Equipment keeping it in the parkFrank Kelly hits with a new BBCOR bat during batting practice inside the gym at Mount Carmel High School. | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.
Updated: March 9, 2012 7:57PM
Sam Kint obviously had a great sense of timing last spring.
That goes without saying for a guy who turned around enough fastballs to hit a school-record 12 home runs to go along with a .437 batting average and 55 RBI for Mount Carmel. And he did it just before the window of opportunity likely closed for prep baseball players to put up video game-worthy offensive numbers.
Kint, a senior first baseman, is back this year. But he and the rest of the state’s players will be playing a different game when the 2012 season gets underway on Monday.
To be more precise, they’ll be playing the same game with different equipment. The metal bats used by high school players for years have been replaced by so-called BBCOR bats, also made of metal but designed to behave like wood ones.
The new sticks have smaller sweet spots and no longer feature the trampoline effect, which occasionally put pitchers in peril from getting nailed by line drives back up the middle.
“The new bats are basically a dumbed-down version of wood,” Kint said.
College baseball used BBCOR bats last season, and offered a preview of what’s to come on the prep level. Sean Duncan, who covers prep baseball for the Sun-Times, crunched some numbers that show what we can expect. In NCAA Division I, home runs dropped 44.7 percent last year from 2010, scoring was down 20 percent and team batting averages fell 23 points.
Bad news for hitters equaled good news for pitchers: Division I earned run averages fell 22 percent. And interestingly, fielding got better: the overall D-I fielding percentage was an all-time high of .964.
Those numbers square with the anecdotal evidence Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry has been collecting from his former players now in the college ranks. And Hurry likes what he’s heard.
“I think it’s a great thing,” he said of the switch to BBCOR bats. “I’ve always been a proponent of more pure baseball. It’s more of the game I love. I’m one of the rare ones who enjoys a 2-1 game instead of a 12-9 game, even as a fan.”
That doesn’t mean the switch will be fun or easy for everyone.
“It’s been tough transitioning,” Kint said. “The game is just totally different. ... It’s all going to be small ball. ... The pitchers are going to love it.”
His teammate, senior Frank Kelly, certainly expects that to be the case. Kelly was good on the mound last year, with a 4-1 record and 1.79 ERA. This year, he could be even better, knowing that a good pitch probably won’t get dinked over the infield by a hitter who gets fooled but is saved by the pop of an aluminum bat.
“A lot of times that can get into a pitcher’s head and they can get frustrated,” Kelly said. “You’re actually going to get rewarded for a good pitch [now].”
As Kint said, teams are likely to spend more time working on the little things: bunting, baserunning, situational hitting. Hurry has added practice time for those skills and revamped his points system for evaluating hitters, putting more emphasis on getting bunts down successfully, among other things.
Though the offensive numbers will surely go down – .300 could be the new .400 – the high school game should be better for the changes. Hurry wasn’t alone in his dislike of the three-hour slugfests that were more a battle of attrition than an exhibition of good baseball.
Games will be shorter and will put a premium on strategy and execution. We’ll gladly take that, even if it means fewer long home runs to admire.