Aiming for safer play and shorter games, college baseball for the 2011 season adopted the most significant new bat standards in 12 years. The game was altered with dramatic changes in almost every category except one: South Carolina won the College World Series playing with BESR bats in 2010 and with BBCOR bats in 2011, an underrated adjustment feat for head coach Ray Tanner and his team.
High school players in South Carolina and across the country must use BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Resolution) bats this season. Because the bats are designed to perform more like wood bats, expect fewer home runs and more bunts on high school fields in 2012.
Here are the basics on BBCOR bats:
BBCOR vs. BESR
Bat alterations started with college baseball's "Gorilla Ball" 1998 season that ended with Southern Cal defeating Arizona, 21-14, in the College World Series championship game.
The NCAA in 1999 banned high-tech and barely regulated metal and required BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bats. Eventually, manufacturers caught up and home runs increased - until the introduction of BBCOR rules in 2011.
"But the manufacturers will figure it out, just like the did with the BESR bats," said Matt Ishee, a sought after Lowcountry hitting instructor who was an assistant coach at Mississippi State, Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern. "There are scientists sitting around offices fudging with equations trying to make bats work better. And they will."
"From a safety standpoint you can't argue against it. And it will definitely have an impact," said Randy Carlson, a former Citadel assistant coach who works with players of all ages as an instructor, coach and director of operations at West Ashley's popular East Coast Baseball Academy. "But it's a good thing BBCOR bats were used for a year at the college level; the models this year are a lot better than last year when the companies were in such a rush to get their bats approved."
NCAA statistics for 2011 looked more like those from a 1970s wood bat season.
Team home runs dropped from .94 per game in 2010 to .52 in 2011 (it was 1.06 in 1998).
NCAA teams combined to hit .282, the lowest since 1976. Earned run average dropped to 4.70, the best since 1980.
"You have to do the little things," Tanner said. "You have to pitch and play defense. Games are close and unless a team just doesn't play well, games are going to almost always be close."
What price, glory?
BBCOR bats cost about the same as previous metal bats, ranging from $125 to $500. Most school districts do not supply bats, though some programs have "team bats." Many schools this winter offered players discounted team rates on BBCOR bats ($150-$200).
"Most of the concern from parents isn't as much about the cost but, 'Please don't tell me they're going to change the bat rules again next year,'" Carlson said.
.294 is enough
South Carolina won the 2011 national title despite a relatively modest team batting average of .294. Of course, the Gamecocks had a stellar pitching staff led by Michael Roth and Matt Price, and consistently came up with dazzling defense.
But BBCOR impact started in 2012 where it left off last year: Clemson on Friday lost its opener to Alabama-Birmingham, 2-1; South Carolina won its opener Friday, defeating VMI, 2-1, in a game without an extra-base hit.
Winners and losers
Teams and players that typically benefit from BBCOR bats are faster, fundamentally sound at the plate with solid skills on defense.
Slower players barely able to clear the fence with BESR bats, or players unable to bunt and deliver in hit-and-run situations, tend to suffer.
"Good high school coaches are going to be rewarded," said Ishee, who will coach this summer in Mount Pleasant's prestigious Diamond Devils travel program. "They will be able to see the BBCOR advantages and execute. Like finding ways to put the ball in a weaker fielder's hands."
Aldrich, the outlier
College of Charleston slugger Daniel Aldrich was a BBCOR exception in 2011. The Wando High School graduate finished third in the nation with 22 home runs as a redshirt freshman and won the TD Ameritrade Home Run Derby in Omaha.
No wonder Aldrich is a 2012 big league prospect as a draft-eligible sophomore. Years of wood bat experience in travel leagues and some extra weight room work contributed to Aldrich's success.
"I heard a lot about the new bats but I tried not to think about it too much," he said. "I just didn't think it would be beneficial to let it get to my head."
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter at @sapakoff.