It Continues to be a Different Game

IT CONTINUES TO BE A DIFFERENT GAME

 

(Part 5-the 2001 Season)

 

November 1, 2001      Coach Bill Thurston

Amherst College

 

This is the fifth in a series of statistical studies comparing wood bat performance to that of the high-tech aluminum bats. As in the previous four studies, only Division I hitters and pitchers were included. Hitters had a minimum of 70 at- bats in the Cape Cod League; pitchers had a minimum of 25 innings pitched, which means only regular players were considered. There were a total of 93 Division I hitters and 60 Division I pitchers who met the criteria. The same players using NCAA statistics (aluminum bat) were compared to their Summer Cape Cod League statistics (wood bats). Thus, the comparison is for the same players during the same year, the major variable being the bat.

 

The difference in offensive performance from the aluminum to the wood bat is dramatic. Comparisons were made using 93 Division I hitters in the following offensive categories.

 

  Statistic With Aluminum With Wood Difference
I Batting Average .316 .232 Minus .084
II Slugging Percentage .470 .305 Minus .165
in Home Runs per at bat 1/37.8 1/96 Down .61%
TV Runs scored per at bat 1/4.8 1/9.4 Down .49%
V RBI per at bat 1/5.3 1/10.7 Down .51%
VI Strikeout Percentage 15% 24.5% Plus 9.5%

During the 2001 Spring Collegiate season, there were close to 50 Division I hitters who batted at least .400 or over using an aluminum bat. Only 3 of those leading hitters played in the Cape Cod League that summer. The following is a comparison of some of their offensive stats, the same player, same year.

 

    Bat Avg. Bat Avg.  
Player University Alum. Wood Difference
Malek Michigan St. .427 .263 -.164
Stanisky Notre Dame .400 .263 -.137
Henry Ball State .400 .267 -.133
    Slug % Slug %  
    Alum Wood Difference
Malek   .587 .335 -.252
Stanisky   .506 .429 -.077
Henry   .652 .289 -.363

 

Summary:

These 3 hitters averaged hitting .408 with aluminum, and .264 with wood; the drop in slugging percentage was even more dramatic, .628 to .349.

 

It is obvious, that even with the new 3-prong bat standard, there continues to be a major and significant difference between aluminum and wood bat performance during actual game play.

The following charts demonstrate the dramatic differences in actual games between aluminum and wood bat performance:

*Using an aluminum bat, 62% of the Division I hitters hit over .300. Using a wood bat, only 5% of the same hitters hit over .300.

 

With aluminum bats, 1% hit under .200; with wood, 26% hit under .200.

*Using an aluminum bat, 32% of Division I hitters had a slugging % over .500. Using a wood bat, only 2% of the same hitters were over .500.

 

With aluminum bats, only 5% were under .300; with a wood bat, 50% of the hitters had a slugging % under .300.

Using an aluminum bat, 30% of the Division I hitters hit a home run within every 29 at bats; with wood, only 5% of these same hitters hit a home run every 29 at bats.

 

With aluminum, 31% had 1 or no home runs; with a wood bat, 70% of hitters had 1 or no home runs.

With an aluminum bat, 88% of hitters scored a run every 6 at bats; with a wood bat, only 8% of the hitters scored a run every 6 at bats

*Using an aluminum bat, 69% of the hitters drove in a run within 6 at bats; using a wood bat, only 9% of the hitters had an RBI in 6 at bats.

When batting averages, slugging percentages, runs and RBI per at bat are compared, aluminum vs wood, it is easy to understand why the game using aluminum is much higher scoring and takes longer to play.

*With an aluminum bat, only 5% of the 93 hitters struck out over 25% of the time. With a wood bat, 45% of the hitters struck out over 25% of the time.

College hitters struck out 9.5% more frequently when swinging a wood bat, 15% to 24.5%.

*Using an aluminum bat, 69% of the hitters drove in a run within 6 at bats; using a wood bat, only 9% of the hitters had an RBI in 6 at bats.

 

When batting averages, slugging percentages, runs and RBI per at bat are compared, aluminum vs wood, it is easy to understand why the game using aluminum is much higher scoring and takes longer to play.

*With an aluminum bat, only 5% of the 93 hitters struck out over 25% of the time. With a wood bat, 45% of the hitters struck out over 25% of the time.

 

College hitters struck out 9.5% more frequently when swinging a wood bat, 15% to 24.5%.

VII. Five Year Comparative Study

Comparison of Batting Averages:

  1. 1997
  2. 1998
  3. 1999
  4. 2000

E.         2001
Alum

.339 .329 .334 .325 .316

Wood

.232 .247 .248 .239 .232

 

Difference

-.107

  • .086        ‘ ‘
  • .086
  • .084

 

B.      Comparison of Home Runs, by number of at Bats:

  1. 1997
  2. 1998
  3. 1999
  4. 2000

E.         2001

Alum

1/25 1/25 1/25 1/32 1/37

Wood

1/74 1/72 1/57 1/76 1/96
Difference

  • .66%
  • .65%
  • .56%
  • .58%
  • .61%

 

Slugging Percentage:

  1. 1997
  2. 1998
  3. 1999
  4. 2000

E.         2001

 

Alum

.551 .527 .542 .501 .470

 

Wood

.325 .350 .345 .330 .304

 

Difference

-.226

 

-.197 ‘

-.171

-.166

 

D.     Pitchers’ Earned Run Average (E.R.A.)

vs. Alum

  1. A.              1997 4.77
  2. 1998 5.01
  3. 1999 4.54
  4. 2000 4.11
  5. 2001 4.34

 

vs. Wood

2.62 3.50 3.18 3.15 2.25

 

Difference

-2.15       /, £Z
-2.10 V^’3 f*A

•   The Cap Cod League uses the livelier Diamond Dl baseball. During the collegiate season, most Division I conferences now use the official NCAA Rawlings baseball which tests much less lively than the Diamond or Wilson A1001 ball.

 

Since more and more college programs and hitters, at all divisional levels, practice and scrimmage with wood bats in the fall, winter and pre-season, I though we would fine a trend showing an increase in offensive performance using wood. This has not happened. Over a 5-year period, there still is an undisputable decrease in offensive performance stats when using a wood bat. The gap between wood bat and aluminum bat performance has remained relatively consistent and constant.

Sirmmary:

 

There was a slight decrease in offensive performance in 2001, but this was the year when almost all Division I conferences started using the less lively Rawlings baseball.

 

Now the college game is played with a different bat and a different ball and it’s truly a Different Game.

 

The major factor to consider is that no matter how the bat specifications were changed by the NCAA, none of these aluminum bats performed remotely close to a wood bat performance level in the field (under real game conditions).

 

Pitching

 

I.       Quality of Pitching

 

Some like to argue that the quality of pitching in the Cape League is better than on a regular college staff. That’s true, but the number of good hitters in the Cape League is also much better than on a college squad. It’s all relative – better pitchers vs better hitters.

 

In 2001, during their Spring Collegiate Season pitching against aluminum bats, 25 of the 60 pitchers studied (42%) had a .500 or a losing record. It is obvious that most of this group of pitchers were not top flight, dominant pitchers on their college team. But, versus wood bats in the Cape Cod League, many became dominant pitchers.

 

U.      E.R.A. A comparison of E.R.A.’s aluminum bats versus wood – 60 Division I pitchers who pitched a minimum of 25 innings in the Cape Cod League during the 2001 season.

 

ERA Vs Aluminum Bat Vs Wood Bat    
  Number % Number %
7.00 – Plus 1 2% 0 0%
6.00 – 6.99 4 7% 0 0%
5.00 – 5.99 17 29% 1 2%
4.00 – 4.99 14 24% 4 7%
3.00 – 3.99 17 29% 7 12%
2.00 – 2.99 5 8% 21 35%
1.00-1.99 1 2% 23 38%
0.00 – 0.99 0 0% 4 7%
  59   60  

 

Vs Aluminum Bats, 61% of the pitchers had an ERA of 4.00 or over; versus Wood Bats, only 8% of the same pitchers had an ERA of four or over.

 

Vs Aluminum Bats, 10% of the pitchers in this study had an ERA of under 3 runs per game; versus Wood Bats, 80% of the same pitchers had and ERA of under 3 runs per game.

 

Vs Aluminum Bats, the average ERA was 4.34

 

Vs Wood Bats, the average ERA was 2.25. That is a difference of minus 48% or 2.1 runs per game per pitcher.

Summary:

Vs Aluminum bats, 63% of the pitchers gave up at least one hit per inning; vs Wood bats, only 8% of the same pitchers, during the same year, gave up a hit an inning.

 

Vs Aluminum bats, only 5% of the pitchers allowed fewer than 7 hits per nine innings, while vs Wood, 50% of the same pitchers gave up fewer than 7 hits per nine innings.
VHI. Risk of Injury from Batted Balls

 

While this study focuses on the different performance levels between aluminum and wood bats, another major problem that needs to be addressed is the increased risk of injuries from batted balls off the present high performance aluminum bats.

 

It is well documented from lab, field tests, and various studies that the ball is hit with greater velocity, and hit faster more frequently off an aluminum bat. There are many reasons for this:

 

A. Factors of increased batted ball exist speed:

  1. Greater swing speed. A hitter can swing a lighter, better-balanced bat faster than a heavier or end-heavy bat.
  2. The trampoline and hoop effect of a thin hollow tube versus a solid wood bat.
    1. The balance point (MOD of an aluminum bat is closer to the handle allowing greater head of the bat speed, and better bat control.
    2. Factors in the frequency of hard hit balls:

 

  1. This is demonstrated by a major and significant increase in batting averages, slugging percentage, and home runs when using an aluminum bat. (Cape studies 1997-2001)
  2. The barrel diameter is larger then most wood bats.
  3. The barrel bitting area is much larger than a wood bat. i.e. the long barrel design.
  4. The better-balanced bat can be controlled easier and the swing started later, which gives the hitter more time (milli-seconds) to track the pitch.
  5. The bat seldom breaks on inside and end of the bat hits, which puts the ball in play more often.
  6. In the five-year Cape Cod League study, hitters struck out 5 to 10% less often using aluminum bat; so contact was much more frequent. The pitcher won’t be bit by a batted ball if the batter doesn’t hit the ball!
    1. Severity of injury. If a player is struck by a batted ball that has higher velocity, then there is the potential and chance of a more severe injury.
    2. Pitcher reaction time.

An average size college pitcher will follow through, and usually be out of balance, approximately 52-53 feet away from ball-bat contact. The distance does not change when pitching versus wood or aluminum. Thus if the batted ball exit speed is greater, the pitcher has less time to react and defend himself, and the risk of being struck is increased. We do understand that pitchers are occasionally struck and injured by batted balls off wood bats. If this is true and pitchers cannot react to batted balls which are hit slower off wood, and less frequently hit hard, then the high performance bats puts the defensive player at more risk.
Conclusion:

 

Based on the statistical evidence of this comprehensive study, and statistics developed over the past five (5) years, I believe it is indisputable that the collegiate game played with the present high performance aluminum bats, is not remotely close to the traditional game played with wood bats. For the safety of the players, and to bring the game back in balance, I hope that in the near future, true wood performance standards are put in place at all levels of amateur baseball.

 

I am not advocating a return to wood bats only. I believe aluminum and composite bats can be manufactured to perform at a true wood bat level. I personally believe we will have a better, not a different collegiate game.

Coach Bill Thurston Amherst College 11/1/01

 

Looking For A Coach

I’m sure you heard this question many times before, but here goes.

First, here’s some background info

10 years old

5’3”

130#

Cal Ripkin league- No pitchers mound

Average pitch speed 56mph

Top speed 63mph

Pitched to 103 batters, 77 strikeout, 24 walks,2 hit with pitch

No hits. Only 2 foul balls

Only 2 pitches-fastball, changeup  No junk

720 BA

I taught him how to pitch using sound fundementals, and good mechanics. We play catch every day because he want to.

So here’s my question. He plays fall league at a large sports facility, and people come over to our game to watch him pitch. They all say he has no visible mechanics problems, perfect delivery, and I should find a good coach because he has much potential for his future. Come on. He’s only 10. Am I making a mistake just continuing as we are, and not taking it to this extreme? I realize that we are quickly approaching a time where he will need a more knowledgable coach than me. But I’m no dummy. I have been to coaches training at the Olympic Training Center at Lake Placid, and a national coach in junior Olympic archery. And if we should look for a coach, how do you know who is good? Just because someone played ball in college or the minors, doesn’t mean that they are a good coach. Youth sports are never lacking in self-proclaimed experts.

I just don’t know what to do.

Thanks for listening,

Greg Fincher

 

 

Greg

You present a very interesting question and commentary. With all the physical facts that you listed the boy obviously has some talent for a 10-year-old and I repeat for a 10-year-old. And I certainly appreciate your comments and your knowledge about coaches, some of your own self limitations the most impressed with a statement “Come on. He’s only 10” you’re exactly right.

To tell you the truth I don’t know that I would do anything to be having this kind of success as a 10-year-old except let him enjoyed it because what you described to me physically is a good sized 12-year-old. My impression is that you and his coach that  he is playing for right now have enough knowledge to continue on with what’s happening then as a 12-year-old or even a 13-year-old when he moves up into very competitive travel ball then you need to see how he has matured and has become competitive.

The only thing I would watch a young man like this that he doesn’t become overly impressed with himself, or that you don’t try to push him up the ladder to fast. If he doesn’t think he’s all that great, but in truth he is a great and you got the best accommodations let him be a big fish in a small pond and enjoy success nothing breeds success like success. We just can’t have too big of opinion about ourselves because in truth there are a lot of these kind of kids out there and parents in the road of enjoyment and success by trying to create success.

As far as a coach goes yes it’s very difficult, but your best bet to go to the teaching Academy somewhere, and ask for some references of kids that he’s worked with and see what kind of success they have.

I leave you with this in a 40 years of coaching I’ve seen a lot of kids that are exceptional for their age group, but when they become the youngest in the next age group success is not near as easy to come by. If the boys 10 years old that means he’s going to have to move up to 12 and under next year and he’ll be facing some kids that are 12 -year-old and even some kids will probably turn 13 during the season this will be a big jump. When he goes on the mound it should help but he’ll also be facing much better hitters. The statistics you told me are close to unbelievable, to tell me that no one has got hit and 103 batters is like telling me that he’s pitched eight or nine straight no-hitters, luck would tell me that somebody had to get the bat on the ball and get a hit.

My advice is don’t do anything until he is 12 years old except let them have a good time, be successful, and not become self-important. Have him play other positions so he learns the game.

Let me know how it all works out like I told you right off the bat is a very interesting question and on paper a very impressive kid.

Coach Arnald Swift

Practice In Small Areas

Dear Coach,

I am a middle school baseball coach in North Carolina. Early in the season our weather is misserable and often cannot practice outdoors. Being the lowest ranking ball program spacing indoors is rarely available to us. Are there any drills you can recomend for indoor practices that take place in small areas?

Thanks,

Don Samson

 

 

Dear Don

I understand exactly what you’re having to go through. Let’s assume by your question that you do have a small space to work with. Then what we need to do is get plastic balls, rag balls, foam balls so that we can do the normal hitting drills from the tee, soft toss, front toss, short overhand batting practice in that confined space.  We can do fielding drills from a short short area, we can do through throwing drills with the rag balls and a short area.  I can tell you very much so that I know what I’m talking about I actually had to hold practice in a classroom during the early part of the season when the gym was being taken over by the basketball teams and I was trying to get baseball started in Colorado with all the bad weather we have in the spring.  And I used almost every normal drill that you would ever use indoors or out but the type of ball makes a huge difference.  I will go so far as to tell you that I took a pair of sweat socks and roll them up real tight and tape them over to create a ball that could be hit or thrown in that classroom and not do damage.

So my answer is get a bunch of balls that you can do the drills with that will tear things up and go to work just like you would normally.  If you can get a net or some piece of tarp you might use that also and use real balls but real balls always hold the chance of damage.

Let me know how you get along get after it you’ll be all right what your kids need to do is learn the proper technique/positioning and they will learn it if you will give them a chance.

This is where real coaching comes in where you have to be innovative and work.  Make sure you approach your kids that this is the way you’re going your going to better.  Try to preach to them that this is a unique situation and were going to be better for it.

Let me know how to all works out.

Coach Arnald Swift

Credit

My son pitched to one batter in his last game.  The bases were loaded when he came in and he unfortunately walked in the winning run.  How is this counted against him since none of the runs were his.  Is he credited with anything except the walk?

Larry R. Greene

 

 

Larry

You are correct, the walk is all your son, pitcher, get placed on his scoresheet for that game.  The other 3 runner and there actions were the responsibility of the original pitcher.  Though I know internally your son feels like it is his fault, but he did not put those 3 runners there, and how would he feel if they scored in some other way EX: pass ball, error, steal those things that he had no control over the result would have been the same and your son (the pitcher) did his job and other did not, that is why it is a team WIN OR LOSS, a single act did not cause this result.  Take up an individual sport like, golf, wrestling, tennis, track where you have total control over the situation.  He will be fine and I ask you don’t worry about statistics, just as the team of which your son is part of to do things right then winning and losing will take care of itself.

Coach Arnald Swift

Foul Territory

Is it legal for the first baseman to have his feet, one or both, in foul territory while holding a runner at first base?

 

Kevin

My rule you must have eight players in fair territory. The rule is really designed to keep a coach from placing a player behind the catcher during an intentional walk, or some other defensive scheme before a live pitch.

So to answer your question directly if you have 1 foot in foul territory and be considered okay, but he may not have both feet in foul territory which by the way is very difficult to do but that would be illegal.

I can tell you right now it’s an extraordinarily rare call on first baseman while he is holding a runner on base.  As the proper position for a first baseman right or left-handed is to place his heel on the front inside corner so as to be able to receive the ball, swipe tag, and not have the runner interfere with his receiving the ball by getting in between him and the ball. If your first base with his standing in foul territory did he’s cheating himself.

Coach Arnald Swift

Marc

My son has played baseball for several years.  As he gets older his hitting does not seem to be improving.  I take him to the batting cages and he does very well.  He is currently on his high school team and does well at practice.  When he gets up to the plate, it seems like he freezes. He either walks or stikes out both swinging and looking.  His first scrimmage game he got 2 hits.  When the real games start he seems to struggle.  As a result he has not been starting the games and only goes in as a sub which I think puts more pressure on him.  He has talked to his coach about getting more playing time to help him get more up at bats and basically the coach told him that he could not promise anything and that he needed to just get up there and do his job when asked to.  I think his struggling is fear of disappointment, to us and his coach.  How can I help him get over this fear or to gain more confidence in himself?

Marc

 

Dear Marc

Let’s make sure of one thing first off the bat does he have good mechanical skills and does he batting practice pitching, tee work, soft toss work well and consistently.   My guess is you’re going to answer yes then I have to agree 100% that it’s all mental. What your boys doing is he thinking way too much and not just seeing the ball and hitting it.  I don’t know if you have control on are not but if I was his coach and I saw these things I would start to correct it by telling him that he has to hit the next pitch no matter what and if there are runners on base and we can collect hit-and-run, but in reality what were trying to do is take the decision-making out of his hands and make him swing at the next pitch the matter where it is.  You will actually need to do this for an entire game and yes he may swing at some bad pitches anyway make an easy out or two but he will swing the bat he will make contact I promise you that.  It’s a very odd thing when you take away the decision-making, batter that actually is pretty decent they almost always get the ball the matter where it is in the strike zone out of the strike zone it doesn’t make a difference they will make contact because their swing is good and they’re not deciding if I should or shouldn’t swing they know that already so they’re just trying to get the ball and they will.  Now if you can’t do that a game because you don’t have the control and what you need to do is go in the cage and tell him swing of this one no matter what don’t swing at this one no matter what and start to take away the decision-making.  You’re just trying to get him comfortable with looking at the ball coming at him and swinging at it not whether it’s a ball or strike not whether it’s a curve or fastball just see the ball and hit.  You will be amazed at how effective that is.

Tips

I coach baseball at the 13-15 Babe Ruth level. We work hard with our pitchers holding runners on to avoid giving up really easy stolen bases. At this point, I think our pitchers are doing well at this task. I have a question or two about the second baseman and shortstop and their jobs of helping hold runners on at second base. I feel if we are going to give up a steal of third base, the runner that steals should at least be held on 2B properly before he earns that stolen base on us.

1) Are there different responsibilities for the two positions in regards to holding the runner at 2B vs. a left handed or right handed batter?
2) What should the footwork for the short stop and second baseman involve?
3) Should they be saying anything, tapping their gloves, or etc.?

Thanks for any tips you can offer me in regards to answering my questions.

 

 

Dear Kelly

You have this pretty well in hand and I answer that because of your suggestions and thoughts.  The decision on who holes a runner at second with distractions, playing close to him, are all dependent upon the batter and where he’s most likely at the ball. The general answer is whether he’s left or right handed but there certainly can be exceptions as you get to know your opponents. There are several ways simply bluffing, going always a bag, living in front of the runner and backing away, moving up directly behind the runner so he knows you’re there. All these things have to be done in synchronization with your pitcher so that you don’t get caught out of place. Now your pitcher can help you with bluffs every once in a while, second and third looks (very is looks at the runner), pickoff plays even when there not successful which is second are pretty rare but they keep a record closer.  But you are right you got to do a combination of things and you need to make sure a runner knows you’re there otherwise he’ll become very comfortable and get an extra step or two when the balls hit, we wants to steal, distracting your pitcher, so is a variation of what I’ve said and above what you said.

Coach Arnald Swift

Golf?

I have coached baseball for years and have told my kids that baseball and golf do not mix. Alot of golf can be a detriment to your baseball swing. Am I off base with my teaching?

 

 

Coach

I can’t really agree with you to give the short answer.  I see athletics as all independent.  When I first started out baseball players did not lift weights, but now we know how to do it and the increased strength has not be gained at the loss of flexibility (that was the worry).

I don’t believe one skill takes away from another.  We have too many good and very good golfers with in baseball some of  them almost PGA caliber.

I understand what you are asking but I think it fallen in the categories of  “It sounds like a good idea” but in truth no factual basis.

Sorry to disagree but you and I are two coaches talking.

Coach Arnald Swift

Late Swing

Hello Coach, My question is what can we do about a hitter that is habitually late with her swing? It doesn”t seem to matter if the pitch is fast or slow!! Her mechanics and bat speed are great! She will be a sophomore at UW Whitewater this year. If she doesn’t correct this problem soon, I don’t think she will make the team this fall.
Thanks Tom Bigger

 

 

Tom

You’re concernes are well-founded, because if the situation is as you describe no matter what pitch speed or type that she is always behind and misses the ball or hits it to the right side I will almost guarantee that she’s thinking too much.

Here’s a few things that you might try and ask her to do which by the way she has to do you can’t do that for her.

1. While she is standing in the on deck circle she is to review several facts so she’s not in her mind before she ever gets into the box– what did this picture to me last time, what’s the situation I’m going to be faced with outs, runners, defensive position anything that could affect my time at bat she needs to have those answered within her mind before she ever gets into the box.

2. During practice she needs to be told to swing at and hit every pitch no matter what. What this is going to do is take away any thought process and you will be amazed many if not all the pages she puts the bat on.  I’ve even done this as a coach in a game but I’m going tell you right now her coach is not going to allow it during college game but she might pull it off in practice situations, scrimmages, doing our own.

3. Do this drill against the machine or against a real pitcher and that is what the bat down and watch the ball making a decision whether to swing or not mentally and never really doing anything if she could find the time and the ability to look at 10 to 15 pitches with no bat it will make a big difference in how she’s looking at pitches and in making the decision.

Because in a nutshell that’s the problem she’s thinking too much and therefore always late and always behind so we need to try to get as much of that out of the way before she gets into the box.

I hope some of this create some thought and even some help and best of luck let me know how it all works out.

Coach Arnald Swift