By Steve Kallas
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Another baseball season is upon us and, while the rules for baseball bat usage are clear in college and high school, they become a little murky (or even difficult to understand) in Little League and travel league baseball.
(Programming note: Steve will discuss this topic on WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” Sunday at 8:05 a.m. You can listen live here.)
The NCAA went to only approved BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats starting with the 2011 college baseball season and the results were as expected; that is, a decrease in offense and a return to baseball as it was known for most of the 20th Century. Indeed, according to an article at postandcourier.com (and thanks to reader/listener Doug Newman for the heads-up), NCAA offense returned to levels of 30-40 years ago. In this writer’s opinion, there is little doubt that safety returned to “olden” day levels as well.
Specifically, according to NCAA stats, the combined batting average of NCAA teams in 2011 was .282, the lowest since 1976. The earner run average for pitchers across the board was reduced to 4.70, the lowest ERA since 1980. Home runs per NCAA game were reduced from .94 per game in 2010 to .52 per game in 2011, almost a 50% reduction.
Or, if you are scoring at home, baseball in college returned to being baseball as it was known for about a century. Once upon a time, the bunt was important, defense meant something, pitchers could actually pitch inside and the hit-and-run and manufacturing runs were meaningful parts of the game.
That all returned to college baseball in 2011 and will continue as such in 2012 as only BBCOR-approved bats can be used in NCAA college baseball (see Kallas Remarks, 3/25/11, for appropriate definitions of important terms).
HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL
Beginning this season, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) will also mandate only the use of BBCOR bats across the country in high school baseball games. This will change high school baseball the way these bats changed college baseball in 2011; that is, a return to defense and run-manufacturing as important parts of the game. Hitters will have their problems adjusting (except for those who have played in wood bat leagues or used BBCOR bats in the last year understanding the change was coming in 2012).
You will probably hear a lot of complaints but the reality is that baseball was, is and always will be the hardest sport to coach, to play and, frankly, to excel at. The new BBCOR bats simply attempt to bring the bats back in line with what they once were: safer for all (yes, injuries can and will still occur with BBCOR or wood bats but not to the extent that we’ve seen in the last decade or so).
While this writer and others, like WFAN’s Rick Wolff, would prefer simply a return to wooden bats and nothing else, at least the BBCOR bats (as opposed to, for example, the BESR bats of the past) are safer and lessen the threat of injury while returning the game to the way it was meant to be played.
Little League International, while introducing BBCOR bats (although not exclusively depending on age division) to the older kids (14 and above), has not made BBCOR bats mandatory for the younger kids (13 and below). Hopefully, this will change sooner rather than later. With the mistake of a few years ago which allowed older kids to continue to play in the Little League Majors Division (they actually changed the eligibility age to allow older kids to stay in the Little League 9-12, now 9-13 division), kids today who are bigger and stronger pose a threat to pitchers who throw from only 46 feet away (and closer, of course, on the follow-through).
The best advice for Little League parents is to go to littleleague.org and make sure your child’s bat (or the bat you are about to buy for your child) is approved. There are lists and exceptions and waivers and composite bat issues and on and on and on.
To say it’s confusing would be an understatement, in this writer’s opinion.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER TRAVEL OR YOUTH BASEBALL LEAGUES?
Unfortunately, the same caveats apply when buying a bat which you hope will comply from league to league or even tournament to tournament. Specifically, you must review the bat eligibility rules for each tournament or each league that your child will participate in.
The best advice for bat-buying in a non-high school or NCAA college situation is to seek out an expert (maybe the head of umpires in a particular league, for example, as they must enforce these rules) who knows what your particular league/tournament requires. If you are playing on a high-level travel team, your coach should be well-aware of what is or is not allowed in the leagues/tournaments that you will be playing in.
It’s hard to give concrete answers to the question as to whether a particular bat is allowed other than to say a BBCOR metal bat, while reducing offensive production, is generally acceptable (although, obviously, not in a wood bat league or tournament), if not mandatory (high school, NCAA), in most leagues/tournaments.
ADVICE TO PARENTS
Tread carefully and keep your receipts when you pay (possibly a small fortune still) for one of these bats. 2011’s high school BESR bat cannot be used in high school in 2012. Maybe they can be used in some travel team leagues or tournaments. Maybe not. Try and educate yourself as to what bats are legal in whatever league/tournament your child is expected to play in this season.
Coaches have to be aware as well. Maybe some other team will try to get an “edge” by hoping an umpire and/or opposing coach is not up on the rules for a particular league or tournament. Yes, this happens, and more often than you might think. Sneak an illegal BESR (or even a composite in some situations) bat past an umpire or opposing coach and that team has a huge advantage (and be prepared for the innocent “I had no idea” excuse when such a coach/player is caught).
It would be great if everything just returned to wood. It would be very good if everything was changed to BBCOR. But outside of high school and NCAA baseball (where everything is now BBCOR), one has to be aware and diligent when deciding what bat to buy for one’s child.
Where do you stand on the bat issue? Sound off in the comments below…