Power outage: New baseball bats more like wood bats
The "ping" is gone.
This year, the National Federation of State High School Associations mandated the use of Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) approved bats in high school baseball games across the nation in order to reduce the risk of injury to the players. The new rules change has had a major impact on high school baseball.
Scientifically, BBCOR is a new mathematical standard that measures bat performance and replaces the old standard called Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR). Simply, BBCOR bats act more like wood bats and less like the recent aluminum or composite bats. BBCOR reduces the trampoline effect, or pop, the ball has off the bat.
"The ball certainly doesn't come off the bat like the other ones did - with that trampoline effect," Woodbury head coach Kevin McDermott said. "The technology was out of control really. These kids are bigger, faster and stronger than most of us were when we were that age. I think it's probably the right thing to do, because people could get hurt with those other ones."
Woodbury senior Ryan Fritze said he sees "a major difference" in the new bats.
"A BBCOR bat is pretty much just like a wood bat to me," he said. "It feels the same, except it has a bigger barrel. It's pretty much the same pop to it. It gives the game a little more structure, so guys aren't going up there and popping balls out of the park all the time."
So why not just use wood bats?
BBCOR bats can range from roughly $70 to $400, but most fall in around the $200 range, while a major-league quality wood bat runs roughly $80, but has a much greater chance of breaking than the BBCOR bats.
The NCAA implemented BBCOR bats last year and Division I batting average, scoring and home runs per game in 2011 dropped significantly, resembling the wood-bat 1970s more than recent years. High school baseball in Minnesota has followed the same trend.
Last year, in the Suburban East Conference for example, none of the 10 teams in the league averaged fewer than three runs a game, while three teams scored over six runs a game and seven teams scored over five runs per game. This year, however, three teams have scored under three runs a game, only three teams have scored more than five runs per game and only one team is over six runs a game.
McDermott said he believed there is a direct relationship between the low-scoring games and the new bats.
"I definitely think so," he said. "There are a lot of balls that I've seen hit this year that are hit squarely and pretty good, but are routine fly balls, whereas they would've been extra-base hits last year. It's definitely changed the game. From our perspective, pitchers dominate. It used to be a much more offensive game. That's changed quite a bit."
Fritze said he's had three or four shots this year he thought were homeruns, but weren't.
"I've hit a few to the warning track this year that I think would have been gone last year, but it doesn't matter. This year is this year," he said. "I know it's going to be just like that next year in college too."
Fritze is planning on playing ball for Des Moines Area Community College next year in hopes of attaining a baseball scholarship to a four-year college.
"I don't care that much, because I'm not really a home run hitter," he said. "I still go up there, see the ball and hit the ball. It's not a huge impact on me. From a hitting standpoint you can't just swing for a home run. You have to swing for doubles, for some line drives and you have to play small-ball, because the ball isn't going to travel like it did last year."
In addition to being one of the Royals' top hitters, Fritze is a high-end starting pitcher, something he hopes to be in college, too.
"As a pitcher, the new bats give you a chance to take more risks," he said. "You can keep the ball up a little bit, because you know the ball isn't going to go out of the park like last year."
He said the new BBCOR bats allow pitchers to pound the strike zone.
"As a pitcher I like it a lot more, because I know I won't get beat a lot by the home run," he said. "I can go at hitters more, because the ball isn't going to go as far."
With the new bats in hand, most coaches are placing more emphasis on pitching, defense and executing the little things instead of games being decided by numerous towering home runs and warning-track doubles.
"We put a bigger focus on bunting and things," McDermott said. "It's something we've focused on in practice. Unfortunately for us, we've struggled to get guys on base even to do that."
McDermott said what he feels is most important is that players don't have lazy swings at the plate.
"We've preached that," he said. "You have to find a pitch you want and you have to swing aggressively at it. Don't be tentative with your swings or else it's not going to go anywhere."
McDermott also said he's noticed that teams are playing their outfielders shallower than before, daring the batter to try and hit the ball over them.
"People have changed defensively," he said. "You have to be able to field a bunt and take that away and play your outfield in more to take away the cheap ones."
Some baseball coaches miss the power-laden aluminum bats, but others say the new bats bring the game of baseball back to the way it was originally designed to play.
"I don't mind it at all to be honest with you," McDermott said. "I think it levels the playing field a little bit. You have to be able to play good defense and pitch, you're not just going to be able to go out there and outscore people necessarily."