By Steve Kallas
Much has changed in the landscape of baseball bats for the 2011 season. If you are buying one of these bats, be very careful, especially if the bat is a BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bat. Rules have changed for this year and will change for the 2012 year as well. After telling us (incorrectly) for years that the BESR bats are virtually “the same” as wood (an absurd conclusion), the times, they are a changin’. Most important, BEWARE THE BAT SALES. Right now, every day in the Northeast, one can see commercials for baseball bats at half-price, etc. We will discuss those below.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DEFINITIONS/ABBREVIATIONS?
Some definitions: BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio): The BESR bat has long been a standard for bats, especially in Little League. For years, people like Rick Wolff of WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” radio show (Sunday mornings at 8 on WFAN) and this writer have pointed out at length the obvious differences between wooden bats (where all levels of baseball should return to) and the clear dangers of metal bats (just watch or pitch batting practice to a group of kids using both metal and wood bats – the difference is obvious). The BESR, a wholly inadequate standard (now recognized as such, however subtly, by virtually everyone), simply measures the exit speed of a ball off a bat.
BBCOR (Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution): This is the new standard in NCAA college baseball for 2011 and for high schools in 2012. Without being too technical, the BBCOR standard measures the “trampoline” effect of a ball off a bat. By virtually all accounts, the BBCOR bats are much “deader” than the BESR bats and are much closer to wood in terms of “pop” off the bat.
ABI (Accelerated Break-In): This is in response to the increased use, in recent years, of composite bats (composite bats are even better than aluminum bats, from a “pop” standpoint, as they have a woven graphite wall and actually get stronger as they are “broken in” (whether legally, with use, or illegally, with “bat-rolling” techniques)). A bat must stay within the ABI standard over time to be legal.
BPF (Bat Performance Factor): Still used by Little League’s “Majors” Division (13 and under), a non-wood bat must have a BPF of 1.15 or less (and will be labeled as such). It is a measurement that is supposed to show that a non-wood bat has similar qualities of “pop” (for lack of a better term) when compared with a wooden bat. In this writer’s opinion (and the opinion of many others), clearly the non-wood bat with a BPF of 1.15 has much more power and/or ability to swing it faster, etc. than a wood bat. It simply hits the ball harder with a much bigger sweet spot than the traditional wood bat.
Finally, when ”composite bats” are discussed, the term refers to composite-barreled bats, not bats with composite handles.
LITTLE LEAGUE BATS
A bit confusing, but go to Littleleague.org and ask either someone you trust and/or a knowledgeable Little League official BEFORE purchasing a bat. In the latter part of 2010, Little League placed a moratorium on composite bats. BUT, there is now a growing list of, to quote the website, “specific models of composite-barreled baseball bats [that] have received a waiver of the moratorium after a testing/approval process.”
While the “normal” (for lack of a better term) bats are still usable in Little League, the composite bat cannot be used unless Little League has granted that particular type of bat a waiver. Again, it is important to go to littleleague.org to see which bats are “usable.” Beware also, that Little League now has a number of caveats attached to their lists, including the most important (confusing?): “These lists do NOT depict all the bats that could be used in games and practices. Such lists would be impossible to compile.”
Little League does tell you that your bat should comply with Little League Rule 1.10 (for the Majors division, that means not more than 33 inches in length nor more than 2-1/4 inch diameter and a BPF of 1.15 or less) and NOT be a banned composite bat. In 2012, in all divisions of Little League above Majors (that is, Junior, Senior and Big League Baseball — ages 13 and over) will go to a BBCOR standard.
HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL
Inexplicably (or maybe to protect bat inventories in stores?), the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) has set forth rules where the BBCOR standard will not go into effect until 2012. There is at least one exception in California, where the BBCOR standard is in effect for the 2011 season. However, in 2011 in high school baseball, a composite bat can be used IF it already meets the tougher BBCOR standard that will become mandatory in 2012.
See the loophole here: In 2011, in high school baseball (other than in California), one can still use a bat with the much looser BESR standard (under NFHS 2011 Baseball Rule Changes at page 2: “Through December 31, 2011, each aluminum bat shall meet the Ball Exit-Speed Ratio (BESR) performance standard.”)
Uh-oh. That means, in this writer’s opinion, that high school baseball in 2011 (everywhere but in California) will be more dangerous than it will be in 2012.
Why wait to make the obvious change?
Be sure to check www.nfhs.org if you (or, if you are the parent, your child) are playing high school baseball this season.
NCAA COLLEGE BASEBALL
The BBCOR rules are in effect for 2011 for any college baseball division that is under the auspices of the NCAA or follows NCAA rules in general. That means that any bat, even a composite bat, that meets the BBCOR standard, can be used in NCAA baseball in 2011. There is also an ABI (Accelerated Break-In) standard that must be met (again, in the past, people have been “rolling” composite bats as such bats get better with use) in order to be a legal bat in 2011. To find out more information, google “NCAA Baseball Bat Standards.” This also means that power numbers will be down in the college game in 2011.
BEWARE THE BAT “SALES”
As noted at the beginning of this article, be very careful in buying a bat this year, especially for high school players. The “sales” you are seeing are, most often, FOR BATS THAT YOUR CHILD MAY NOT BE ABLE TO USE IN 2012. For example, if you buy a BESR bat in 2011 (and, in the northeast, the top-of-the-line of those bats can go for up to $350 or $400), YOUR CHILD CANNOT USE THAT BAT IN HIGH SCHOOL IN 2012.
Proceed with caution.
CHECK YOUR LOCAL LEAGUE’S WEBSITE
Obviously, the above does not cover everything. Travel teams in the summer, often now a much higher level of baseball than high school or Little League (and where serious players will often play with wood bats), go from league to league and tournament to tournament with different rules on virtually a weekly basis.
There are obviously many other leagues. While it appears that American Legion ball has placed a moratorium on composite bats for 2011, BESR bats are still allowed in 2011 and the BBCOR standard will be in effect in 2012 (see www.legion.org). In Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken, it appears that there will be no composite bats allowed in the older divisions (13-15 and 16-18) but in the younger Cal Ripken divisions, composite bats will be allowed in 2011. Other leagues (like Pony Baseball and Dixie Youth Baseball) will not ban composites for the 2011 season.
Softball is beyond the scope of this article but, for example, Little League has not banned composite bats in their softball division. Again, check your local league or state high school federation’s website for more information.
You have to be proactive when buying a baseball bat this year for virtually any baseball player. Speak to a knowledgeable league official but, more important, check the website of your local league or high school federation. Remember, if you buy an expensive BESR bat this season, that bat may be banned next season. If you take advantage of those “sales,” it’s probably a one-year deal.
The rules are pretty confusing. But it’s up to you, the parent (as usual), to do what’s best for your child.