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Did BBCOR Standards Ruin College Baseball? Will USA Baseball do the Same?

November 13, 2020 | by | @BatDigest

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).

Best Cheap USA Baseball Bat

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.

Questions Yet to Be Answered

  • High School & College participation saw no change in participation rates despite the change in offensive production caused by BBCOR standards. Is such data translatable to youth baseball?
  • After realizing the BBCOR bats were over-restrictive and changing the game, College baseball reconstructed the baseball with a smaller seem. This has proven to increase ball flight distance and OPS. If USA Baseball determines their standard has over restricted the bat, is it possible to control the baseball in the thousands of youth games throughout the country?

Here is our original commentary on the statistical effects of BBCOR from 2015.

Did BBCOR standards ruin college baseball?

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.

Is BBCOR Ruining College Baseball

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.

  1. Home Run Data Points:
    Home runs in 2013 per game are less than half they were at the peak in 1998 (.42 from 1.06). In fact, the average HR/G from 1975 to 2010 was .77 HR/G. 2011, 2012, and 2013 average .473–a 39% drop off in home runs.
  2. Runs per game:
    From a peak in 1998 of 7.12 runs per game to a low in 2013 to 5.27, run production per game dropped a full 25%. The last 3 years have seen 18% fewer runs than the average of the previous 35 years.
  3. Batting Average:
    Strikeout percentages for players are not going up. The contact percentage is staying even. But players are no longer hitting base hits like they used to. Almost 20 points down on average.
  4. Stolen Bases per Game:
    With BA low and OBP down accordingly, we’ve seen few opportunities to steal bases per game. As a result, there have been 18% fewer bases stolen per game in the last three years than the average of the 35 years previous.

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.

BBCOR standards compared to MLB

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.

Conclusions

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.

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