Amateur Baseball Searches for the Sweet Spot
By Bo Carter
Are the bats use by college summer leagues more potent than the “de-toxified” alloy bats of the 2000s in regular-season competition?
That might be the $64 million question.
Summer leaguers in 2014 say the wood bats have a bigger “sweet spot” to hit the long ball. Others testify that they are breaking wood bats at near-record rates by slicing fastballs off the thin handles of many wood varieties.
At any rate, this writer thinks there may be a little method in this madness.
Prime example: the Texas Collegiate League has used four different bat companies since June 2013 in an effort to eliminate many of the broken bat problems while searching for a war club with some home run power.
The result: 71 total home runs by six teams over the first 40 games of a 60-game summer slate. At a comparable time last season, six TCL crews had a total of 76 homers. By the end of Texas’ August heat, the sluggers had ridden southern trade winds to 144 home runs. That was a bit more than the 141 dingers collected by seven TCL squads in 2012.
The bottom line, in this writer’s estimation, is that it is a combination of large “pitchers” ballparks and the deadening of virtually all metal bats and even some non-productive college wood products in summer that have led to some upward changes in summer diamond activity.
Example: in each of the last two NCAA World Series at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park there have been a grand total of three home runs.
ESPN made a special point of showing centerfield flags billowing straight into the hitters’ faces for most of the ’13 and ’14 events, and that stadium is set up exactly opposite of defunct Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the NCAA grand finale from 1950-2012 and a literal launching pad for most right-handed hitters. Fans will recall the infamous 21-14 title game win by Southern California.
Aluminum and metal alloy bats first were used in college baseball in 1974, when HR production started a dramatic rise. The 1973 CWS was the last showing when less than eight homers were hammered in a NCAA finals’ event.
And another consideration for the low power outputs in 2014: the sheer size and distance to the power alleys (plus high fences) at TD Ameritrade make it difficult even on a calm day to launch a four-bagger. Creighton played 21 home games at nearby TD Ameritrade Park and ended with just 22 team circuit clouts in 50 total games as opposed to a miniscule 13 in a 50-game season by Blue Jay opponents.The Big Ten postseason tourney in Omaha resulted in five home runs in 15 games played in cooler and less windy conditions.
One more opinion: it is hard to judge offensive and home run output when looking at a cavernous pitchers’ park such as TD Ameritrade, or comparing wood bat leagues (wide variance in pitching and team talent from units 1-6 as in the case of the TCL).
Let’s wait until we see the low-seam baseball and possible variances in bat alloys in 2015, then make a judgment. Then again, it might be 2016 or ’17 before the batters start catching up with the pitchers again.
Samuel (Bo) Carter is former sports information director of the Southwest and Big 12 conferences. In addition to his duties with sportsandoutdoors.guru, he currently serves as secretary of the College Baseball Writers Association and correspondent for the American Football Foundation. For more from Bo Carter, follow him on Twitter at #bcarter52 and Facebook at Bo Carter (Carrollton, Texas).