Switch to composite bats for safety


This is the first of a two-part series about the impact of composite bats in high school baseball. This story focuses on why the change was made from aluminum to composite bats.

By Justin Rust

OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF

Over the past few years, safety has been sacrificed for more offense in high school baseball. But this year, scoring is down and that is because of the switch from aluminum bats to composite bats.

This is the first year the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) implemented a new rule, which changed what bats can be used in high school baseball.

Before, bats were certified based on the Ball Exit Speed Ratio (BESR), which measures the speed a baseball has after being hit by a bat. But in 2011, the NCAA switched to the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR), which measures the bounciness of the ball and the bat — otherwise known as the “trampoline” effect.

The reason the NCAA switched to the BBCOR is because of safety. It protected the players from hard hit balls off aluminum bats, since they were deemed illegal under BBCOR standards.

The NCAA started to use composite bats instead, which fell under BBCOR specifications. Composite bats are constructed with the same aluminum exterior, but have a graphite wall on the inside.

But Pine Bluff High School coach Greg Easter said the new bats are not quite composite bats, though, despite the name.

“I think it’s just because they have to make the bats like they used to,” he said. “It’s really not composite anymore. It’s going more alloy like the old bats. The handle can be composition, but the rest is alloy material.”

That idea trickled down to the NFHS and it incorporated the NCAA rule into the its rules starting this year. The Arkansas Activities Association goes by NFHS rules.

“I am surprised it went down to the high school level so fast,” Easter said. “It usually takes three or four years.”

Watson Chapel coach Chad Cope said the change in bats this year has made a huge difference in the game.

“It went back to the way I guess baseball was meant to be played,” he said. “It’s almost like a wooden bat. It rewards you for hitting the sweet spot, and the sweet spot is smaller.”

According to Star City coach Scott Johnson, the sweet spot went from being about 3 to 4 inches long, and it has gone down to about 1 inch with the new bats.

“If you hit it on the sweet spot, the ball travels good,” he said. “But the sweet spot is an inch to an inch-and-half. In the long run, it could make better hitters, but it’s having a big impact on this year.”

Even though runs are down, the switch to composite bats were not made to lessen offensive output. The change was made for safety reasons.

Easter said in a game earlier this year, a line drive was hit right back at the pitcher and it hit him on the leg. The player was OK, but Easter said if it with one of the old bats, the injury might have been a lot worse.

“That would’ve been a serious injury, and I am glad they made the switch,” he said. “It’s all about safety. The bats were getting so live and I heard about people all of the time getting hit and teeth getting knocked out.”

Johnson added that the old aluminum bats were getting so hot that they were “dangerous at times.”

Cope said he has seen a lot fewer hard hit balls because of the change to composite bats.

“I haven’t seen near the line drives in the past, especially up the middle back at the pitcher,” he said. “With the sweet spot smaller, that was made for safety.”