During the 2011 season, collegiate baseball began using the BBCOR specification bats in place of the BESR bats due to safety reasons and to make the non-wooden bats perform more like wooden bats.
College baseball got what they wanted, especially when it came to the home run numbers. During the last four years that college baseball used the wooden bats (1970-1973) the average home runs per game were .40, .46, .44 and .42 for Division-1 teams. During the last three seasons (2011-2013) with the BBCOR being used, college baseball, at the Division-1 level, has seen similar home run numbers per game, starting with .52 in 2011, .48 in 2012, and ending with a low of .42 in 2013.
As a comparison, during the three seasons that the old BESR bats were used, the home run numbers per game were .94 in 2010, .96 in 2009 and .84 in 2008, almost double the number of the last three seasons.
In addition to the lower home runs numbers, college baseball also saw lower runs per game numbers, with an average of 5.27 runs per game in 2013, 5.38 in 2012 and 5.58 in 2011. As a comparison, the previous three years (2008-2010) D-1 teams averaged 6.98, 6.88 and 6.57 runs per game, which is between 1 to 1.5 more runs per game than the three BBCOR seasons.
As you would expect ERAs went down, as did batting averages, with the BBCOR bats.
Due to the lack of offensive numbers, the vast majority of college coaches expressed their displeasure and wanted some kind of change. Since the bats were going to stay the same, the only other option was the type ball that would be used.
There are three type seams used on baseballs, the two flat seam balls, which are used by Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball (MLB uses a lower seam ball than MiLB), and the raised seam, which collegiate baseball uses.
Research conducted by the NCAA Bat Certification lab last summer showed that the flat seam ball travels further than the raised seam ball due to the drag effect.
The results showed that a flat seam baseball, when hit at 95 miles per hour with a spin rate of 1400 RPM and a launch angle of 25 degrees (which replicates the settings of a typical home run) will travel approximately 20 feet further than a raised seam ball due to the drag effect. Since the drag effect doesn't come into play until a ball has traveled a considerable distance, it only affects hard hit fly balls and not ground balls or line drives. Also not affected is the exit velocity of a batted ball, so one of the primary issues of going to the BBCOR bat in the first place, safety, will not be affected by the new ball.
Obviously, the initial reaction among people association with college baseball is more home runs will be hit. And that will likely happen. But Mississippi State University pitching coach Butch Thompson sees advantages for pitchers as well.
"I'm wondering what it is going to do to the spin of the ball," he said. "Will it increase the spin of the baseball like I think it will? With less seam there should be more rotation with the baseball. (At Mississippi State) we are really trying to create sink and movement out of our pitchers right now. And that may be enhanced with the lower seam ball. I'm excited about the potential of that."
Due to Thompson's philosophy of sink and movement, Mississippi State's pitching staff led the SEC in ground ball outs to fly ball outs with 698 ground ball outs to 445 fly balls outs.
The other advantage will be how it will affect pitchers who get the opportunity to play pro ball once their college career is over.
"One thing that I like is how it will make the game of baseball the same between college and the minor leagues," said Thompson. "Using a similar baseball blends the game."
While getting more sink and movement and using a baseball that the pros use may wind up being advantages, there will be many challenges for pitchers that will be using the flat seam ball for the first time.
One of the biggest challenges will be what would normally appear to be a simple thing to do, gripping the ball.
"A big challenge for pitchers will be how they will grip the ball," said Thompson. "It's really all about the grip of the baseball. With the high seams you can take your middle finger and get a really good, firm grip on the baseball. You feel you have more command. But with no high seam you are going to have to really pay attention to the details of throwing the ball properly."
Since college baseball will continue to use the raised seam baseballs this season, college pitching staffs will have a very short period of time to learn how to grip the new ball.
"You basically have one fall to get everything into play because right now you are focusing on the upcoming season," said Thompson. "You hope what you are teaching your guys will work later when you use the different balls. That's what you want to look at next fall."
Not only will the grip be a challenge but the variations of the location of the different pitches will be a factor with the new ball. While the fastball locations will likely remain the same, curveballs will have less of a break.
"When you go from high seam to low seam something else that happens is the different pitches don't have as much variations between them," said Thompson. " As an example (with the raised seam ball), Jonathan Holder's fastball will be up here (belt high) while his curveball will be down here (around the knee area). What will happen with the low seam ball is the separation between (his) fastball and curveball will be compressed. Your plotted points will be closer together. Because of that, I think the changeup will become a bigger pitch for pitchers."
Once again that gets back to something mentioned earlier, the movement of the pitch.
"When your pitches are closer together, then movement and deception become bigger factors," said Thompson. "With your breaking stuff, you'll want it to break later."
Another factor that could affect both pitchers and hitters is when balls get a scuff on them.
"With the lower seams on the baseball it will really do some things when it has a scuff on it," said Thompson. "We don't experience that in college because of the higher seam balls."
What Thompson means by 'some things' is a scuffed baseball has the potential to move sharply in one direction or another because of the turbulence created when air passes over the scuffed area. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball have rules against the scuffing of baseballs. Because of that rule, scuffed baseballs are thrown out of pro games, never to be used again.
If college baseball does the same thing with scuffed baseballs, the cost of using the flat seam ball will be significantly higher than using the raised seam.
"I think the average life of a Major League baseball is about four pitches," said Thompson (according to research conducted by Princeton University the actual number is 6 pitches). "Every time the ball hits the dirt the catcher hands it to the umpire and he throws it out of the game. We will use a ton more baseballs due to the scuffs."
To prepare his pitchers for having to deal with all that comes with the flat seam baseball, Thompson had invited all of his former pitchers who currently pitch in pro ball to come back in the fall and talk about their experiences with the flat seam ball.
"I know that once we get to the fall (of 2014) everyone of our pitchers who are playing professional baseball will come in and talk to our pitching staff about things that worked for them," said Thompson. "Chris Stratton, Chad Girodo, Kendall Graveman, every one of our guys out of professional baseball who will have thrown 100s of innings with those baseball will be here."
Also expect Mississippi State's recruiting to change to a small degree, especially when it comes to hitters who have power potential that's not the light tower type power.
"Power definitely comes into play a little more," said Mississippi State assistant coach Nick Mingione. "We'll still continue to recruit the speed guys but the guys who don't quite have light tower power but have some bat speed and strength at the point of contact will definitely be more intriguing due to the low seam ball."
Mississippi State has a leg up on that type recruiting because they already have several players like that on the current roster, including true freshmen Reid Humphreys, Brent Rooker, Joey Swinarski and Dylan Ingram as well as redshirt freshman Daniel Garner.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.