It’s the bottom of the ninth, runners on first and second with two outs, down by one run and the batter has a chance to give the home team the win.
The batter gets his pitch and takes a mighty cut. From contact, he knows he got it all. He starts his home run trot. He turns his head to see how far the ball travels, only to see the leftfielder settle under the ball on the edge of the warning track – nothing but a long out.
This is a situation that is all-too familiar for hundreds of college baseball players across the nation. Home runs across the nation have dropped off significantly. Through Saturday’s contest, the UC Davis baseball team has hit just 14 in over 36 games this season. The entire Big West Conference has only 96 round trippers with only a month of games left. By comparison, over the entire 2010 season, Big West squads powered 390 combined home runs.
This significant drop is a trend all across the nation. Players are not weaker and ballparks are not bigger. The reason for the change boils down to just one thing – the bats.
Before the 2011 season, the NCAA created new regulations for bats used in games. Before the change, bats were getting more and more powerful. Players got stronger and hit balls harder and harder. For players’ safety, the NCAA created new rules to make metal bats more like wood ones.
And anyone that has played baseball can speak for the difference between metal and wood bats. Balls come off the bat less hard and therefore travel a shorter distance with the wooden sticks.
UC Davis baseball coach Rex Peters was in support of the new bat regulations due to the safety issue of the old ones.
That being said, the new bats will have a huge ripple effect in college baseball across the nation.
First, the new bats will have a major impact on recruitment. High schools and potential recruits are not subject to the new regulations. Therefore, power numbers in high school probably won’t translate to home run totals in college.
“We’ll have to reevaluate how we recruit,” Peters said. “Weaker kids won’t have success at the college level. We’ll either have to recruit bigger, stronger kids or faster kids. We’ll have to debate which is best.”
UC Davis can’t simply recruit on power anymore. If there’s a potential recruit out there with terrible mechanics but can hit a ball 400 feet, there’s a good chance that power won’t translate to the NCAA. The Aggies’ coaching staff has to look and see if a player does the little things right – specifically his baseball knowledge.
The recruitment system is just one of the things that will change because of the bats. Current Aggies will have to adjust their approach to accommodate the power drop off.
“In years past, players could get away with poor mechanics and still drive the baseball,” Peters said. “With the new bats and smaller sweet spot, players need to be mechanically sound in order to drive the baseball.”
Mechanically sound is absolutely right. With the older bats, a batter could fly open his front shoulder and try to yank the ball over the fence. Raw power combined with incredible bats led to a good chunk of round trippers.
Now, as Peters said, players can’t expect the bat to supply some of the power. Hitters will have to hit gap-to-gap, meaning going for doubles and singles instead of the long-ball.
The team that adjusts to the new bats the earliest will be the most successful. It’s pretty remarkable how a simple rule change can have such a profound effect on collegiate baseball. But like most sports, it will be the smartest and most talented athletes that prevail.
JASON ALPERT, along with Peters, supports a change to only wooden bats in the NCAA. This issue with this is cost as wood bats break. However, the new metal bat regulation is one step toward making the jump from collegiate to professional baseball shorter. To talk baseball, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.