The baseball bat has undergone a drastic evolution over the last 40 years. We have gone from every level using wooden bats, to everyone but pros using overpowered metal ones, to the somewhere in-between stage we find ourselves today with the intentionally weakened BBCOR bats.
What is a BBCOR baseball bat? BBCOR stands for “Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution,” a regulation that was introduced in 2011, after the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) got together and decided that the game would benefit from a reduction in the trampoline effect in bats. ESPN’s Sports Science put together a pretty good video explaining the differences between BBCOR bats and the old standard. Bats have always been measured on a scale of how much energy the ball loses when it strikes the bat, and with the new BBCOR bats, it is estimated that the baseball is coming off the bat about 5% slower than before, placing them pretty close to the same level of “pop” as a wooden bat.
Part of the motivation for doing so was the explosion of offense over the last 20 years, which had led to overly-long games and an unfair advantage for hitters, as well as the apparent increase of pitchers being struck by line drives. The new standard seeks to level the playing field while making the game safer for everyone involved by giving players and fans slightly more time to react to the ball than before. Since the adoption of the BBCOR standard, offensive production has undergone a precipitous decline. Batting averages, home runs, runs per game, ERA’s, etc. have all been noticeably impacted.
As the data clearly shows, for better or worse, there has been a drastic effect. The debate over the efficacy of the BBCOR standard is ongoing, with many feeling it has had a negative impact on the college game (and, presumably, high school). However, the NCAA has already taken steps to ameliorate the problem via the introduction of flatter seamed baseballs this season. And thus far, some offensive metrics are up. Home runs are up 39% as are batting averages from the previous year. But to counter that, strikeouts are up 10.5% and slugging percentages are lower, too. How the NCAA will react to the data they collect this year is unknown, but it appears the NCAA is trying to bring the college game more in line with the style of play found in the MLB. For some, this is a good thing, for others, the distinct personality of the college is what set it apart from the MLB, similar to the dichotomy between college football and the NFL.
The high-powered offenses of the past made games entertaining, as balls flew out of the park left and right and comebacks were always a possibility. Marketing consisted of playing clips of the “pinging” noise that was unique to the college game. The ping of the bat has been replaced with a solid but dead sounding thud, and balls that once would have rocketed out of the park are now dying on the warning track. Of course, preference is preference. Purists may rejoice – or not, and more casual fans may be more apt to change the channel, but one thing is for sure, the college and high school game is still evolving and will continue to do so until the (most) right combination of regulations can be found.
BBCOR is now the standard for both high school and collegiate baseball, but if you’re a bit younger and still wondering if you’ll need to purchase a BBCOR bat, head here, and be sure to check out your local leagues guidelines as well.