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Toned-down bats spawn a new game

05/05/2014, 8:07pm PDT
By Craig Malveaux

Fewer home runs prompt teams to renew focus on pitching and defense


Derryck Williams plays for an Otay Ranch team that coach Bob McCurdy says has “adopted small ball, bunting and moving runners.”

Through 33 games and 1,124 plate appearances, St. Augustine High registered 234 singles, 60 doubles and 19 triples.

The Saints’ home run tally, however, was zero.

“We really got after it that year,” joked St. Augustine baseball coach Craig da Luz, recalling the 2012 season.

The Saints finally cleared the fence in the postseason, slugging a pair of homers in the second round of the San Diego Section playoffs.

St. Augustine’s two home runs that year were 11 fewer than its 2011 total.

“I think it was a mental earthquake for some guys,” da Luz said.

“Oh no, we have the BBCOR bats now. No one’s going to hit home runs. Maybe some guys were trying to overswing, thinking they need to supply more power than what was necessary instead of barreling up on it.”

Two years removed from high school baseball’s inaugural season using bats built to new specifications, power numbers haven’t fully recovered, teetering well below the pre-BBCOR averages.

“Instead of the power-minded approach we’ve had in the past, we’ve adopted small ball, bunting and moving runners,” said Otay Ranch coach Bob McCurdy.

“It’s not just us. You see that with a number of other programs. They’re trying to find ways to score runs.”

In 2012, the National Federation of State High School Associations mandated that bats meet BBCOR (batted ball coefficient of restitution) standards in place of BESR (ball exit speed ratio) standards.

Efforts to tone down the bats stemmed from an incident in Northern California in 2010 when pitcher Gunnar Sandberg was struck by a line drive. Sandberg spent time in a coma but recovered to resume his school career.

The BBCOR bats, which cost between $200-$400, reduce the “trampoline effect” of the batted ball.

“In the past, when a pitched ball made contact with an alloy or composite bat, the barrel would flex inward ever so slightly and the ball would retain some of its energy resulting in farther hits,” Easton, a top bat manufacturer, writes on its website.

“Wood bats don’t have as much ‘give’ to them and the ball loses much of its energy upon impact. Like BESR, the BBCOR standard ensures that non-wood bats perform more comparably to wood bats in an attempt to level the playing field.”

Rancho Bernardo hitting coach Rick Ray echoed the statement.

“Both are end-loaded bats,” he told the U-T. “I think the sweet spot is about the same size on both.”

It’s believed to measure about four inches on wood barrels, six on BBCOR and eight on the retired aluminum bats — a sizable difference for hitters.

“It exposes some hitters,” said da Luz, whose team has eight home runs this spring. “You’re not seeing guys get jammed inside, or cap it, and flick it out of the park.”

That’s apparent in local and national power numbers (see chart below).

In addition to adopting small-ball strategies — bunting, stealing bases, hit-and-run situations, sacrifice plays and situational hitting — the burden falls on team defense as more tight games are being played.

“We spend a lot of time defending bunting in practice daily,” McCurdy said.

“All it takes is one bunt. And if you aren’t prepared, next thing you know, a pitcher or third baseman picks up that ball and tosses it over the head of the first baseman and that single becomes a triple.”

No question, the BBCOR bats are advantageous for pitchers.

“Pitchers aren’t afraid to throw inside anymore,” da Luz said.

“Pre-BBCOR, you have a lot of kids nibbling on the outside, throwing away from the strength of the hitter because the jam is flying. Now, pitchers are more confident in mixing and you see a lot more challenging fastballs on the inner third.”

While home run numbers have declined, there are exceptions. Think Rancho Bernardo senior catcher Alex Jackson.

A projected top 10 pick in June’s pro baseball draft, Jackson pounded 31 home runs during this sophomore and junior seasons. He has 10 this year and is within one of tying the section career record of 47 set by RB’s John Drennen in 2002-05.

“I don’t think you hit it harder, but the ball travels about 30 feet farther with those old bats,” Jackson told the U-T. “With the BBCOR bats, the ball will fly right off it, if you square it up.”

Da Luz said the new bats make it necessary for hitters to stay within themselves.

“If hitting for power isn’t your game, don’t try to make it your game,” he said. “It’s like pitchers. If a pitcher throws 82 mph, don’t try to throw 95. If you have a good curveball, that’s what you should use.”

POWERED DOWN

The following numbers show how home run totals have dropped in high school baseball since a rule change reduced the trampoline effect of the bats. Impetus for the change occurred in 2010 when a high school pitcher in Northern California was seriously injured after being struck by a batted ball. The statistics were compiled from MaxPreps.com, whose information is submitted by the teams.

2010

Players used bats that complied with BESR (ball exit speed ratio) standards.

LOCAL

• 16 teams hit 15 or more home runs, led by Rancho Bernardo with 48

• 26 teams hit 10 or more HRs

• 10 teams scored 230 or more runs, led by Rancho Bernardo with 340

• 33 players hit 5 or more HRs

NATIONAL

• 11 teams hit 50 or more HRs

• 99 teams hit 30 or more HRs

• 25 players hit 15 or more HRs

2011

A rule was passed requiring players to use toned-down bats that complied with BBCOR (batted ball coefficient of restitution) standards. However, most players used older bats that had been waivered in for this transition season.

LOCAL

• 13 teams hit 15 or more HRs, led by Rancho Bernardo with 50

• 27 teams hit 10 or more HRs

• 13 teams hit 2 or fewer HRs

• 8 teams scored 230 or more runs, led by Rancho Bernardo with 289

• 33 players hit 5 or more HRs

NATIONAL

• 20 teams hit 50 or more HRs

• 130 teams hit 30 or more HRs

• 25 players hit 15 or more HRs

2012

Players allowed to use BBCOR bats only.

LOCAL

• 7 teams hit 15 or more HRs, led by Rancho Bernardo with 33

• 18 teams hit 10 or more HRs

• 29 teams hit 2 or fewer HRs

• 4 teams scored 230 or more runs, led by Chula Vista High Tech with 240

• 15 players hit 5 or more HRs

NATIONAL

• 3 teams hit 50 or more HRs

• 15 teams hit 30 or more HRs

• 8 players hit 15 or more HRs

2013

Players allowed to use BBCOR bats only.

LOCAL

• 9 teams hit 15 or more HRs, led by Rancho Bernardo with 35

• 13 teams hit 10 or more HRs

• 31 teams hit 2 or fewer HRs

• 7 teams scored 230 or more runs, led by Chula Vista High Tech with 305

• 11 players hit 5 or more HRs

NATIONAL

• Zero teams hit 50 or more HRs

• 13 teams hit 30 or more HRs

• 5 players hit 15 or more HRs

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