BIG DIAMOND, BIG BARREL
Previously I wrote an article on The Great Baseball Bat Debate which considered the issues of non-wood vs. wood bat performance particularly with regards to safety issues for youth baseball. As my own dirtdog son has now moved to the big diamond where “big barrel” bats (2 5/8″ diameter) are the standard, I have learned that there are differences which continue between AAU baseball and scholastic baseball (NFHS/NCAA) regulations. This is of interest to me because in 2011 my son will play his rookie season of Middle School baseball in addition to AAU club baseball.
Thinking ahead about ways to save costs on bat purchases, I recently discovered that the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) have now adopted the more conservative National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations for non-wood bat specifications. While this rule change for 2012 probably will not silence the purists who believe that only wood bats should be used in baseball at all levels for safety if not aesthetic reasons, I believe it certainly changes the discussion regarding whether non-wood bats are inherently more dangerous. In my view they are not, and with the new performance standards they will behave more like their wood counterparts than ever before.
NCAA BBCOR BAT LABEL RULE
To begin with, in May of 2009 the NCAA adopted a new Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standard for testing baseball bat performance. This standard is effective January 1, 2011 as an addendum to NCAA rules, and states that bats not constructed of one-piece solid wood must be certified and labeled by the manufacturer to meet the new BBCOR standard in order to be approved for NCAA competition play. The BBCOR standard supercedes the previous Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR) standard which measured the “exit speed” of the ball off the bat and certified that BESR-compliant non-wood bats do not drive balls significantly faster than wood bats of comparable weight and length.
The new BBCOR standard regulates the flexibility of non-wood bats in their construction along with the resultant “trampoline effect” of balls springing off the striking surface of the barrel. This will be accomplished by making barrel walls thicker and less flexible, or by installing barrel inserts behind the “sweet spot” to block flexing. It also requires that the length/weight differential of bats be no greater than 3.0 (or -3) units without the grip. Additionally, the bats must display a new, permanent BBCOR certification label on the barrel end of the bat. Bats without this mark will NOT be allowed for NCAA play effective January 1, 2011 regardless of whether the identical make/model of bat was used during the previous season. There is no grandfathering provision in the rules, so players will be obligated to purchase new “compliant” bats for the upcoming season that have the correct certification label. Bats will not be available with the new compliant labeling until August, 2010 at the earliest.
NFHS STANDARD FOR 2011
As of this writing, the NFSH has also adopted the same BBCOR standard to be effective January 1, 2012. This will aid High School players by making them accustomed to play using compliant bats prior to their introduction to NCAA-level play. Affiliated Middle School programs can also expect to follow compliance according to this schedule, especially since talented Middle School players often “play up” onto High School JV squads.
IMPACT ON PLAY
With the adoption of the new BBCOR standard, non-wood bats will closely compare to their wood counterparts more than ever before. This will improve safety for pitchers and also return the game to a point where skilled hitting is essential for success. It will also minimize the changes that high-level players need to go through in adjusting to play with wood bats, while providing the benefits of wood bat characteristics in the form of more durable non-wood products.