The Webster University baseball team smashed 55 home runs in the 2010 season. In 2011, the NCAA enforced a new rule, allowing only a new type of bat to be used. That season, Webster hit only 23 balls over the fences. But the Gorloks believe they’re now used to the change.
In 2009, the NCAA implemented a new way of measuring the power a baseball bat possesses. The NCAA switched from the Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR) to the Bat-Ball Coefficient Restitution (BBCOR) formula to set rules for what types of bats were legal for NCAA use. The maximum BBCOR score allowed for an NCAA-approved bat is 0.5.
The 2011 baseball season was the first year only BBCOR-approved bats could be used in NCAA competition. Webster, along with almost every other team in the country, saw its offensive numbers drop.
In the first 10 days of the 2011 NCAA baseball season, home runs were 1.8 percent of balls in play, and 6.25 runs were scored per game, according to http://collegesplits.com.
Those numbers were down from 2010, when home runs were 2.8 percent of balls in play and 7.5 runs were scored per game.
Aaron Fitt, Baseball America magazine writer, said a vast majority of NCAA coaches have now accepted and adapted to the change. He believes the main reason the change was made was for player safety.
“There was concern that balls were coming off the bats at too high of a speed,” Fitt said. “They were putting pitchers’ health in jeopardy as balls were coming off the bats in speeds excess of 100 miles per hour. That doesn’t give a pitcher much time to react.”
Webster sophomore pitcher Isaac Behme thinks the change is better for the game in that it is a little bit safer.
“In the game, I never really thought about it,” Behme said. “But you see videos where kids can get hit, especially at the younger age who aren’t as experienced, and it can be dangerous for a ball to be hit that hard back at them.”
Behme said he is used to the new bat regulations from both the pitching and hitting aspect of the game. He had 97 at-bats in the 2012 season for Webster, and he said using the BBCOR bats hasn’t been a problem.
“Using metal or wood, if you’re a good hitter, you’re still going to hit or get guys out,” Behme said. “But it is college baseball, and it’s fun to still see college players hit with metal bats.”
Fitt said when the NCAA introduced the new bat idea, the NCAA said it wanted the bats to be more “wood-like.” Fitt believes BBCOR is a good midway point that makes the game a little more like the professional leagues but still has the excitement and high scoring that college baseball should have.
“These bats are less forgiving than the old ones,” Fitt said. “Now, they have to really square it up, and it teaches hitters how to really hit and teaches pitchers how to pitch to contact, throw strikes and command the fastball — things that major league teams value.”
Webster coach Bill Kurich said he is offensive-minded and enjoyed seeing the ball fly out of the park. He thinks with the NCAA’s alteration, his team’s approach has changed. Kurich’s focus now has a greater emphasis on baserunning and fielding.
“I like the safety aspect of it,” Kurich said. “I think there were some home runs that were a little bat-aided, and there were some smaller and weaker hitters who could still hit home runs and doubles when they hadn’t put the time, effort and work into it.”
Fitt believes composite bats are gone for good in college baseball, but coaches are still pushing for a way to up the offense.
“The one change that I think a lot of coaches would like to see would be to go to a livelier ball,” Fitt said. “The minor leagues use a ball that has a little more life to it and travels farther than the college ball does.”
Fitt said the idea was talked about at the American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Chicago on Jan. 3-6. More than 4,500 coaches attended the convention.
“It’s something they are exploring,” Fitt said. “We’ll see what comes of it. I think opinion on that is fairly split across college baseball, but I think they are building for it.”