Bunting and hit-and-run strategies sometimes have seemed like lost arts in recent high school baseball seasons.
But thanks to new bats with less pop, small ball is set to play a bigger role.
Home run totals and bloated scores are likely to deflate this season, as the National Federation of State High School Associations has mandated a switch from aluminum bats to bats known as “BBCOR,” short for Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution.
“I think it’s going to be a big difference,” Arbor View coach Chris Martinez said. “You’re not going to have as many 11-10 games. More 4-3 games.
“I love it, just for the fact that pitching and defense always win ballgames. I really think it’s going to put a lot of teams on equal playing ground.”
One of the reasons for the switch is safety, as it’s believed that balls will come off the new bats more slowly, lessening the chance of injury. But another result is a renewed and, for some, refreshing emphasis on fundamentals.
“It will definitely change the game, more like a major league game with the wood bat,” Rancho coach Tom Pletsch said. “You’re not going to see a lot of eight- to 10-run innings. You’re just not. The ball doesn’t jump off the same way.”
College baseball switched to BBCOR bats last season, and offensive numbers dropped significantly.
According to Baseball America, runs per team per game in NCAA Division I baseball went from 7.01 in the 2010 regular season to 5.62 in 2011. Team batting averages dipped from .305 to .282, while home runs went from 0.93 per game to 0.52.
Chris Healy, a state baseball rules interpreter for the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, said there is likely to be a similar effect in the high school game.
“For a long time we’ve been out of balance with high school baseball with the ability of the bat manufacturers to build powerful bats,” he said. “Without as much juice in the bats, it’s certainly going to provide for better competition. I think it’s going to be a more intense baseball game.”
It’s not just coaches who are excited about the changes.
“I like it as a pitcher,” Arbor View senior right-hander Zach Quintana said. “You don’t get as many of those cheap hits. You’re taking away their advantage.”
Quintana, who has signed with San Diego State, also was one of the area’s top hitters last season, batting .379 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs. He said the change in bats also should force players to develop better habits at the plate as opposed to taking the long ball for granted.
Many players began getting accustomed to the BBCOR bats in games outside of the high school season last fall.
“Just seeing the fall and winter, it definitely makes a big difference,” Bishop Gorman coach Nick Day said. “The biggest thing is the balls getting hit in the gap that are doubles and triples automatically are getting caught, so it’s definitely changed the game.”
The BBCOR bats even sound more like wood bats than their aluminum counterparts, meaning the familiar “ping” sound won’t be heard as often at high school parks this season.
But adding intrigue on the base paths is something coaches are thankful for.
“It’s going to make playing the game of baseball at its pure form more exciting,” Day said. “Getting the bunt down is so much bigger this year than it was last year. For people who enjoy the chess match of baseball, that’s going to make it more exciting.”