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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 29, 2012

New bats could change how baseball is played
By Jordan J. Michael

High school baseball has gone from wooden bats to metal bats, and now to bats that are more similar to wooden bats. Traditional wooden bats can also be used if a player so chooses.

“It’s more like a wooden bat,” Section II coordinator Al Roy said about the newly issued BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats. The National Federation of State High School Associations made the switch because balls were exploding too fast off of the old BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) sluggers.

The estimated exit speed of a well-hit ball off a BESR bat is about 98 miles per hour. With the new BBCOR bats, the same well-hit ball leaves the bat at about 94 mph. Roy said that Section II hasn’t had any major injuries involving balls off the bats, but a few players around the country have died after getting awkwardly hit.

“It’s a safety issue because pitchers were getting hurt by come-backers to the mound,” said Voorheesville Head Coach Kyle Turski. “Honestly, I think we should just use wooden bats.”

Bobby Patrick, the new head coach for Berne-Knox-Westerlo, said that half of the Bulldogs’ team has been using traditional wooden bats. “Wood has a great feel,” he said, “It makes for a better hitter because they learn how to hit the right way. They can’t just crush the ball now.”

Aluminum bats started being used in 1974, and Roy believes that the metal bats became popular because of the product’s unwillingness to break. Wooden bats can shatter, but metal bats could last an entire season.

“It was a cost issue because all you had to do was buy one bat,” Roy said. “Wooden bats were the norm, and that was fine, but metal bats started being made.”

Metal bats are used from Little League through college. Now, high school players have a choice of BBCOR bats or wooden bats.

“I doubt we’ll see much of the wooden bats,” said Roy. “The kids are used to the aluminum bats.”

BBCOR sticks act like their wooden counterparts, but not exactly. In layman’s terms, BBCOR measures the trampoline effect of the bat as the ball makes connection. The standard determines the amount of force lost in contact at a rate of 0.5, which is somewhat greater than that of a wooden bat.

Hitters won’t have as much power with the BBCOR bats. A ball that was once a sure homerun, might now be caught at the warning track. BBCOR bats have a smaller “sweet spot,” Roy said.

Voorheesville senior John David Springer isn’t a power hitter, but he knows that pitching, defense, and small ball will be a bigger factor in 2012.

“It changes the game plan,” Springer said last Friday at practice. “The bat feels the same, but there’s less pop off of it. Usually, we’re a quicker, small ball sort of team, so I think we’ll be able to adapt.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association implemented the mandatory use of BBCOR bats in 2011, and offensive numbers surely dropped. The national batting average for Division I schools decreased from .305 to .282, the lowest mark since 1976. Scoring average fell from 6.98 runs per game in 2010 to 5.58 in 2011, the lowest since 1975.

Also, home runs were down by about 40 percent.

“Routine plays are going to win the game, not big hits,” said senior Mike Chiseri, starting catcher for Voorheesville. “The new bats aren’t very nice for the hitter, but it’s good for the pitcher.”

Patrick, a former player for BKW, graduating in 2007, said that the loud sound of the old metal bats “got old.” The cracking noise off the BBCOR bats is quieter, but so will be the offensive production.

With the new bats, a game score of 3 to 1 is more likely than an 11-to-7 final score.

“Defense is going to win championships,” said Patrick. “It moderates the game in a positive way because players will need to have more awareness. There will be a greater sense of separation, too.”

Everybody loves offense, but defensive games can be even more intense and entertaining. BKW, Guilderland, and Voorheesville will start swinging the new bats as the 2012 regular season begins early next week.

“The games will still be exciting, but teams will have to try different things,” Roy said. “Every run has an impact.”

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