New rule, bats expected to lower scores, reduce injuries

April 3, 2012

By Michael Payant

New, stricter bat regulations are forcing producers to make less powerful bats and will greatly affect gameplay on both the college and high school levels.

The regulations require BBCOR bats, short for Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution. Though the bats are still aluminum, they are less “springy” and will hit more like wood bats. Permissible bats will feature a BBCOR-certified sticker.

A major problem with the old BESR (ball-exit-speed-ratio) bats was that they would become too powerful once broken in. As fibers within the bats repeatedly came into contact with baseballs, they would break down, become more flexible and surpass levels deemed safe.

“Back in the early days, the best it was going to be was right when you took it out of the wrapper,” Issaquah High School head baseball coach Rob Reese said. “Recently, bats would get more powerful after use.”

Rule makers hope the change, mandatory last year in college, will produce lower-scoring games and lessen injury risk. The National Federation of State High School Associations announced in 2009 that the change would be mandatory starting Jan. 1, 2012. California high schools began using BBCOR bats last spring and scoring was down.

“We want the game to be fair,” federation Baseball Rules Editor Elliot Hopkins said. “We want young people to use their talent to hit rather than exploiting the technology.”

Division 1 college baseball statistics show the “power surge” responsible for the change. Homeruns rose from .68 per game in 2007 to .96 per game in 2009. Runs were up from 6.1 in 2007 to 6.98 in 2010. The numbers were a product of powerful bats and increasingly stronger players, but they substantially declined last year with the implementation of BBCOR bats.

The decrease in bat power has some players considering a shift to wood bats. The price disparity between wood composite and BBCOR bats is another factor in the decision. Wood bats are likelier to break but cost between $60 and $99. New BBCOR bats cost anywhere from $50 to $400, a price that the players will have to cover.

Liberty High School senior Blake Reeve is considering a wood composite bat rather than switching to a BBCOR bat. Primarily a pitcher, Reeve said he looks forward to the changes BBCOR bats will bring.

“I’m pretty excited,” Reeve said. “A lot of people just go up there hacking. If you try to lift the ball with a BBCOR bat, you’ll just fly out every time.”

A drop in offense is expected, but there is debate over whether BBCOR bats will decrease injury risk.

Hard-hit balls will give fielders slightly more reaction time. However, gameplay changes calling for increased emphasis on small-ball and base-running aggression could cause more close plays and increase potential for collision injuries.

Hazen High School baseball coach Gary Jacobs said he hopes BBCOR bats will eliminate many catastrophic injuries to pitchers on hard-hit balls.

“From a safety perspective, it makes sense,” Jacobs said. “You see some of the comebackers with the BESR bats, and it’s really kind of scary.

About once a decade for the past 30 years, college and high school baseball have changed bat regulations to favor pitchers.

A “minus-five” weight limit enacted in 1986 ruled that a bat could be no more than 5 ounces lighter than it was inches long. For example, a 35-inch bat could be no lighter than 30 ounces.

In 1999, the NCAA introduced a “minus-three” weight limit and a barrel-width limit. In 2008, a moratorium was placed on composite bats because of their power. The NCAA has since removed the moratorium on composite bats meeting BBCOR standards.

Each previous change brought a national drop in batting average. However, players at all levels have eventually adjusted to the changes in technology.

“It’s all about better science,” Hopkins said. “In 10 years there will probably be a new standard. Kids will adapt.”

First-year Liberty head baseball coach John Martin was on the staff in 2003 when Liberty won the state championship. He said he believes batters will have some difficulty adjusting to BBCOR bats and the numbers will resemble the lesser offensive numbers of the past.

“If you look at the college numbers from last year, they were down in both power and averages,” Martin said. “This will change the game closer to the way it was played back in the ‘70s.”

Hopkins said the goal for the federation was to provide a fair, talent-driven game of baseball without the “juiced bats” of the past decade.

“The Barry Bonds, Alfonso Sorianos and Derek Jeters will get their hits.” Hopkins said. “They’re just talented. It’s the 15-year-old kid from the rural town who gets on the mound and has to throw it. It’s for him the rule change is happening.”

Michael Payant is a freelance writer and a member of The Beat staff of The Issaquah Press. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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