What happened to the huge impact the new regulations for baseball bats were going to have on the high school game this season?
Arizona’s prep squads are required this year to use bats that will make the impact with the pitched ball less lively. The idea is to make the bats, and the game, safer because the balls coming off the bats would have less velocity.
There have been reports of tests showing a baseball coming off an aluminum bat at a speed equal to 115 mph. Recent serious injuries from players being hit in the head by these potentially lethal projectiles have prompted the change.
The National Federation of State High School Associations, which instituted the new regulations, called it ‘reducing the trampoline effect.’ Bats this year will have to meet a performance test called the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standard, which measures the amount of energy a ball loses after it comes into contact with a baseball bat.
But look around at the games that have been played so far. It’s hard to notice a difference from last season.
In the 28 games reported to The Arizona Republic scoreboard for last Friday, 18 had the total runs for at least one of the teams in each game in double digits.
Some game totals were eye-catching. How about combined totals of 24 runs (Verrado v. Agua Fria), 23 runs (Saguaro v. Seton Catholic), 21 runs ((Willcox v. Round Valley), 20 runs (NW Christian v. North Pointe), 19 runs (two games), 18 runs (San Luis v. Yuma), 17 runs (two games), and 16 runs (Greenway v. Raymond Kellis).
Or how about this one? There were 52 runs scored in just the two semifinals and the championship game in Saturday’s Panther Classic tournament.
Highland High School beat Canyon del Oro High, 9-5, in the final. In the semis, CDO beat a team from El Paso, 15-4, and Highland shut out Amphitheater High School, 19-0.
The list goes on. And these are just some of the results from one weekend.
OK, so there were a lot of singles and doubles that accounted for those runs. For example, there were 24 total hits in the 12-6 Centennial High School win against Westview High… a combined 21 hits in the 11-4 victory by Shadow Ridge High over Aqua Fria High School… as well as 17 in the Queen Creek High School 9-8 win over Campo Verde High.
But the home-run ball is still alive and well – if not as plentiful.
Collin Braithwaite powered Perry High to a 3-0 win over Skyline High School with a two-run homer, Jake Howard‘s home run led Mesquite High School to a 6-4 win over Chandler High, and Sterling Smith‘s homer was just one of four hits he collected as Mountain View High School rolled over Marcos de Niza High, 13-2.
Yes, there will be fewer ‘cheap’ home runs this year. Batters will need to become more efficient and accurate with their swings. Basically, they will need to become better hitters.
And, with more balls being hit inside the fences, it will require teams to step up their defense and put more emphasis on fewer errors. Pitching will change somewhat, too, as pitchers won’t have to worry as much about the long ball that changes the game’s outcome. Instead, they will be more willing to challenge the batter.
The college game banned the ‘illegal’ bats last year and offensive numbers dropped slightly across the board… home runs, runs-per-game, batting averages.
And the same thing will happen at the high school level. There will be some drop-off.
We shouldn’t expect to see anything similar to Mountain Pointe High School’s state-record 87 home runs, or the 27 that the team’s catcher, Kevin Cron, smashed for his individual state record.
But, from what we’re seeing so far, the fans don’t have to worry about sitting through games that put up numbers you generally see in softball, where pitching absolutely rules that game. Scores of 1-0, 2-1, etc. aren’t going to happen all that often.
Giving up a little offense doesn’t seem to be too big a price to pay for protecting the players.
And the fans probably won’t even notice it’s happening.