anything. I don’t know how many bats we turned into scrap metal.”
Larimer added that not all of last year’s bats went to waste. Some of the newer bats in Central Oregon were collected and sent to youth leagues in Puerto Rico that are still allowing the old style of bats.
Instead of having a wide selection of bats for hitters to choose from, Crook County now has six bats — three each for their varsity and JV teams.
Players may also choose to purchase their own bats, and that is exactly what a couple of players on Crook County’s team have done.
However, the new bat rules have led to confusion from parents when they go to purchase bats.
“We have seen costumers come in now and they don’t know what they need,” said Kate Buckner, Dick’s Sporting Goods Community Marketing Manager in Portland. “They just have more questions. Fortunately, we have specialists that can answer those questions.”
Adding to the possible confusion is that bat regulations have also changed for youth baseball, and the new rules are not the same as for high school.
“We are seeing a lot of individuals who bought new bats last year, and this year they are illegal,” Buckner said. “As of January 2012, all high school composite bats are illegal.”
Adding to the problem is that the new bats are expensive. A typical BBCor bat retails from between $150 and $400, while a youth bat can be just as expensive. Parents considering purchasing new bats should do their homework. A bat that is legal for an eighth-grader will probably not be legal for the same player as a ninth-grader.
Wooden bats are still legal at all levels of baseball, so why not just switch to wood?
The answer is both performance and cost.
Wooden bats are not inexpensive either, costing more than $100 per bat. Since the new BBCor bats are intended to last for several years each and wooden bats frequently break, the idea is that the BBCor bats will perform similarly to wood, but cost less in the long run.
“You will probably see a few more hits with the BBCor bats than wood,” Larimer said. A ball off the handle may still fall in for a hit instead of leading to a broken bat. But to tell you the truth, if it wasn’t for the fact that it would put the bat manufacturers out of business, I wish that they would just go to wooden bats altogether.”
Purchasing baseball bats
Before purchasing any bat, make sure that the bat conforms to the rules for the specific organization or league that the bat will be used in.
All high school baseball bats must have a BBCor stamp of approval before they may be used in a game. If a player comes to the plate with an illegal bat, they will be declared out.
Little League and youth bats must comply with the regulations for their specific organization, but are not BBCor bats.
Further complicating the matter is that softball is governed by different rules than baseball. Only bats on the approved list for ASA (American Softball Association) may be used.
If you have any questions about the legality of a bat, check with your coach, or the legislative body for your particular league.
Sporting goods chains such as local giants Dick’s Sporting Goods or Big Five have bats in stock for most current regulations. In addition, bats are available from a number of on-line sources.
Be aware that a bat that is legal for one youth age group may not be legal for the next age group up, and will probably not be legal in high school.
Additional information about BBCor bats
There are a number of sites on the internet that provide further explanations about the new high school bat rules. One of the best is found at http://www.stevetheump.com. Click on rules and then look at both BBCOR and NFHS?Bat Rules.