College baseball is on pace to set a record for fewest home runs and a 40-year low for scoring and batting average. Now some coaches are calling for a livelier ball to bring the numbers back up.
The switch to toned-down metal bats in 2011 has led to an offensive decline greater than many expected.
“The game isn’t the same,” Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. “It’s not as exciting.”
Leggett is leading an effort to adopt the ball used in the minor leagues. That ball has flat seams and a harder core, which he says makes it conducive to greater flight than the college ball. No change could be made until the 2015 season.
The NCAA’s midseason statistics report shows a continuation of the drastic offensive drop that began two years ago. Division I teams entered April averaging one home run about every three games. In 2010 the average was about one per game.
The per-team home-run average of 0.37 per game at midseason was on track to be the lowest since it was 0.40 in 1970, the first year the NCAA kept statistical trends.
The midseason batting average of .270 and per-team scoring of 5.25 runs are the lowest since 1973, the year before the aluminum bat was brought into the college game.
The current bats are designed to perform like wooden bats.
The effect of the change has been most apparent at the College World Series. After 32 home runs were hit in 16 games in 2010, nine were hit in 14 games in 2011 and 10 in 15 games in 2012.
Leggett and other college baseball people say the easiest solution to goose the offense, short of bringing in the fences, is to liven up the ball.
NCAA rules mandate balls used in regular-season and tournament play have a COR, or coefficient of restitution, of no greater than .555. The COR is a measure of bounciness at impact. The higher the COR, the greater the bounce. Balls used in pro baseball have a maximum COR of .578.
The NCAA does not set standards for seams, but national tournament games are played with a Rawlings ball that has raised seams. Because of that, most conferences choose to use the raised-seam ball in the regular season as well.
Leggett said he surveyed about 50 coaches and that one wanted to keep the ball as it is.
Leggett’s Clemson team hit 93 homers, or 1.33 per game, in 2010. That dropped to 48 (0.76) in 2011 and 44 (0.70) in 2012. This season, the Tigers have hit 13 in 40 games (0.33), with Garrett Boulware leading them with seven.
“The season-ticket holders are looking for home runs, looking for excitement,” Leggett said. “I see them sitting on their hands a lot, everywhere I go. So I just think the simple transition to play with the minor league baseball is the way to go.”
TIGERS VS. YELLOW JACKETS