Collin Braithwaite knew the frustration was inevitable, so he wanted to get it over with early.
In June 2010, the National Federation of State High School Associations banned the use of composite bats that exceed a certain performance standard. It goes into effect in Arizona next spring.
There is a widespread belief that next year’s bats, which must now adhere to new guidelines that restrict “trampoline effect” of the ball shooting off the bat, will drastically drive down offensive numbers.
So instead of waiting until the regular season to test out the new model, Braithwaite went out and picked one up for summer ball.
And, yes, the rumors are true.
“The biggest thing is the sound,” said the Perry catcher. “It’s almost pathetic.”
Braithwaite said the sweet spot on the bat is smaller, and that cheap home runs are a thing of the past. Even though line drives are still common, it takes a very good swing to hit the ball over the fence.
“I had a couple that I thought were close to homers, but they were just (routine) outs” with the new bat, Braithwaite said.
If the results from college baseball and preliminary summer ball findings are any indication, it’s going to be a whole new ballgame next year for Arizona’s baseball players.
The composite bat ban went into effect on the collegiate level prior to this season, and the results were noticeable. By midseason, runs per game in the NCAA were down from 6.98 in 2010 to 5.63 in 2011. Team earned run averages dropped from 5.83 to 4.62, batting average went down by 22 percentage points and home runs dropped from 0.85 to 0.47 per game.
At the Arizona high school level, Mountain Pointe catcher Kevin Cron finished up the most prodigious power career in state history this May. He blasted 60 round-trippers over three years, including a single-season record 27 as a senior.
Teammate Joey Curletta wasn’t far behind with 21 last season as a junior, but taking aim at Cron’s single-season record looks like it will be much harder next season with the bat restrictions.
“Before you could miss balls and they would still go out,” said Curletta, who estimated that two of his round-trippers last year were of the “cheap” variety.
“I don’t know, we’ll just have to see what happens. I won’t be frustrated if I don’t hit as many. I’m just going to hit the ball hard and help my team.”
Curletta had the chance to use the new bats at a baseball camp this summer. He actually enjoyed the experience, as it showed what he could do with bats more similar to those used in the professional ranks.
“It’s more like wood,” Curletta said. “Scouts like to see you use it. It’ll help hitters get better.”
The bat restrictions could alter coaching strategies next season.
With runs at more of a premium, sacrifice bunts and stolen bases may increase.
Local coaches are already talking to their pitchers about how to take advantage of the change. In college baseball, walks were down as pitchers were more willing to challenge the batters, and it’s something that could carry over to the prep season.
“That was one of the first things we (talked about),” Perry coach Shane Hillstrom said. “Two weeks before the summer I told our guys, ‘I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news. Hitters: Your job is tougher. Pitchers: Get the ball in the strike zone and make guys hit it.’”
Braithwaite and Curletta both said the bat switch will not change their approach. Trying to make up for the lack of power can exacerbate the problem.
There doesn’t seem to be a way around it: Offensive numbers seem destined to drop next season.
“The bats have been minimized,” Skyline coach Mike Johnson said. “We had 65 home runs in a two-year period, and we’re going to have quite a few less, I’m sure. The ball is just not flying like it was.”