“Even when you hit it on the sweet spot of the bat, it’s a different noise than last year,” says Yeager, the coach at Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas), the No. 1 team in the USA TODAY preseason Super 25 rankings.
“You have to square it up more and try to be more precise. If you don’t hit it just right, it sounds pretty bad. You can hear a lot of clanks and a lot of vibrations.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations has adopted a national bat standard for this year, called BBCOR (bat-ball coefficient of restitution), that basically makes metal bats act more like wooden ones, reducing the speed the ball comes off the bat.
That probably will mean is less offense. The NCAA adopted the BBCOR standard last season, and batting average, home runs and earned run averages dropped to their lowest for Division I teams in 30 years.
“I would expect the numbers will be lower,” said Elliot Hopkins, the NFHS liaison to the Baseball Rules Committee. “I think we’ll be able to control the balance of the game better. Now, it gets back to fundamentals.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean all pitchers will benefit equally against the BBCOR bats. Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) has two hard throwers, Lucas Giolito and Max Fried. Giolito reached 100 mph in a one-hitter this season. Because California and Virginia switched to the BBCOR standard last season, Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour knows what to expect.
“Against the harder-throwing guys, the BBCOR bats makes less of a difference,” LaCour said. “Just because the pitcher can supply some of the lost power the old bats used to supply. Against the average high school pitcher, hitting has become more difficult because you now have to supply the power that old bat used to.”
The biggest change for the bats is balls hit off the handle won’t carry and the bats have a smaller sweet spot than previous metal bats. The impact may be more noticeable toward the bottom of batting orders.
“The kids who can hit with power are still going to hit for power,” said Chan Brown, coach of No. 2 Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.). “The kids who used to hit one or two home runs a year are not going to do that anymore. Instead of getting home runs, they’ll get bleeders that will fall in behind first base or second base.”
However, for many of the top teams, whose players more consistently hit on the barrel of the bat, that will be less of a problem. Carroll’s team RBI and homers are coming at a higher pace than last season.
“We’re pretty fortunate in that we have a lot of guys who are pretty strong,” Yeager said. “It doesn’t affect them as much. We went into the season thinking that we would bunt more and run more, but it just doesn’t seem like it has changed what we do so far. As we approach those closer, tighter games, I think our philosophy might change to run more and play more strategic baseball.”
Because hitters get less response on balls hit on the handle, pitchers are likely to throw inside more.
“I do think they’re throwing in a lot more,” Yeager said. “We’ve been hit by pitches eight or nine times already. I think guys are trying to get inside on us and I know we’re trying to get in on people too. You can afford to do that because the ball is not going to jump like it has in the past. In general, in high school ball, I think you’re going to see a lot more fastballs and a lot more location on the inner half of the plate.”
• Several states, including Florida, Georgia, California and Texas, have already started their regular seasons. Portsmouth, N.H., will have to wait until next month to find out if it can continue its 83-game winning streak. Portsmouth set the national record last year, only to see Martensdale-St. Mary’s (Martensdale, Iowa) eclipse the mark, ending its season with 87 wins in a row. The Iowa school’s season is not scheduled to open until May 21.