Managing New Bats

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In May 2009, the NCAA amended its regulations for baseball bats, requiring them to meet the standards of Bat-Ball Coefficient Restitution (BBCOR) certification. Despite the changes having a significant effect on college baseball this season, No. 13 North Carolina has managed to conduct business as usual.

The new rule changes were put into effect in January and have forced players to switch from aluminum to bats made from a composite of metals with smaller barrels.

Some baseball experts do not think the NCAA went far enough in its changes.

"MLB scouts praise college baseball's new bats," Florida Marlins V.P. for player development and scouting Jim Fleming told the Associated Press in April. "We use wood -- so anything other than wood isn't a completely accurate representation. That being said, the new college bats are much better. It's much more accurate. It's more of a true, clean game."

Regardless of what the experts think, the rules have changed the game.

Players for No. 13 North Carolina (40-12, 17-10 ACC) have experienced firsthand how the new bats have affected college baseball.

"[The ball] doesn't come off as well," UNC catcher Jacob Stallings said. "I feel like if you hit one it's still going to go. I just think the exit speed is a little less. Certainly there are some balls that have flown to the warning track or just deep fly balls that probably would have gone out last year."

Stallings makes a good point. The changes certainly have lessened the bat speed for most players, creating less pop and resulting in decreased success at the plate for UNC. In 2010, the Diamond Heels team batting average was .308. This season it has fallen to .291. Home runs have also gone down from 45 in 2010 to 29 this season.

In 2010, 36 players in the SEC hit at least 10 homeruns. This season only four players in the SEC have at least 10 home runs. Virginia Tech's Andrew Rash (17 home runs) is the only player in the ACC to have at least in 10 home runs in 2011.

"Home runs are way down in college baseball," UNC head coach Mike Fox said. "Georgia Tech bunted their number four guy in [Sunday's] game, sac bunted him. I think they did it in another game as well. You just can't rely on the home run anymore to get you back in the game. It definitely has affected the college game."

Levi Michael (9 HR) and Jesse Wierzbicki (7 HR) were the closest returning players to double-digit homeruns for UNC in 2010. Through 52 games this season, Colin Moran is the closest with nine, while Wierzbicki has six to his credit.

Despite the drop in its production at the plate, North Carolina has not changed its approach.

"We don't have a lot of home run hitters on our team, so it's not like we have guys that swing for the fence every time," Stallings said. "We just try to keep everything we do the same, and try to barrel balls out."

The pitching, however, has improved, with the Tar Heels boosting their erratic 4.19 ERA in 2010 to a more respectable 3.50 this season. North Carolina's pitchers have been able to be more aggressive against opposing batters with the limitations of the new bats. In 2010, the Diamond Heels averaged 0.97 strikeouts per inning and that statistic is up marginally in 2011 (1.03 strikeouts per inning).

"We'll pitch in more, because you're not as afraid as if the guy just happens to find a barrel, and it just flies out of the park," Stallings said. "You really have to hit it to hit out with these bats."

Stallings said this has caused most teams to be less aggressive and has cut down on over-swinging, but that has not been the case for all of UNC's opponents.

"Maryland swung and missed a lot," Stallings said. "Like them, [UNC-Asheville] was swinging aggressive swings. That's just not our game plan, so we want to move station to station. We're not going to rely on the home runs."

The new bats create a greater handicap for players who rely on power than it does for lead-off and contact hitters.

"I'm personally not being affected by it, because I'm not a big power hitter," UNC pitcher and designated hitter Greg Holt said. "From a pitching standpoint you can see a lot of differences, especially last year a lot of balls would be hit. If a pitcher makes a good pitch with the new bats the hitters don't have the opportunity to really drive a ball even if he mis-hits it."

Holt said last season batters were often jammed and the ball would fly off the bat and out of the park. He said this season batters are not getting fisted as much or getting jammed, cutting down on how far the ball tends to carry.

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