A new type of bat is likely to take much of the ping out of Niagara Frontier League spring baseball this season.
The National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes the rules for most high school sports in the United States, has switched to BBCOR bats this season, replacing the old BESR-approved ones of the past. The NFL will follow suit.
BBCOR, which stands for Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution, is a new method of measuring ball speed off of a composite bat. It will replace the BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) as the certification method for all approved bats in the NFL.
The changeover is meant to promote safety at lower-league levels.
“The ball was coming off the bats so hard last year,” Niagara Falls coach Joe Contento said. “Some of the kids are so big and strong now, it was getting unsafe for pitchers and third basemen. I wish we’d go wood across the board. It’s just been way too fast the last couple of years.”
The new bats are still made of a composite alloy, but will replicate wooden bats in how fast the ball comes off the bat. The sweet spot is smaller, and there’s a difference in how the weight is distributed, said Kenmore East head coach Leslie Simon.
“The new bats feel heavier to batters,” he said. “A 32 (ounce) now feels heavier than a 32 last year. They’ve redistributed the weight so that it’s more on the handle and the shaft than in the sweet spot. It kills some of the torque we used to see on the old bats. ... It’s made a difference but it hasn’t completely killed offenses. We’re still seeing shots come off these bats. The fundamentals of baseball are still the same: good pitching, quality defense, don’t give more than 27 outs and get timely hitting.”
The BBCOR bats were introduced at the college level last year. Lewiston-Porter coach and NFL baseball commissioner Mark Waple said the results have been as advertised.
“Statistically, the runs and extra base hits are down,” Waple said. “The bats are doing exactly what they’re designed to do. The long ball and the extra base hits aren’t going to be a prevalent.”
Waple, Simon and Contento agreed that it will take some time for players to get used to the bats. Waple said he thinks a solid hit will still be a hit, but that the bats will limit fly balls that turn into doubles. Simon said that could be big on some NFL fields.
“We’ve got a few fields that are on the smaller side,” Simon said. “There were balls last year that looked like easy outs that just carried over the fences. I don’t think that’ll happen as much this year.”
Each of the coaches said that teams will likely change their approaches because of the new bats.
“I think some coaches will play a little bit more small ball and not rely so much on long balls and taking bases on balls hit into gaps,” Waple said. “Each base taken will be more valuable.”
“You’re not going to get so many deep balls,” Simon said. “It’s put a tremendous premium on bunting and moving runners over. You have to get productive outs.”
Niagara-Wheatfield coach Jim Hagerty added: “I’m telling my pitchers to keep the ball low and try to get ground balls. You need to make sure that every ground ball becomes an out.”
The BBCOR bats will see their first NFL action when the league opens the 2012 season this afternoon.