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With the new USA Baseball Bats changes starting in 2018, we were reminded of this article we wrote in 2015 discussing the difference that BBCOR bats made on the BESR approved college and high school baseball game. (BESR, you may recall, was the standard used in high school and college before BBCOR).
Akin to the repercussions some expected by implementing a BBCOR bat standard, many also claim USA Baseball’s change will hurt the youth game. It may be instructive to consider the changes the BBCOR standards had on college baseball when considering what possible changes the USA bat standard will have on youth ball.
Here is our original commentary on the statistical effects of BBCOR from 2015.
In short, the BBCOR game definitely changed the game of college and high school baseball. And although the game now scores well under the averages of the late ’90s, college and high school baseball is far from ruined. Yet despite the lack of high powered offense, Highschool baseball, since the implementation of BBCOR, has seen no significant change in participation.
Bat Restrictions have proven to restrict offensive production in college baseball directly. BBCOR’s implementation in 2012 decreased offense dramatically.
With the 2014 NCAA college world series starting this week, the baseball bat community must wonder if the new BBCOR bat standards have affected college baseball offensive production. In 2011, NCAA baseball implemented standards on their baseball bats that controlled the composite and alloy materials’ ability to produce a trampoline effect on the ball–these regulations referred to as the BBCOR, produced an aluminum alloy composite bat which mimics the trampoline effect in wood bats.
With three years of data behind us, we can be objective about the effect BBCOR had had by comparing the offensive statistics when BBCOR was in place and when it was not. If we can discern any changes in statistics in favor of defense since the introduction of BBCOR, maybe we make some broad generalizations about the new standards.
Below is a ranked list of stats since 1975. Each year is ranked according to their offensive production. I’ve shown the data since BBCOR was introduced in 2011.
Since 1975, the last 3 years of college baseball have seen the three worst years in batting average, runs production, home runs, and stolen bases.
Since 1975, the last 3 years of college baseball has seen the worst production in batting average (BA), runs scored per game, home runs per game (HR/G), and stolen bases per game (SB/G). On the other hand, the fielding percentage (FP) has never been better, and ERA is just about as good as it’s ever been. However, pitchers are not striking batters out more or less than they ever have.
So are BBCOR standards ruining the game? If you like offensive production, then you might answer, yes. Pitchers don’t appear to be getting any better as they do not strike out batters more often–although their ERA is decreasing. And that ERA decrease can be explained by the increase in fielding percentage. Either we are experiencing an anomaly in amazing college defensive fielding, or the baseballs are no longer being hit too hot to handle. The demarcation is so set along the BBCOR standard implementation fault line it leaves no doubt: the BBCOR standards are destroying offensive production.
You may not be able to argue that the game of College baseball is being ruined by BBCOR standards (who doesn’t like the better chance at a no-no), but you can say that BBCOR standards have hurt offensive production more than any other rule change in the last 4 decades.
We can agree, for better or worse, the BBCOR standards change the nature of the game. But do the new BBCOR standards make the NCAA game more or less like the MLB game? We can do the same as we did above and measure the BBCOR standard years against the MLB.
The data is a bit mixed. College pitching isn’t as good as MLB pitching. College Fielding isn’t as good as MLB fielding. But while the defensive positions of pitching and fielding are better at the MLB level relative to their competition than college players, the MLB is much more of a defensive game even with the implementation of the BBCOR standards. If the goal is to create an NCAA baseball game more in line with the MLB’s offensive and defensive production, then BBCOR standards have succeeded in that regard.
Bats were clearly getting over effective in the late ’90s, and the NCAA had to do something. But the degree to which BBCOR regulations have affected college baseball appears to have been an overdose of regulation. Was there no middle ground?
In response to the NCAA BBCOR overreaction, the NCAA ball is changing to one with a less protruding seam. While not affecting initial bat exit speed, this flatter baseball is projected to fly 20 feet further due to less drag effect in the air. It should also, at least in theory, negatively affect a pitchers’ ability to move pitches. Balls with flatter seams may allow for both better contact and less resistance in flight. If the baseball changes improve offense enough to recoup, the disadvantages BBCOR created will be everyone’s question. A question the data, in about three years from now, should bear out pretty well.