The current season of college baseball has seen an unprecedented surge in home runs, reaching record-breaking rates that have sparked widespread discussion among fans, players, and analysts. This remarkable trend is likely the result of a convergence of several distinct factors. In particular, four key areas stand out as potential contributors to the increase in home runs:
- More experienced players in college teams,
- Changes in Major League Baseball’s draft structure,
- Modifications to the baseball itself, and
- Possible alterations to the bat that the BBCOR test may not detect.
This article delves into these aspects, exploring how each might contribute to the home run boom in college baseball this year.
More Experienced Players
Is it possible the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID has significantly impacted the home run rate in college baseball?
This decision meant that many athletes who would have graduated and moved on from college baseball had an additional year to play. As a result, college teams had an influx of experienced players who brought a higher skill level.
This additional experience has likely contributed to the increased ability of these players to hit home runs, as they’ve had more time to refine their batting skills, improve their strength and technique, and better understand plate approaches.
Historical NCAA Home Runs Per Game Historical
We captured the data and did the math on our own. You can see the data sources here.
MLB Draft Changes
Let’s talk about the MLB draft. In 20202, the MLB draft was cut down from 20 rounds to just 5, and, as a result, lots more college guys are staying in the game. The MLB has clearly stated they want NCAA baseball to be the farm system for the league, and that has kept a lot more great players in school. There is an ever-growing surplus of MLB-ready talent still in college. These draft-almosts are likely delivering a home run spectacle in college unlike any other because, in days gone by, these players would already be playing professionally—for some farm team in the middle of somewhere, you aren’t watching.
So while the MLB draft changes may have been a curveball, college baseball has hit it out of the park, turning this into the best home run-hitting season in history.
There were over 45 teams eliminated from minor league baseball in the change for 2021. Here are many of the teams these great college players, who are hitting home runs at unprecedented rates, would be playing. But, instead, they’re still in college hitting bombs.
Although there is no official word from the NCAA or Rawlings, we can’t help but remember when the MLB decided to tighten the baseball that increase home runs dramatically. The result was a home run extravaganza.
The NCAA seems to be hitting a similar note but with a different tune. After introducing the BBCOR standard in 2013-ish, which made bats behave more like their wood counterparts and sent HR plummeting to historic lows, the NCAA introduced a flatter seam on the ball to bring back some of the razzle-dazzle. It worked to some extent, and from 2016 through 2021, it seemed like a good balance had been met.
The NCAA and Rawlings (the official ball of the NCAA D1) have not claimed to change the ball for this season. But it wouldn’t be the first time these guys changed the ball without admitting it beforehand.
Ah, the bat. The bat is getting more press than any other about how many home runs are being hit this year. But, we’d argue that is the least likely suspect.
Is it possible that the BBCOR standard has somehow been broken? That is to say, a company has made it such that a bat passes the test but somehow outperforms the standard on the field.
Theoretically, we’ve always suggested this could be true. The test is performed at 130-ish miles per hour of a collision. Maybe, just maybe, companies have figured out a way to make an alloy that performs ‘like wood’ (the BBCOR requirement) at 130 mph but at faster collision speeds outperforms wood. It is possible. We think unlikely, though. As we’ve documented, many players are suing older BBCOR bats.
If there were tech advancements between the 22 and 23 seasons, we still see too many old bats at the plate to explain the difference.
Of course, that won’t stop many people from blaming the bat, and we think that’s a big mistake. The last thing we need is a new bat standard.
Beyond 2023 Home Run Rates
The 2023 college baseball season has seen a notable increase in home runs due to several converging factors. Experienced players, due to an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA in light of COVID-19, have likely contributed to the higher home run rate. Changes to the MLB draft structure, which now includes only five rounds instead of the previous twenty, have resulted in more skilled players remaining in college. While there are no official alterations to the baseball or bat, speculation about potential modifications adds another layer to the discussion. Although it’s difficult to attribute the increase in home runs to a single factor, it’s clear that a combination of experience, draft changes, and possible equipment alterations have all played a role in this year’s record-breaking home run rates.