The NCAA finally began enforcing its provision against most high-end composite metal bats this season. Fangraphs has a great post up on some of the implications for hitters and for scouts:
As part of its ongoing attempt to temper the trampoline effect of metal bats – and in part lessen on-the-job hazards for pitchers and infielders in the college game – the NCAA this year mandated that bat manufacturers follow a new standard that now makes metal bats only slightly more lively than wood bats. So no ping. Not even a craaack. These days, the sound of ball meeting bat is more like a thwock. “It sounds like a bag of chips,” one scout says.
This year’s bat switch is one of several that the NCAA recently mandated that could have long-term implications for both players and for scouts. With the safety of the new bat has come a staggering decrease in power across the country. And now professional talent evaluators are left to figure out what the new offensive numbers mean.
Jeff Sackmann, of CollegeSplits.com, found that college home runs are down by about half from the same point last season. Three percent of batted balls left the park last year, but now the number is 1.7% per batted ball. While it’s clear that slugging is down, much less certain are the long-term implications for the collegiate game: Who benefits? Who is hurt? Will this continue? What might be refined?
Aluminum bats do a lot of things for hitters versus wooden bats. They have a larger sweet spot. They produce faster bat speed than wooden bats. Balls come off the bat faster at a given bat speed. They do not break, which makes hitting inside fastballs a lot easier. Overall, they tilt the scales away from pitchers and toward hitters. There is ample evidence that aluminum bats could add as much as 30 points to your batting average and make it almost twice as easy to hit a home run, especially to the opposite field.
These bats change a lot of things for college hitters and pitchers. Pitchers with hard, boring action into opposite-side hitters are not rewarded, as hitters can hit balls hard near their hands that would shatter their wooden bat. At the same time, faster bat speeds and better sweet spots make it easier to hit a ball out over the plate to the opposite field with authority.
The new regulations are changing some things, but leave others the same. Bat speeds are supposed to more closely resemble wood bats. The ball will also jump less off the bat. Hitters will still be able to hit a lot of balls that would otherwise shatter their bats, but won’t be able to be as successful going the opposite way. The post linked to above suggests that these theoretical impacts are showing up on the field.
Even excluding the real reason this change was made (safety issues for pitchers and infielders), this is a welcome change in my book. College statistics for power hitters have always been terribly misleading. We’ll be able to better understand a player (on the margin at least) through statistical analysis, instead of relying on little tidbits from scouts. Ditto for pitching prospects – guys will better be able to pitch on the outer half of the plate, especially the guys with good fastballs. Pitching patterns and habits will more closely resemble professional baseball. Hitters won’t get into as many bad habits that need to be fixed by minor league pitching coaches. We won’t have to put as much emphasis on wooden bat summer leagues.
Obviously, there are still problems with using college statistics. But this helps to mitigate one of the biggest distortions that college statistics face. Plus, its safer for everyone on the field. Good job, NCAA. You actually did something right.
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