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It Continues To Be A Different Game

… consistent sweet spot hits are a player’s key to continuing to play

Coach JP’s Note:
This older article from renowned baseball mind, Coach Bill Thurston still tells the same story. The better player gets at consistently connecting with good pitches on the sweetest part of the bat barrel, the longer you might be playing this game. Scouts learned long ago not to be tricked by strong hitters who have success just by muscling hits. The pitchers get better & wood bats easily expose these hitters… regardless of the current aluminum bat specs.
Enjoy this deep dive article!

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Amherst College
November 1, 2001
(Part 5-the 2001 Season)

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.

 StatisticWith AluminumWith WoodDifference
IBatting Average.316.232Minus .084
IISlugging Percentage.470.305Minus .165
inHome Runs per at bat1/37.81/96Down .61%
TVRuns scored per at bat1/4.81/9.4Down .49%
VRBI per at bat1/5.31/10.7Down .51%
VIStrikeout Percentage15%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. 
PlayerUniversityAlum.WoodDifference
MalekMichigan St..427.263-.164
StaniskyNotre Dame.400.263-.137
HenryBall State.400.267-.133
  Slug %Slug % 
  AlumWoodDifference
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 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 Vs. 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

A.    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.)
v
s. Aluminum Bats

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

vs. Wood Bats

  1. 1997 2.63
  2. 1998 3.50
  3. 1999 3.18
  4. 2000 3.15
  5. 2001 2.25


Difference
-2.15       /, £Z
-2.10 V^’3 f*A

How About The Baseballs Being Used in This Study?

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 thought we would find 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.

Summary:
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).


How About Pitching Difference In College Vs. Cape Cod League?

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.      Pitchers 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.

ERAVs Aluminum BatVs Wood Bat  
 Number%Number%                
7.00 – Plus12%00%
6.00 – 6.9947%00%
5.00 – 5.991729%12%
4.00 – 4.991424%47%
3.00 – 3.991729%712%
2.00 – 2.9958%2135%
1.00-1.9912%2338%
0.00 – 0.9900%47%
 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 tests, 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 Exit Speed:
NOTE THAT THIS DATA HAS CHANGED BECAUSE BAT SPECS HAVE CHANGE SINCE THIS WRITING.
–JP

  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.
    • The balance point (MOD of an aluminum bat is closer to the handle allowing greater head of the bat speed, and better bat control.
    • 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 than 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 (milliseconds) 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 hit by a batted ball if the batter doesn’t hit the ball!
    1. The severity of injury. If a player is struck by a batted ball that has a 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 put 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 (Retired) Bill Thurston Amherst College 11/1/01


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