June 19, 2011


Making Metal Bats Play Like Wood (PAT BORZI, 6/18/11, NY Times)

BBCOR measures the bounciness or give of an aluminum bat at the moment of contact with a ball. The more bounciness, the faster the ball flies off the bat. For a bat to be approved, manufacturers must submit samples to an N.C.A.A. certification center at Washington State University. Approved bats carry a certification mark, and umpires check bats for these marks before every game, Hurd said.

The effect was immediate. N.C.A.A. statistics through midseason — the most recent figures available — showed that runs, home runs and batting averages had dropped considerably in all three divisions compared with the same point last season. In Division I, scoring fell to 5.63 runs per team per game from 6.98, homers to 0.47 from 0.85, and batting average to .279 from .305. Pitchers’ earned run average also dipped, to 4.62 from 5.83.

“I think they accomplished what they set out to do, which is to make a woodlike standard,” said Matt Arndt, a senior vice president for Easton Sports, which supplies bats for three College World Series teams — Florida, California and Texas A&M.

Anderson, the only coach on the N.C.A.A.’s Division I baseball committee, had urged the N.C.A.A. for years to deaden aluminum bats. The BESR standard failed to protect Minnesota pitcher Ben Birk, who was hit in the face by a line drive from Miami’s Kevin Howard during a March 2001 tournament at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Major league scouts with radar guns clocked the speed of the ball off Howard’s aluminum bat at 99 to 100 miles per hour, exceeding the N.C.A.A. ceiling of 97 m.p.h. Birk needed a titanium plate to repair three fractured bones near his left eye.

“He had to have his eye socket and face rebuilt,” Anderson said.

Birk’s trauma occurred a year after an N.C.A.A. regional at Minnesota’s Siebert Field in which pitchers Pat Neshek of Butler and Shane Komine of Nebraska, future major leaguers, had their jaws broken by line drives.

Although Birk returned after two months to beat Michigan in the Big Ten tournament championship game, and pitched briefly in the Florida Marlins system, Anderson never forgot the injury. Recent composite metal bats, which grew livelier with use — a process known as rolling — scared Anderson even more.

“The pitching part of the game had gotten away from us,” he said. “Whoever had the last at-bat had the chance to win the game. In my opinion, there was way too much offense in the game. There was no balance between pitching, offense and defense. I thought we lost the really strategic elements of the game. The game wasn’t being played the way it was meant to be played, invented to be played.”

Players say the new bats have smaller sweet spots. The ball still jumps if you hit it right, they say. But jam shots and balls off the end of the bat no longer carry beyond outfielders’ heads or out of the park.

The larger the sweet spot the less like a sport.

Posted by at June 19, 2011 7:13 AM

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