» 5/2/12 - COMMENTARY: The truth, in media, can hurt
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This article appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Champion magazine.
By Gary Brown
If the purpose of new bat standards adopted this year was to make metal perform more like wood, then college baseball may have found its sticks.
Offensive stats in college baseball went retro in 2011 with the adoption of new bat standards that more tightly regulate bat performance. Most categories peaked in 1998 before the NCAA began testing bats.
Division I batting average, scoring and home runs per game in 2011 resemble the wood-bat 1970s more than they do recent years. Division I teams in 2011 averaged 5.58 runs per game, well off the record 7.12 in 1998 and below 6 for the first time since 1977 (5.83), which was just the fourth season of the aluminum bat in college baseball.
Home runs left parks at an average of .52 per team per game in 2011 compared with .94 last year and 1.06 in 1998 (also the peak year for that category). That resembles wood-bat days, too (.42 in the last year of wood in 1973, and .49, .50 and .55 in the first three years of metal).
Batting average in 2011 was .282, the lowest since 1976. Earned-run average, on the other hand, was its best (4.70) since 1980 (4.59).
The drop in pop is likely attributable to a stricter “Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution” standard (BBCOR) that reduces a batted ball’s exit speed.
The new BBCOR formula provides a better measure of a bat’s performance and allows the Baseball Rules Committee and bat-testing laboratories to better predict field performance based on lab tests. The goal is for non-wood bats meeting that new standard to perform similarly to wood bats.
Game times also were affected in 2011, not only because of fewer home run trots but also because of new rules the Baseball Rules Committee adopted that regulate time between pitches and innings.
Games in the 2011 Division I championship (the only part of the season in which the NCAA statistics staff can practically track game times) took about 20 minutes less on average to complete than in 2010. The fastest game in the regionals last year in fact was 2:19, but in the 2011 regionals, 16 of the 101 games were completed in that time or quicker (including two games played in under two hours).
Super regionals 3:16
Overall average 3:07
Super regionals 2:55
Overall average 2:48
The NCAA Baseball Research Panel, a group charged with maintaining the protocol for testing bats in the college game, recommended the new standards after reviewing Division I statistics from recent years that revealed sharp increases in offensive performance, particularly in home runs and runs scored, that was attributable mostly to the kind of bats in use at the time.
Whether the new bats are the true bats may depend on the age of the person opining. Some players and coaches openly lament the loss of the “ping” while others say the bats produce better baseball.
NCAA Baseball Rules Committee chair Jeff Hurd, a senior associate commissioner at the Western Athletic Conference, said regardless of whether they like the new standards, coaches and players at least understand why the change was made. “Maintaining the integrity of the game and enhancing player safety were at the forefront” he said.
Tim Weiser, deputy commissioner at the Big 12 Conference and chair of the Division I Baseball Committee, said the people who question the change may tend to be the younger coaches who haven’t experienced college baseball with anything other than an aluminum or composite bat. They didn’t think there was anything wrong with the game, but others were saying that the new, more power-oriented version of baseball wasn’t the game they grew up playing.
“That’s not to say one version is better than the other,” Weiser said. “But these new bat standards have brought the game back to its original style of play. It has put a premium back on strategy, pitching and defense, and not on the No. 9 hitter being able to hit the ball 400 feet just like the No. 4 hitter can. That’s what a lot of the positive feedback I’m hearing is centered on.”
Most constituents like the changes bats with stricter BBCOR standards bring.
Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association and a member of the Baseball Research Panel, cited an ABCA survey this spring in which more than 80 percent of respondents either liked or at least accepted the change.
Keilitz said coaches who like to manufacture runs with the stolen base, the hit and run and the sacrifice bunt, and who rely on pitching and defense, tend to like the new bats. Coaches bent on home runs and playing for the big inning don’t.
“But I’ve heard coaches say that the guys who are good hitters are still good hitters,” Keilitz said. “Guys who coaches didn’t consider to be good hitters but still hit for good average with the old bats aren’t hitting for good average anymore with the new bats.”