The winds of change have blown through baseball.
To promote safety and get performance closer to wood, metal bats have changed — first at the college level and now in high school.
About a third of the way through the 2012 season, some area players and coaches are weighing in on the new BBCOR bats.
Adam Raifsnider, a senior catcher on Central’s Class 4A No. 9-ranked squad, heard the rumblings about the transition to bats with a smaller “sweet spot” and lowered exit speed off the barrel.
“People were looking for the worst,” says Raifsnider. “Everybody made a big deal about it.”
With his own team, Raifsnider has noticed a drop in home runs. But not overall production. The Blue Blazers average around nine runs per game.
“If you were a hitter before, you are still going to be a hitter,” says Raifsnider.
Central head coach Steve Stutsman counts himself as “pleasantly surprised.”
“The new bats have not affected the good hitters,” says Stutsman. “We’re just not getting as many extra-base hits (as in past seasons).”
Central junior Tanner Tully smacked nine homers in 2011 and he had three through 11 games in 2012.
“This has been in the kids’ heads,” says Jimtown head coach Mike Stout. “It makes them feel differently about the game.”
Stout has noticed that the model of the bat matters.
“The ball jumps off certain kinds of bats,” says Stout. “(With others) kids square it up and it just doesn’t go anywhere.
As a parent, you almost feel obligated to get your son the best equipment in order to succeed.”
Stout says that even though bats carry a hefty price tag (usually upwards of $200), bats have a short shelf life. He has already watched some Jimtown bats “go out of round.”
“They are like ovals,” says Stout. “You can either take it back (to the manufacturer) or eat (the cost).”
Memorial head coach Scott Rost has also noticed a drop in power with BBCOR bats.
“I don’t think the ball travels nearly as far,” says Rost. “There are not as many hard shots through the infield.”
To Rost, the new bats are like a cross between metal and wood.
Like many other teams, Rost has placed an emphasis on “small ball” and using the straight bunt, sacrifice bunt, hit-and-run and running game more than in the power-driven past.
“We did change a little bit,” says Rost. “In the past, we didn’t want to give up outs and lose in a 10-9 game.”
Known for years as a team that enjoyed the “big inning,” Penn came through its first 12 games with no homers. While still aggressive, the Kingsmen were not hesitant to lay it down.
“I have probably called for the sacrifice bunt more this year than I have in the last five years,” says Penn head coach Greg Dikos. “I was definitely expecting differences. Everything I anticipated has come to be.”
Jim Treadway, in his first season as Concord head coach but a veteran of more than three decades of coaching high school and college-age players, got his players ready for the switch by having them swing wood bats in December and January before going to BBCOR in February.
Since the new bats are top-heavy, he has his players hitting more to the opposite field, getting good plate coverage and taking advantage of speed. The Minutemen had 11 triples in their first 11 games.
“In a perverse kind of way, I kind of like them,” says Treadway. “We had to go back to learning how to hit instead of getting the ‘trampoline effect.’”
Northridge head coach Andrew Brabender has not changed his offensive philosophy and has witnessed plenty of power from his 2012 lineup (Brock Logan had four homers in the Raiders’ first 12 games).
“We are still a middle/away team,” says Brabender. “We’ve always bunted and used the hit-and-run a lot.”
What Brabender has observed is a change on defense.
“The ball is tougher to read off the bat,” says Brabender. “It sounds like the old bat but it is not.”
Fairfield head coach Brodie Garber has noted more flyball outs in the outfield and fewer “bleeders” off the handle, which were prevalent with the old bats.
“What we say in the dugout is, ‘that would have been a home run last year,’” says Garber. “But the better hitters are hitting for the same average.”
While it is too early for substantial high school data to be available, the NCAA introduced BBCOR bats, there were notable statistical differences compared to the bats used before the conversion.
Division I teams averaged 5.58 runs per game, well off the record of 7.12 in 1998 and below 6.0 for the first time since 1977 (5.83), which was just the fourth season of the aluminum bat in college baseball.
Home runs were belted at a rate of 0.52 per team per game in 2011 compared to 0.94 in 2010 and 1.06 in 1998 (also the peak year for that category). The average was 0.42 in 1973 (the last year of wood in college) and 0.49, 0.50 and 0.55 in the first three seasons of metal.
Batting average in 2010 was .305. In 2011, it was .282, the lowest since 1976. Earned run average was at its best (4.70) since 1980 (4.59).