New base­ball used by col­leges helps re­vive of­fen­sive out­put

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Chris Foster

‘We’re see­ing hit­ters get­ting re­warded for get­ting the bar­rel of the bat on the ball. I think we got it right this time.’ — John Sav­age, UCLA coach

Hut­ton Moyer, one of Pep­per­dine’s top hit­ters, learned things would be eas­ier at the plate this sea­son in the sec­ond game.

The Waves were fac­ing Tu­lane at home, where the on­shore gusts are fa­mous for tak­ing the “f ly” out of f ly balls. In the third in­ning, Moyer con­nected.

“It was a first-pitch slider and I got it,” said Moyer, a ju­nior. “I thought, ‘That’s a dou­ble off the wall.’ Then it kept go­ing and go­ing and went out. I went, ‘Wel­come to the new year and the new ball.’ ”

Moyer had no home runs in 2014. He has hit 14 this sea­son. Hav­ing an­other sea­son of ex­pe­ri­ence helped con­sid­er­ably, as did bulk­ing up by 15 pounds. But Moyer ad­mits that “three or four” of his home runs were aided by the base­ball that was in­tro­duced at the col­lege level this sea­son.

The change re­sulted

from an over­com­pen­sa­tion af­ter the NCAA en­acted rules to tame alu­minum bats for safety rea­sons in 2011. The drop in of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion brought howls from coaches whose teams tra­di­tion­ally bat­tered pitch­ers.

The re­sult was a new base­ball, one with f lat­ter seams and a slightly harder core, sim­i­lar to what is used in pro­fes­sional base­ball. It in­creased of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion this sea­son, but did not bring a re­turn of the num­bers cre­ated by loaded alu­minum bats.

“I think the bal­ance is pretty good right now,” UCLA Coach John Sav­age said. “I think it is where we want it. We’re see­ing bet­ter pitch­ers and bet­ter pitch­ing staffs that are per­form­ing at a high level. We’re see­ing hit­ters get­ting re­warded for get­ting the bar­rel of the bat on the ball. I think we got it right this time.”

The fi­nal testing ground will be TD Amer­i­trade Park in Omaha, which has re­placed Rosen­blatt Sta­dium for the Col­lege World Se­ries. TD Amer­i­trade Park’s di­men­sions were touted as be­ing the same, but it faces the op­po­site di­rec­tion, where the wind works against bat­ters in­stead of aid­ing them.

“Right now, the sam­ple size is small, about 50 games” per team in the regular sea­son, said Sav­age. “It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how it plays out in the re­gion­als, su­per re­gion­als and Col­lege World Se­ries.”

UCLA brought home the 2013 na­tional cham­pi­onship with pitch­ing and de­fense. There were three home runs hit dur­ing the Col­lege World Se­ries that year.

A year ago, Van­der­bilt won the ti­tle and, again, there were only three home runs. The .233 col­lec­tive bat­ting av­er­age was the low­est in the se­ries since 1974, when alu­minum bats were in­tro­duced.

An av­er­age of 33 home runs were hit dur­ing the CWS the last 10 sea­sons it was played in Rosen­blatt Sta­dium.

There were coaches who were not go­ing to stand for the power out­age.

Rice’s Wayne Gra­ham fired off a let­ter to a num­ber of na­tional col­lege base­ball writ­ers af­ter UCLA’s ti­tle, say­ing, “The col­lege game is of­fi­cially out of bal­ance.” He pro­posed a new ball. In an Amer­i­can Coaches Assn. sur­vey in the fall of in 2013, 87% said that a change to a f lat-seamed ball was needed.

“I sort of felt that we were all play­ing with the same ball, so let’s just go play,” UC Irvine Coach Mike Gille­spie said. “How­ever, the statis- tics were hard to deny.”

The har­mony is ev­i­dent, Gille­spie said.

“There is less grum­bling,” Gille­spie said. “Peo­ple are prob­a­bly more at peace.”

The seams on the new ball make it more dif­fi­cult to com­mand break­ing pitches. The tighter core can in- crease the dis­tance when the ball is hit.

But, Gille­spie said, “as I watch ev­ery game, my take is not ‘Oh man, that’s a su­per ball.’ Not yet. It is abun­dantly clear that there must be 20 more feet on a driven ball.”

The num­bers back that up.

There were 2,527 more home runs hit dur­ing the 2015 regular sea­son than in 2014, up 28%. The At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence went from 326 home runs in 2013 to 530 this sea­son. Only four of the 31 Di­vi­sion I con­fer­ences hit fewer home runs in 2014.

“Es­sen­tially, if you get it up in the air and hit it well enough, it will get out,” Pep­per­dine’s Moyer said. “At Pep­per­dine, it’s hard to hit it out with the way the wind blows. I’ve seen ones hit this year where I went, ‘That’s an out.’ Then it ends up go­ing over the wall.”

Pitch­ing staffs, though, are not be­ing clob­bered.

UCLA’s regular-sea­son earned-run av­er­age of 2.16 was sig­nif­i­cantly lower than its 2.55 in 2013, when pitch­ing took the Bru­ins to the ti­tle. James Ka­prielian, this sea­son’s ace, got a taste of the lower-seam ball while play­ing for Team USA last sum­mer.

“It al­lows you to keep all your pitch­ers tighter and the breaks are sharper,” Ka­prielian said. “Ob­vi­ously, if you leave a ball up, it is go­ing to f ly a lit­tle more. Guys who have a tight, hard break­ing ball haven’t had a prob­lem. Guys who don’t have had a harder ad­just­ment.”

The fi­nal exam will come at the Col­lege World Se­ries.

“This has prob­a­bly ac­com­plished what it was in­tended to ac­com­plish,” Gille­spie said. “The proof will be in Omaha.”

Shot­gun Spratling Los An­ge­les Times

HUT­TON MOYER of Pep­per­dine cred­its the switch in base­balls as hav­ing helped in some of his homers.

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