BBCOR: Relation or coincidence?
|Rowan saw its homer numbers
drop precipitously last season, but the Profs still put runs on the
Rowan athletics photo
We’re two weeks into March and the D-III landscape is starting to take its early shape. By this time next week all but four teams will have played a game, and nonconference contests are serving to separate teams for the upcoming regional rankings.
Pitching has separated most top 10 teams from the others in the early going. The cumulative earned run average for this week’s top 10 teams is 2.70. Top 10 teams have combined to allow six or more runs in just 19 percent of their games. This week’s 10 are 13-8 when allowing six or more runs, and three teams account for a 3-7 mark toward that record.
The game has always operated on premises that are two sides of the same coin. A team has to outscore the other to win; a team has to better limit the other to win. Both work as long as one team scores a run, but if it hadn’t been already, the latter seems to be the preferred approach among the division’s elite this season. Top 10 teams have held opponents to two or fewer runs in 49 percent of their wins and shut out opponents in 14 percent of their victories.
The BBCOR series continues after the weekly features.
My top 5 games of the week (March 14-20):
March 15: No. 6 Rowan vs. No. 7 Piedmont RU scoring 10.8 rpg, PC has 2.88 ERA.
March 17: No. 1 Marietta vs. No. 7 Piedmont Rubber game could sway fence-sitters.
March 17: No. 12 Adrian vs. No. 19 Thomas More Combining to hit .365, scoring 11.1 rpg.
March 18: No. 5 UW-Stevens Point vs. No. 23 St. Thomas Another prime WIAC-MIAC showcase.
March 18: Concordia Chicago vs. Illinois Wesleyan First of four between two that should be among 25.
My top 10 ballot (D3baseball.com rank):
Stats, musings and folly valid through Sunday, the poll’s cutoff
1 (1). Marietta – Early blemish, but no team is going undefeated.
2 (3). Trinity (Texas) – Clear West pace car, 15-1 in-region.
3 (2). Kean – In-region wins over ECSU usually worth boost.
4 (7). Piedmont – Victims list includes Etta, CNU, Adrian [Thank you].
5 (4). Christopher Newport – 8-1 in last 9 games.
6 (17). Wheaton (Mass.) – Top-10 clubs can lose openers to Cortland.
7 (19). Thomas More – Won 5 straight after dropping opener.
8 (23). St. Thomas – So-so (4-2, 3.7 rpg) against good Midwest teams.
9 (21). Misericordia – Shouldn’t be a surprise; Cougars earned it.
10 (5). UW-Stevens Point – Many challenges await in Florida.
Rest of my ballot: Rowan, Adrian, Keystone, Illinois Wesleyan, Linfield, St. John Fisher, Cortland, Aurora, Eastern Connecticut, Concordia Chicago, Mount Union, Bridgewater (Va.), Coe, Western New England, Concordia (Texas).
Last Team Standing (3+ wins through 3/13): Rowan (10-0), Ramapo (5-0), Bowdoin (4-0), Plymouth State (4-0), William Paterson (4-0), MacMurray (3-0), UMass Boston (3-0).
Last Team Sitting (3+ losses through 3/13): Caltech (0-18), Rust (0-13), CCNY (0-12), Rockford (0-9), SUNYIT (0-9), Yeshiva (0-9), MSOE (0-8), Martin Luther (0-8), Medaille (0-8), Penn State Berks (0-7), Fitchburg State (0-6), Philadelphia Biblical (0-6), Presentation (0-6), Utica (0-6), Gordon (0-5), Lasell (0-5), Albertus Magnus (0-4), Castleton (0-4), Minnesota Morris (0-4), St. Olaf (0-4), Worcester State (0-4), Bethany (0-3), D’Youville (0-3), Lyndon (0-3), Norwich (0-3), Vassar (0-3).
Keystone first baseman Yazy Arbelo, Single-A South Bend Silver Hawks (Diamondbacks): Arbelo was selected in the 26th round of the 2010 draft after playing one season at Keystone. After not signing with the Philadelphia Phillies after they selected him in the 43rd round out of high school, Arbelo transferred from Seminole Community College to Keystone after his sophomore year. Arbelo hit 15 home runs to help lead his team to regionals in his only season at Keystone.
Arbelo finished second in all of Single-A with 31 home runs and was third with 95 runs batted in, in 2011. He was a starting first baseman at the Midwest League all-star game and was named the league’s Hitter of the Week in May. Besides home runs and runs batted in, Arbelo was among the Midwest League’s top six in total bases, slugging percentage and walks. He was also named a postseason all-star and won a Hitter of the Week award at the Single-A Short Season level in 2010. In his two-year pro career, Arbelo has a .268 batting average, 45 HR, 44 doubles, and 150 RBI in 202 games.
Part III of the four-part Around the Nation treatise on the effects of the BBCOR bat standard details the statistical results from the Central, New England, Mid-Atlantic and New York regions.
Around the Nation researched the statistical effects of the BBCOR standard bats for 77 teams from eight conferences. One conference from each of the eight regions was selected to form a blend of traditionally high- and low-scoring conferences. To measure the effects of the BBCOR standard bats that the NCAA mandated for play in 2011, three-year per game averages (2008-10) in home runs, runs and hits were compared to 2011 per-game averages. Twenty D-III head coaches from around the country responded to inquiries, and their comments, opinions and experiences will help interpret the research. The coaches’ input volume will differ from conference to conference due to varied levels of response to Around the Nation’s inquiries.
Central Region: College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) declines in home runs, hits and runs per game were about on par with Around the Nation’s eight-conference sample. Team runs per game were down about one per game, and hits per game were down roughly 0.9 per team. CCIW home runs were also down but only by about 27 percent, which was much better than most conferences.
|CCIW homers||2008||2009||2010||3-year avg||2011||2011 avg.||+/-|
|Total (8 teams)||257||231||233||.736||177||.540||-.196|
|North Central (Ill.)||21||20||27||.586||21||.539||-.048|
Each CCIW team saw its home runs reduced in relation to three-year averages, but most declines were on the mild side. North Central (Ill.) was down about 8 percent, Wheaton (Ill.) was down just over 6 percent and North Park was down just 1 percent from its per game average from 2008-10. Millikin, down 71 percent, was the only CCIW team to see a decline in home runs of more than 50 percent from its three-year average. In short the CCIW continued its tradition as a hitter-friendly conference, even for home run hitters under the BBCOR standard. The eight CCIW teams combined to hit 177 home runs in 2011. Three teams hit more than 30 homers, and just one team launched fewer than 14.
Elmhurst head coach Joel Southern’s 2011 team actually increased hits and runs per game over the program’s three-year averages. To Southern, it was business as usual for his Bluejays.
“We lost a lot of offense from our 2010 team, had a number of injuries last year and we still averaged more runs per game in 2011 than in 2010,” says Southern, whose team averaged better than 10 hits and seven runs per game in 2011. “We had some returning players have better years in 2011, but we had just as many who were not as good as they were in 2010.”
Elmhurst’s success with the BBCOR bats was the CCIW anomaly. No other conference team had an increase in hits or runs per game over their three-year averages in 2011. And even Elmhurst’s overall numbers come with a caveat that’s in line with the offensive decreases that occurred across the nation in 2011.
“There are probably a number of factors there,” Southern says. “We had some high-scoring games on our spring break in Arizona. We came back from there hitting .359. We only hit .274 and averaged 5.7 runs per game in our conference. Our batting average went down by six points, but our slugging was down 29 and our on-base was down seven points from 2010, so there was a decrease in our production.”
Illinois Wesleyan coach Dennis Martel saw the effects of the new bats when one of his starting infielders had his home runs cut in half. The player mustered three homers last year, but Martel says all three were routine fly balls over the short right field fence at North Park, which may be one of the shortest in college baseball. However, the new bats didn’t seem to hinder Martel’s All-America first baseman, Kevin Callahan, who finished third in the nation in home runs last season.
“My big first baseman had 15 home runs this past year,” Martel says. “He can still hit them with the BBCOR bats. He is a big strong kid that has the power and ability.”
Wheaton (Ill.), Augustana and Millikin were all down more than one hit per game, but that just means that six of the eight CCIW teams averaged 10+ hits per game in 2011 instead of 11+ hits per game. With 9.9 hits per game, North Central (Ill.) just missed making it seven CCIW teams that averaged double-digit hits last season. CCIW perennial contender Carthage still managed to average better than 11 hits per game with the BBCOR bats, so CCIW offenses merely went from the mesosphere to the stratosphere.
CCIW team runs per game mirrored hits per game in that the merry-go-round slowed a bit. Teams went from averaging 7.7 runs per game to 6.7. Every team but Millikin scored well over six runs per game in 2011, and Carthage, Wheaton (Ill.), Augustana, North Park and Elmhurst all averaged better than seven runs per contest. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t severe scoring declines in the CCIW. Millikin was one of 15 teams in Around the Nation’s 77-team national sample to have runs slashed by more than two per game from its three-year average. Carthage, Wheaton (Ill.), Augustana and North Central (Ill.) were all down well over one run per game from their three-year averages in 2011. Despite the declines the CCIW remained one of the best offensive conferences in Around the Nation’s research sample.
New England Region: Little East Conference (LEC) offensive statistics barely wavered last season. LEC fans, players and coaches must wonder what all the fuss was about with the BBCOR bats. Some of Around the Nation’s research conferences suffered steep offensive drops, but LEC teams still hit 206 home runs and averaged nearly 11 hits per game in 2011. The conference did see declines in home runs, hits and runs per game last year but the LEC saw the slightest dips among the eight conferences in the sample.
|LEC homers||2008||2009||2010||3-year avg||2011||2011 avg.||+/-|
|Total (8 teams)||239||270||249||.757||206||.640||-.117|
LEC home runs were down by about 15 percent in 2011 from the three-year average. Eastern Connecticut State (down 47 percent) and Keene State (down 37 percent) bore the brunt of the decline as they were the only LEC teams to see a drop of more than 30 percent from their three-year averages. Then again those two teams still hit 27 and 26 home runs respectively in 2011. Each LEC team hit 14 or more home runs last season and six of the eight LEC clubs hit at least 25. Only five LEC teams hit 20 or more home runs in both 2008 and 2009, so the power was very much present in the conference last season. UMass Boston and Western Connecticut State actually increased home runs per game over their three-year averages. Six of the 77 teams in the Around the Nation research sample accomplished that feat.
UMass Boston increased its homer output by a scant 1 percent, but Western Connecticut State not only increased home runs per game by 37 percent over its three-year average, the Colonials also went from 9.9 hits per game from 2008-10 to 11.4 last year and increased scoring from a three-year average of 6.8 runs per game to 8.3 per with the new bats. Western Connecticut State was far and away the most improved team in the 77-team national sample and one of three teams in the sample to increase homers, hits and runs per game over its three-year average. Western Connecticut State head coach John Susi talked about the bats – how great his were.
“We were up all across the board last year,” Susi says. “Best in my 12 years here.
“We used Marucci bats, and the talk was they were as good as it gets. Staying with what works this year. We also had a very talented hitting lineup, one that came back in its entirety this year.”
No other LEC squad besides Western Connecticut State improved their hits per game, but none of them were far off their 2008-10 paces either. Eastern Connecticut State (down 0.88 hits per game) and Keene State (down 0.72 hits per game) were the only LEC teams to decline by more than a half of a hit per game from their three-year averages with the BBCOR standard bats, but much like their drop-offs in home runs, they weren’t exactly struggling in the hits department. Eastern Connecticut State finished third in the nation in hits and Keene State ranked 17th. As a whole LEC hits were down a mere 0.18 per game from the 2008-10 average, matching Plymouth State’s mild decline. Plymouth State head coach Dennis McManus says his team’s relative success last season is easy to explain.
“As far as our school's numbers are concerned,” McManus states matter-of-factly, “they weren't very good to begin with the last few years. I think last season being on par with the two previous years was our ability to adjust to a ‘wooden bat type swing’ and the fact that we did have some new players who were more productive than we expected.”
If there was a noticeable decline in the LEC with the BBCOR bats it was in scoring, but that’s akin to ruing the depreciation on an Aston Martin car. Western Connecticut State was the only team in the conference to improve its scoring over three-year averages, and runs per game for three LEC teams – Eastern Connecticut State, UMass Boston and Keene State – were off by well over one run per game from their three-year standards. Keene State’s decline was from 9.3 to 7.4 runs per game, but Eastern Connecticut State still ranked 19th in the nation with an 8.3 scoring average last year, joining conference mates Southern Maine (13th) and Western Connecticut State (18th) and in the national scoring average top 20.
In a microcosm of the LEC offensive “declines” with the new bats, Southern Maine’s scoring fell by 0.7 runs per game from its three-year average but the Huskies still led the LEC and just missed the top 10 nationally in the category with 8.5 runs per game. Yes, the LEC felt the effects of the new bats to a certain extent. Yes, the LEC is still one of the premier offensive conferences no matter which bat standard the NCAA choses to use.
Mid-Atlantic Region: New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) offensive numbers regressed more than most in Year One of the BBCOR bats. Each NJAC team saw reduced home runs, hits and runs per game in relation to their three-year averages. NJAC team home runs were down 51 percent per game from their 2008-10 level while scoring was down 19 percent and hits per game were down 12 percent. The NJAC was a peer to the Little East Conference in most offensive categories in recent years, but the LEC maintained while the NJAC declined.
|NJAC homers||2008||2009||2010||3-year avg||2011||2011 avg.||+/-|
|Total (10 teams)||226||250||216||.556||112||.273||-.283|
|College of New Jersey||26||29||13||.523||10||.270||-.253|
|New Jersey City||21||23||17||.521||12||.316||-.206|
The NJAC hit a combined 112 home runs in 2011 after hitting well over 200 per season from 2008-10. Rutgers-Camden had been the only NJAC team to hit fewer than 13 home runs every year from 2008-10, but six of the 10 NJAC squads failed to hit more than a dozen with the new bats. Several NJAC per-game home run decreases from three-year averages were substantial – Richard Stockton (down 92 percent), Rutgers-Camden (down 77 percent), Rowan (down 76 percent) and William Paterson (down 65 percent). The new bats didn’t affect Kean as much as others in the NJAC. The Cougars hit 28 homers – one-quarter of the NJAC total – and was down a manageable 7 percent.
From 2008-10 NJAC teams averaged 11.2 hits per game, but that number fell to 9.8 last season. The Around the Nation sample of eight conferences averaged 9.5 hits per game, so it’s not like NJAC pitchers had their way in 2011. Four NJAC programs kept their decreases in hits per game to less than one, but Montclair State and Richard Stockton joined five other teams in the research of 77 teams nationwide to be off by more than two hits per game from their three-year averages.
The NJAC’s wood-bat-like offensive numbers last season reminded Montclair State head coach Norm Schoenig of when the conference used just that – wood.
“In 1999, our entire conference, as well as those who opposed us on a given day, used 'wooden bats,' and I'm sure today's averages are no less than what was experienced during that particular year,” Schoenig says. “At that time, our league had much better players overall; today we have a much greater depth in pitching and what leaves the bullpen after the first pitch is thrown.”
NJAC scoring took a nosedive with the BBCOR bats. Conference teams averaged 7.5 runs per game from 2008-10 but just 6.1 per game in 2011. Rutgers-Camden, The College of New Jersey and Ramapo were the only NJAC programs to prevent scoring dips of more than one run per game from their three-year averages. Montclair State and William Paterson were down more than two runs per game, and Richard Stockton was down more than three per contest. Eight of the 10 NJAC teams averaged more than seven runs per game from 2008-10. No NJAC team scored at least seven runs per game with the BBCOR bats.
Kean lost more than 1.3 hits and runs per game from its three-year averages, but the perennial NJAC contender still ranked seventh in the country in hits and 14th in runs scored. Kean head coach Neil Ioviero says his team still found success with a 42-11 record because his Cougars have been playing a style conducive to the new bats for years while realizing there’s a newer, lowered ceiling for offensive production.
"In my opinion it comes down to your particular style of play,” Ioviero says. “If you look at the way we play, my main objective on the offensive side is 'How am I going to get runs when the pitcher is so good that he isn't going to allow us to get runs?' If you believe the game is set up where pitching is going to win and dominate, you can't get seven runs, eight runs, nine runs. It's just not going to happen.
“For me personally, we've been playing that style for a long, long time. So it's not that big of a deal to have the bat standards change. My creativity is still there with my coaches and the players that we're playing like that regardless. With that being said, some teams are set up to have two guys on and they're not going to bunt and just hit away because the bats are alive. That team has to do things differently now.”
New York Region: Liberty League (LL) teams are rarely seen among the top home run hitters, and 2011 was no different. Despite homers being suppressed even further, LL team offenses were down less than one hit and one run per game from their three-year averages. In the end the LL fared better than most in Around the Nation’s research of eight conferences, but the declines were noticeable with the BBCOR bats.
|LL homers||2008||2009||2010||3-year avg||2011||2011 avg.||+/-|
|Total (7 teams)||98||137||149||.467||69||.269||-.199|
|Univ. of Rochester||18||10||25||.424||11||.324||-.101|
“I think, absolutely, there was a decline in the offensive production this past year in the Liberty League due to the change in the bat specs,” says Skidmore head coach Ron Plourde, whose team bettered the conference’s average declines in home runs, hits and runs per game.
Rensselaer and Clarkson were the only LL teams to put up consistently high home run totals from 2008-10, and that didn’t change last season as they finished tied atop the conference with 18 homers apiece. But each LL team’s home run production declined from three-year levels, highlighted by RPI’s 47 percent per-game decrease. RPI averaged more than 40 dingers per season from 2008-10, but Red Hawks head coach Karl Steffen doesn’t lose sleep over his team’s dip in home runs.
“To be honest with you,” declares Steffen, whose team ranked 35th in the nation with a .324 batting average, “my team really didn't see that much of a difference in our offensive production in 2011.
“We have never been a team that has relied on the long ball.”
RPI was the sole LL team to average more than 10 hits per game with the new bats, but only two – Rochester and RPI – LL teams averaged that many from 2008-10 with the old bats. Union was close, averaging 9.9 hits per game in 2011, and the Dutchmen were one of 12 programs in Around the Nation’s 77-team sample to increase hits per game over their three-year average. On the other side, St. Lawrence and Rochester were down more than one hit per game from 2008-10 levels. Rochester equaled the LL average of 9.2 hits per game in 2011, and Yellowjackets head coach Joe Reina happily accepts that from his inexperienced offense.
“The new bat specs did affect us just like it did to many teams nationally,” Reina says. “But some of these numbers are a little skewed because we started as many as eight freshmen in the lineup as opposed to starting veteran college players. With that said I do think our numbers would have been down. But when you field a young team, with no experience with college pitching and new bats, the numbers would be even lower.”
Rochester’s scoring declined more than two runs from its three-year average, but the Yellowjackets still scored six runs per game last season. Likewise RPI, which saw a loss of more than one run per game from 2008-10 standards but led the LL with 6.9 runs per contest. Vassar and Clarkson were two of the 12 teams in the national sample to increase their scoring, albeit slightly, making the LL one of the steadiest run-scoring conferences in the research. The modest declines in the conference may have been the result of stylistic changes.
“In our conference games,” Reina says, “I did see an increase in the amount of ‘small ball’ play than in years past, and the scores were much closer – very few blowout wins/losses in our league and on our schedule.”
Next week: The BBCOR series concludes with a look toward the future.