It doesn’t take a genius to see how the BBCOR bats have affected the collegiate baseball game. Home runs have taken a backseat to pitching and defense. In the 2013 and 2014 Men’s College World Series’, there were a combined six home runs hit in TD Ameritrade Park. Actually, since its inception, TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska has only seen 25 homers in CWS play. So what is the NCAA going to do to try to bring the offense back to the game? Enter the flat-seamed baseball.
Until the 2015 season, college baseball used raised-seamed baseballs. Raised-seamed baseballs are higher on the surface and allow for more finger pressure on the ball, and thus, more spin. With more spin, there is more break on the ball. The more break on a pitch, the harder it is to hit. With the BBCOR bats already reducing the distance on a hit baseball by 15%, the raised-seamed baseballs were creating an unfair advantage for the pitcher. Pitchers were challenging hitters over the middle of the plate knowing that the hitter could get just about all of a pitch, and it not go out of the park.
According to Greg Johnson of NCAA.com, the NCAA Division 1 Baseball Committee decided to make the change to the flat-seam baseball after research was conducted by the Washington State University Sport Science Laboratory. The research showed that the flat-seam ball launched out of a pitching machine at 95mph at a 25-degree angle. The “new ball” traveled exactly 20 feet farther than the raised-seam ball.
Dennis Farrell, NCAA D1 Baseball committee chair commented to Johnson of NCAA.com, “We anticipate that this will moderately increase scoring but not take it back to the days where we were dealing with outrageous scores that looked more like football scores. We want to get the game back to what is a reasonable amount of scoring and defense.”
Along with traveling farther, the flat-seam baseballs have a seam height of .031 inches as opposed to that of the raised-seam ball which has a seam height of .048 inches. The new ball will have less drag and finger pressure, meaning that there should be less break on the college off-speed pitch. Coaches and fans alike have spoken about the desire to see more offense (not the same amount of offense as the composite era), and more home runs and it seems that the D1 Baseball Committee would agree.
The BBCOR era has seen a major decline in offense in the college game from that of its predecessor. The pressure felt by little league, high school, and college baseball alike to make the game safer for those who can’t protect themselves. With pitchers throwing harder than they ever have, and stronger hitter and bats made for optimum bat speed, it was becoming very hard to do. So amateur baseball adopted an aluminum bat that would play closer to a wooden bat. The ball travels slower off of the BBCOR bat than it did the BESR aluminum composites and is thus safer. But four years later, there is a need for more offense in college baseball, and the NCAA’s D1 Baseball Committee believes it has answered the call with a new ball that is said to travel farther off of the bat than that of the one used in the past.
The change is ultimately good for the college game because it allows for a return of offense that won’t overbear defense and pitching, but also reward hitters for “getting all of it”. The season is still a month away, and we won’t have a real gauge of the differences until the season is over, but it is a definite upgrade for the game.