By James Smith
Baseball has long been America’s favorite past time. The packed stadium seats, the bright lights, the big stars, the smell of hotdogs and fresh cola from the snack stand all signal that baseball season is upon us. From Major League Baseball to Collegiate baseball, all these we can expect and stay the same, except for the sound of the bat.
The NCAA now allows the use of aluminum bats in Division I baseball. Not only has the new rule changed way the game is played at the college level, but there is also a safety concern with the new bats.
“Comebackers from aluminum bats are a lot faster than from wood bats,” said Zach Hopf, a Sophomore Pitcher at Saint Peter’s College, “Your reactions have to be quicker on the mound, and you have to be prepared for the ball coming at you sooner. It gets scary thinking about it sometimes.”
Comebackers are hard hit balls at the Pitcher, usually line drives that put the pitcher at risk. Players can sustain head injuries, as well as bone bruises and fractures after just one hit.
The bat standards for College Baseball prior to 2011 were measured by the Bat Exit Speed Ratio test, more commonly known as BESR certification. The BESR certification measured the difference between the speed of a pitched ball and the speed of the ball of a bat as a ratio, determining that the ball could not come off of the bat greater than fifteen percent faster than the pitched ball, according to the NCAA.
The new test for aluminum bats is the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution, or BBCOR certification. The BBCOR test measures the amount of energy lost from the ball hitting the bat. The higher the number, the less the bat gives, which gives a certain “trampoline effect” to the ball, hitting it with more force, according to John Brenkus of Sportscience.
“The BBCOR bats are definitely different from the BESR bats,” said Brian Schroeder, a junior designated hitter and pitcher at Saint Peter’s College. “They are more like hitting with wood. It’s a smaller sweet spot, and the ball doesn’t go as far as before.”
The idea of the new BBCOR bats was to make it swing and hit more like a wood bat. The “sweet spot”, or optimum hitting surface of the bat, was decreased to three inches in length. The shrinking of the sweet spot has been proven to be a key contributor in the decreasing amount of hits, runs, and home runs in college baseball.
The statistics do show a good decrease in power and average numbers from 2010 to 2011. According to the NCAA, there was a 35% decrease from 2010 to 2011 in home runs, and the batting average dropped from .299 in 2010 to .279 in 2011. The other drastic change is how far a ball can go. A ball reaching 375 feet with the BESR bats would be about a 320-foot hit with a BBCOR bat. These numbers are driving teams to bunt more, and manufacture runs.
“With the new bats, it is rare you see a team go out and wins games with home runs,” said Chris Grimes, a junior first baseman for the Peacocks. “We have bunted a lot more than in the past, and the game has changed significantly from when I first came to Saint Peter’s my freshman year.”
College teams are adjusting to the new bats, and the statistics above do not lie. Manufacturing runs is becoming more crucial to many teams, and the teams who have not adapted have been lost in the transition. So the next time you see a college player just miss a home run, remember it would have been over the fence in 2010.