All of us who follow college baseball know that aluminum bats generate more raw power than wooden ones. This is the result of the properties of the metal, as well as the hollow core. Average hitters, who have generated better than average stats with metal bats, are in for a big letdown this season, as college baseball replaces the old bats with new ones, still metal, but de-tuned to NCAA certified specifications to behave more like wood. Tests indicate that the 22 inch sweet spot on the old bats has been reduced to 5 inches, so batting averages are likely to fall as hits propelled by contact nearly anywhere on the old bats turn into easy outs off the new bats. On the other hand, hits generated by the skills of the best players -- who can put that 5 inch sweet spot on the ball -- will continue.
In addition to making the college game more like the majors, where players use traditional wooden bats, the new bats will also make the game safer for players, coaches, and fans. I think the new bats will favor teams that can play small ball well -- making contact to put the ball in play, bunting earlier and more often in games, running the bases aggressively, putting pressure on the defense to make plays. Teams that have thrived off of long ball hitting, will have to rethink their offense, or suffer a lot more losses than they're used to.
Oregon's coach George Horton, whose Cal State Fullerton Titans won the 2004 College World Series, says, “I think it’s going to change the complexion of college baseball. We’ve been using it in BP and scrimmages, and I can tell you it’s made a big difference. . . . Some of those big, strong guys have gotten into some balls pretty good, and they’re not going over the fence.”
Overall, college baseball's balance of power on the field of play will shift a bit more from hitting to pitching. Adding another strong arm could make a bigger difference in a team's win-loss record than adding a long-ball hitter. Some will say that's the way it's always been in baseball, but while that may be true of baseball played with wooden bats, I don't think it's been true of the metal-bat-dominated college game until this season.
How will the new bats affect 2011 Gopher baseball? Vote in the poll below, and add your comments.
Note: I posted a similar fanpost on the Oregon State University sports blog, Building the Dam.