The PIAA made BBCOR bats mandatory in high school baseball before the 2012 season, my first year on the beat.
When I talked to players and coaches about the switch that year, they stressed how the bats would be safer — BBCOR bats essentially got rid of the trampoline factor metal bats used to have, slowing the exit velocity of the ball and making things better for pitchers, charging infielders, etc. — and that they would put an emphasis on the fundamentals. “Flatter” bats meant you wouldn’t be able to wait around for a home run or an extra-base hit. You’d have to get on, get over and get in.
So, how are the bats working? In short, it appears to have gotten a lot harder to score runs in the Lackawanna League. From 2009-2011 — that’s as far back as our stats go on Varsity570 — teams in the Lackawanna League managed to score more than six runs per game (6.528; 6.599; 6.228). Since the BBCOR bats hit the league, teams haven’t come close to hitting those numbers. In 2012, “runs for” per game dropped 0.694 runs (5.534). In 2013, teams were scoring more than two fewer runs per game than they were in 2009-11.
It doesn’t appear that trend was limited to just the local scene, either. Let’s look at the PIAA tournaments. Those are the runs scored across all classifications in the 15-game* PIAA tournaments from 2009-2014 (*- The 2012 Class AAA tournament only had 14 games). The drop from 2009 (568 runs) to 2013 (455) is pretty crazy. There’s always the chance that 2013 was just an outlier, but regardless, there’s a significant change from 2009-11 and 2012-now. Look at the change at the game level.
From 2009-11, there were 24 games in the PIAA tournaments where the teams combined to score 15 runs or more, including seven in which they scored more than 20 (That 34-run game in the ’09 Class A tournament was a 22-12 win by District 7’s Neshannock over District 9’s Coudersport). From 2012-14, there were only 15 games where the teams scored 15 runs or more, and just one 20-run game.
No doubt, this is a small sample size, but it looks like offense has hit a bit of a rough patch. The slump lines up with the debut of the BBCOR bats, but there’s always the chance that there are other factors — maybe the pitchers are just really good right now; maybe hitters have regressed.
Is this a bad thing?
For people who like watching a good ol’ pitching duel, or who like to see defense play a real impact on a game, it’s great. For people looking for a bunch of hits, a few homers and plenty of runs, it probably isn’t the best.
Step away from the high school level, and it looks like there’s an effort to return to high-scoring games, as they would likely be more enjoyable for the casual fan.
- The recent College World Series tourneys have lacked home runs. This year, new baseballs with flat seams will be introduced. According to that Baseball America article, changing the seams allows baseballs to travel about 20 feet farther.
- In Major League Baseball, pitchers have feasted on hitters since the end of the Steroid Era, and the addition of advanced metrics and defensive shifts certainly haven’t helped batters. New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said he’d be open to the idea of banning or limiting defensive shifts to “inject” more offense into the game. (Side note: Not sure “inject” is the word you want to use when the Steroid Era is still fresh in fans’ minds).
It will be interesting to see if coaches try to find ways boost their teams’ run production. Maybe they already have — runs production at the local and state level seems to have increased from the 2013 to the 2014 seasons, and perhaps that trend will continue.