There’s a little less pop this year in high school baseball.
For safety precautions, the National Federation of State High School Associations changed the standard for bats used at the high school level in January. All bats must now meet the bat-ball coefficient of restitution standard, just like those in the college game.
The NCAA made the switch to BBCOR standards before the 2011 season.
The old standard – ball exit-speed ratio – measured the speed at which the ball traveled after contact with the bat. The maximum allowed BESR was 97 mph. But studies suggested that a bat that had been broken in could have its BESR change drastically from the time it was in the factory to the time it was used on the field – either from repeated use or alteration – and have an exit speed of an additional 10 to 15 mph.
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The BBCOR measures the bat’s bounciness: its “trampoline effect.” The bats being used this year have less of it, to keep baseballs’ exit speed down. Specifically, it has a smaller sweet spot and is more like the wooden bats that Major League Baseball players use.
And that’s changed the high school game.
“If you square it up, the ball is still going to jump,” said Apex coach Mike Valder.
It appears as though players are having a harder time with that.
“The difficulty is squaring it up. The zone is so much smaller,” Valder said.
According to statistics reported to the News & Observer, 10 players at Triangle NCHSAA schools hit four or more home runs last season. That number grows to 24 when considering schools outside the Triangle who reported their stats, as well as private schools.
More than 30 players – regardless of school – were reported as having three or more home runs by the end of last season.
Yet with just two weeks left this regular season, just five area batters have three or more homers.
“More than anything, I think the manufacturers have gotten it right,” said Millbrook coach Josh Pardue. “The kids who were going to hit home runs are still going to hit home runs. It’s the two-strike nine-hole hitters who were getting gap shots are now getting outs in the alleys. It makes the game a little more true.”
Pitching and defense have always been vital to baseball, and the BBCOR bats have changed their roles.
Valder said infielders have to be more aggressive, as a ball hit by a BBCOR bat won’t jump the same as ones from previous years.
“The exit speed has really changed the way you play defensively,” said Valder.
Area coaches talk about the expanded importance of managing the game. Pardue said that while most coaches still play their own distinctive styles, he’s seen more bunts with a runner on first. The double play is more relevant when a hitter’s chance of getting a solid base hit is lowered.
Local pitchers can be more aggressive, hopeful that a good pitch won’t be wasted on a forgiving sweet spot.
“You can get a (pitcher) who is maybe not the strongest velocity-wise, and as long as he’s hitting his spots … he’s going to get more of a break with these bats than the other ones,” said Valder.