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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 20, 2011

By Al Myatt

New element alters hitter-pitcher duels

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

College baseball teams will be playing with less resilient bats this season and East Carolina coach Billy Godwin says the game will be purer as a result.

"The bat this year is going to perform closer to wood," Godwin said.

In response to an outbreak of offense in the 1998 College World Series in which Southern Cal outscored Arizona State 21-14 in the championship and 62 home runs were hit in 14 games, the NCAA moved toward a testing standard that measured ball exit speed from bats.

The ball exit speed ratio (BESR) certification was supposed to limit baseballs to 97 miles per hour off the bat, the same speed as the best wooden bats. One problem is that testing specifications were based on a 70 mph pitch, a 34-inch, 31-ounce bat and a swing speed on 66 mph. The college game is significantly faster and the metal bats that met the BESR were much more responsive than wood.

At issue with the BESR is what is called the trampoline effect — the ability of the metal bats to compress on impact with a baseball and launch the ball as the metal returns to its original shape.

The new NCAA regulations deal with ball-bat coefficient of restitution (BBCOR). Exit speed of the ball under minimized conditions is no longer the determining factor. The allowable compression of the metal bat has been reduced to make the new bats perform with only slightly more energy transfer on impact than the top grade wooden bat.

Bats that meet the new specifications carry a BBCOR label. Easton is East Carolina's bat supplier and sent the Pirates some sample bats in the fall. Godwin said ECU used those sample bats from Easton as wel as wood bats during offseason workouts in their efforts to adapt to the new regulations.

Easton has been refining its product since the Pirates received their samples.

"We just got our full shipment like a week ago," Godwin said. "From what they sent us in the fall to what they sent us last week is a better bat. I think all of the bat companies were sort of scrambling with the bat regulations to make the best possible modifications."

Have as many balls been leaving Clark-LeClair Stadium in preseason practice?

"Oh no," Godwin said. "Oh no."

Some college coaches have expressed their dislike for the changes in the bat regulations because they perceive them as a threat to the explosive offense that they feel has boosted the popularity of baseball on the college level. Godwin, a former pitcher, is not among those.

"I like it," said the Pirates coach. "I welcome it. I think we're going to get a purer form of baseball. I don't think you're going to get beat by the 145-pound second baseman who gets fooled on a pitch and hits something off his front foot over the fence."

Memphis' Tyler Huelsing ended ECU's season in the C-USA Tournament last season with a walkoff homer. Godwin said that might not have been any different with a BBCOR bat.

"That was hit pretty good," Godwin said. "There's a good shot he could have."

But things will be different in terms of power production.

"Guys who have strength are still going to hit home runs," Godwin said. "Guys who have an aluminum bat swing, that's a term we use as coaches — the guys who hit seven, eight or nine home runs — they may be down to one or two. Kyle Roller would probably be close to getting his same numbers.

"I'm just guessing, but it could be this drastic, the team that I had two years ago that hit 108 (homers) in 2009, they might hit 60 with this bat."

New site, new format for tournament

The format for the Conference USA baseball tournament is changing again. The field will expand from six to eight teams.

"We cross-bracketed last year and there was some feeling that playing a team from the other bracket was a meaningless game," Godwin said. "Now every game in the pool means something to advance to the championship."

The first, eighth, fourth and fifth seeds will comprise one bracket. The second, third, sixth and seventh seeds will be in the other bracket. One team will not make the tournament. Southern Methodist, Texas-El Paso and Tulsa do not have baseball programs among the 12-members in C-USA.

The league baseball tournament is scheduled for May 25-29 at Trustmark Park in Pearl, MS. The park opened in 2005, has a capacity of 8,480 and is the home of the Mississippi Braves, the Class AA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. It's dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 402 feet to center field and 332 feet down the right field line.

"It's a neutral site," Godwin said. "My understanding is that we've signed a three-year agreement to have it there."

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01/20/2011 05:35 AM


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