By Jonathan Deal
For The News Courier
The grand slam.
It is arguably the most exciting play in baseball and it’s
disappearing due to new regulations on baseball bats used by college
and high school teams.
It’s not just the grand slam that’s going away. Offensive statistics
are down across the board since the BBCOR regulations went into
effect. Designed to make the game safer, the new bats are changing
more than just numbers in baseball.
“When aluminum bats came into existence, that was a big change,”
Athens Bible head coach Bill Murrell said. “It’s as drastic a change
to take away power now as when they added it then.”
Murrell has seen a lot of baseball in his 37-year coaching career
including the switch from wooden to aluminum bats in the 1970s. The
ABS coach believes these new bats are changing some of the philosophy
and strategy of the game.
“Coaches will be doing more coaching because they can’t just sit back
and wait for someone to hit the dinger,” Murrell said. “We’re still
trying to throw strikes and keep batters off balance. I think maybe
you aren’t as afraid to make a mistake as you used to be.”
Murrell isn’t the only coach noticing the drop-off in offensive
production. Athens High head coach Thad Prater said the bats have
affected several aspects of the game.
“What it did was it cut down on home runs and it cut down on walks,”
he said. “You’ve got to hit on the ground more, because it just
doesn’t go. You don’t have to pitch around guys as much as you used
Athens enjoyed one of its best seasons in school history in 2011,
making it to the Class 5A semifinals. Prater said that team had at
least 30 home runs by this point last year compared to just five so
far in 2012.
“The outfield can really play in more because you aren’t going to hit
it as far,” Athens junior Harrison Nelson said. “It still feels solid
when you hit it, but it doesn’t go as far. It just kind of dies.”
Nelson isn’t the only player feeling the burn of the BBCOR bats.
College baseball players have dealt with the safety-first bats for
over a year. The NCAA began requiring BBCOR bats for the 2011 season
and the numbers are in.
Playing with the BBCOR bats, batting averages, runs scored and home
runs per game were all significantly down from the previous season,
according to NCAA.com. Through April 3, 2010, college teams averaged
.85 home runs per game compared to .47 per game a year later.
The number of home runs is nearly cut in half with the BBCOR bats. The
conference numbers also support this theory. In 2010 the Ohio Valley
Conference led all baseball leagues with an average of 1.18 home runs
per game. At the same point of the season in 2011, the OVC had .61
homers each game.
It’s not just offensive numbers that have drastically changed in
college baseball. With less big hits, shutouts have more than doubled,
scoring has decreased by an average of nearly two runs per game and
game times have been reduced by an average of 19 minutes per game.
The lack of home runs in 2011-12 is not a one-year phenomenon. Part of
the reason for change was in response to the rising number of home
runs and injuries due to so many hard hits. In 2007, the per-game
average of home runs hit was .68, with that number rising
incrementally to .94 at the end of the 2010 season.
The BBCOR bats are designed to prevent injuries by reducing the speed
at which the ball leaves the bat. Murrell compared the two different
bats to bouncing on a trampoline. The BBCOR bats would be the
equivalent of someone jumping flat-footed compared to the previous
bats getting the bounce of a trampoline.
It’s not just the ball leaving the bat with less velocity that makes
these BBCOR bats so much different. Some local coaches think they know
why home runs, specifically have dropped so dramatically.
“There are still sweet spots. You’re still going to get some good hard
licks,” Tanner head coach Austin Marsh said. “There are a lot of times
when the ball is hit hard, but it goes right to the center fielder.
There are a lot of good hard hits, that end up dropping where they
used to go out of the park.”
Murrell agrees with Marsh’s assessment of the ball dropping where they
use to carry further.
“We’ve had several balls that were hit to the fence that would have
been 20 feet over last year,” Murrell said. “We were never a power
hitting club in the past. But, at this point last year, we had hit
eight or nine home runs. We’ve only hit two this year.”
So far the only thing clear about the BBCOR certified bats is they
make it a lot harder to hit the ball out of the park. Whether they
have reduced the amount of injuries is yet to be determined.
So, will these new bats have a lasting impact on America’s pastime?
Will they change baseball’s philosophy and strategy the same way
aluminum bats did 50 years ago?
Only time will tell. Until then, baseball players will keep swinging
for the fences.