The ping of the aluminum bat has been the defining sound of college baseball since 1974. However, the institution of the BBCOR bats prior to the 2011 season has removed most of the ping and—in the process—most of the offensive fireworks from the game.
The change has sparked a shift in the game across the entire country. Different types of players are in high demand, and new Oklahoma baseball coach Pete Hughes has had a front row seat the past two years for everything that has happened as a result of the bat change.
"There's a premium on speed so guys can get in scoring position, so guys can get from first to third and get in scoring position for a productive out," Hughes said in an exclusive interview with News9.com. "A lot of teams are bunting more; safety squeezes are a mainstay of their offenses. Teams have changed; it's also changed the game."
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2010, the last year with the old, more explosive aluminum bats, college baseball averaged .94 home runs per game, 6.98 runs per game, and a batting average of .305. In the first year of the BBCOR bats, those numbers sank to .52 home runs per game, 5.58 runs per game, and a .282 batting average. In the 2012 season, the numbers dropped even further.
By taking power out of the equation, the playing field has been leveled considerably across all of college baseball. No longer do you have to have a dominant pitcher to shut down a good offense. The dead bats take care of that problem.
"Back in the day, a mediocre arm would never beat a high-powered offense," Hughes recalled. "You get a right field that's playing big, the wind's blowing in, the kid's throwing strikes, a mediocre arm can beat you because of the bats. It's brought a lot of parity to this game."
Despite the parity, the excitement of the game has been greatly diminished, something Hughes is very much against.
"I thought our game was as exciting as it could've been before the change to be honest with you," Hughes admitted. "Look at every other sport. Every other sport is creating rule changes to make more offense. Look at the NFL, look at the NBA. More offense brings more popularity and enthusiasm to the game. We're going in the other direction; we take away offense. Let's play soccer; 2-1, 1-0. I like 8-6, 9-5.
Hughes has adapted, no longer recruiting players who can smash a ball 400 feet and do basically nothing else. The recruiting pressure has increased on players who can do it all, especially speedy guys who can hit for average.
"I would (go) for a big bat," Hughes said about his former recruiting habits. "With those old bats, you could have a guy hit 15 home runs a year and that's a good investment. That's few and far between now.
"Honestly, I don't recruit DH's and corner guys unless they can really hit because you're going to put your team at a huge disadvantage if you have too many of those guys. Recruiting-wise, it's all pitching and up the middle."
There were several reasons for the bat switch, and even if Hughes and other coaches are in disagreement on the policy, the task is clear: adapt your strategy accordingly or fall behind.
"I don't understand it, I don't agree with it, but we know what the rules are," Hughes said. "The rules of the game are that we are going to play with that bat and we're going to have the best team possible with that bat and maximize our abilities."