Newly designed metal bats are keeping scores down in the College Baseball World Series now underway in Omaha, Neb.
The new bats feature "sweet spots" that are smaller than they were previously in an effort to decrease the exit speeds of the ball off the bat. As a result there are fewer home runs, and less chance of serious injuries to pitchers and other players in the line of fire.
Data released by the NCAA at the College World Series show that batting averages throughout college baseball have dropped from .301 to .279; ERA from 5.83 to 4.62; and the number of shutouts has jumped from 277 to 444.
Jeff Hurd, chairman of the NCAA baseball rules committee, says he's received mostly positive feedback about the new bats from coaches.
"That doesn't mean it's been universally positive," he says. "There is a tendency to say the game has changed. Those of us on the rules committee prefer to look at it as if the game is being played more like it was prior to the advent of aluminum bats."
One of the major bat manufacturers, Easton-Bell Sports of Van Nuys, Calif., produced its first aluminum bat in 1969. Aluminum became the material of choice for bats in youth sports because it's lighter and breaks less frequently, meaning it's a much less costly option in the long run.
And you could also really whack the ball, which springs off the barrel almost with a trampoline effect not found in wood. You can also crank up bat speed because of the lighter weight.
As the batters get older and stronger, though, those advantages can mean serious danger for defensive players and spectators. Some state legislatures and other local governing bodies have introduced bills and rules to ban certain types of non-wood bats from use in youth and adult sports.
The NCAA Rules Committee stepped in to make the game safer and to reduce the importance of the home run while encouraging development of more fundamental baseball skills such as base running and bunting. Major League scouts like the change because they can evaluate players on equipment more similar to that used by the pros.
Major League Baseball only uses wooden bats, which have their own set of problems, particularly breakage.