Flat Seam Baseballs Travel Greater Distance

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

The results are in with NCAA testing on flat seam vs. raised seam NCAA certified baseballs.

After several months of testing at the NCAA Bat Certification lab at Washington State University, the Sept. 30 results show that the flat seam ball will travel further than a raised seam ball due to the “drag effect.” The greater the distance a ball travels, the greater the drag effect.

The test was conducted with an average ball exit speed from a machine at 95 mph with a spin rate of 1,400 RPM and a launch angle of 25 degrees. These parameters were set because they replicate the settings of a typical home run or a hit that could become a home run.

The average distance the raised seam ball traveled was 367 feet while the average distance the flat seam ball traveled was 387 feet — 20 feet further.

Research was not able to give a difference between a raised seam vs. flat seam ball at a specific distance such as 320 feet, 350 feet and 400 feet. However, researchers believe this study is a good representation of what you will get with a raised seam vs. flat seam batted ball.

The results of the testing were sent to NCAA Division I head baseball coaches by American Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director Dave Keilitz, and head coaches will now vote on whether they prefer a raised seam NCAA approved ball or the flat seam ball for NCAA tournament use.

If in the future complications involved with changing to a higher performance standard (COR) for the college ball can be resolved, Keilitz wanted to know if coaches would prefer to keep the present college ball standard of a .555 COR or if it should be increased to the pro maximum standard of .578.

Keilitz will submit the results of this survey to the NCAA Baseball Committee by Oct. 21 for their Nov. 4 meeting.

“I believe a decision on the ball will be made on Nov. 4,” said Keilitz in his letter to NCAA Division I coaches.

“If a change is to be made, it would not be for this year, but probably the 2014-2015 school year. So teams would have use of the new ball for fall practice. If we were to change from a raised seam ball (now required by the NCAA for tournament play) to a flat seam ball, the process is fairly simple. First of all, the change doesn’t have to go through the NCAA Rules Committee, which represents all three divisions — I, II and III, because it isn’t a ball rule change.

“The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee can declare that the flat seam ball will be used for tournament play, and it’s done. Secondly, safety is not a factor because the ball comes off the bat at the same speed whether it is a raised seam ball or a flat seam ball (the drag effect does not take effect until the ball travels a good distance). Third, all the major ball companies (Diamond, Wilson, Rawlings) can easily produce a flat seam ball at no extra cost to the schools.”

For years, NCAA Division I schools have used the raised seam baseball in practices and games since it is the ball being used in post-season NCAA tournament games.

No testing was done at Washington State on the minor league specification flat seam baseball since neither the NCAA Rules Committee nor the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee has any interest in using it for tournament games at this time with the higher maximum .578 COR performance level.

According to Keilitz, previous testing showed significant differences in the distances balls travel that are approved for college and pro baseball.

“Previous research has shown that a minor league flat seam ball with a maximum COR of .578 hit 300 feet would go 20-25 feet further than a college (raised seam) ball with a maximum COR of .555,” said Keilitz.

That would translate to 26.6 to 33.3 feet further on a ball hit 400 feet with the minor league baseball.

Keilitz said that the cost per dozen for the minor league ball would run more than the college ball. The major league ball would be cost prohibitive to most schools at a cost of over $100 per dozen.

Lower Offensive Numbers
Since BBCOR specification bats have been required since the 2011 season, offensive numbers have plummeted in college baseball.

The poster child for lack of offense took place at the recent College World Series as only three home runs were hit in 14 games. It marked the lowest home run total since 1966 — some 47 years ago when only two home runs were hit in 15 games. The total number of runs scored in the 2013 College World Series was 86 — the lowest total since 98 runs during the 1973 CWS which was the last year before aluminum bats and the designated hitter.

Over 14 games last June at the CWS, the batting average for teams was an anemic .237.

From an all-time high of 62 homers at the 1998 College World Series, the numbers have sunk lower and lower with 9 in 2011, 10 in 2012 and 3 in 2013. Numbers the last three years have closely mirrored the wood bat era in college baseball which took place up to the 1973 season.

Many coaches in college baseball don’t want to go back to the wild scoring games prior to BBCOR bats which featured numerous home runs and lengthy ball games. But a vocal core of coaches feel that a slight adjustment is in order that could pump offense into the game. The flat seam college baseball with a maximum COR of .555 might be the answer.

Keilitz said that in a survey sent to NCAA Division I coaches in October of 2012, a slight majority (55 percent) preferred a flat seam ball. The survey also showed that a slight majority of coaches (53 percent) did not want to change the present ball COR standard.

“There are a number of different styles that coaches favor in playing baseball,” said Keilitz.

“Some coaches enjoy having teams which feature great pitching and defense while they manufacture runs. Other coaches like the 3-run homer. I know that coaches take this into consideration when voting for things like this.

“My guess is that John Savage of UCLA probably likes the game the way it is since his teams are built on pitching and defense. When you look at the teams Skip Bertman previously built at LSU, the bats were more lively, and he took advantage of that as he loaded his lineup with nine guys who could hit home runs. He was smart doing this as they won several national titles with this strategy.

“The beauty of baseball involves the different ways you can play it. So it will be interesting to see what the vote will be by our coaches.”

Great For Pro Baseball
Derek Johnson, Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs and a highly successful pitching coach for 11 seasons at Vanderbilt, feels a change in balls will be great for pitchers going into pro baseball.

“If pitchers use the flat seam ball in college, there will be no adjustment period at all to the professional baseball (which also is a flat seam baseball),” said Johnson.

“When college pitchers come into pro ball now, there is an adjustment phase getting used to the flat seam ball when it comes to curves since pitchers have been throwing with the high seam baseball for years. It’s a bit different throwing the flat seam ball, but eventually pitchers adjust.”

Johnson believes there will be fewer blisters with pitchers when they transition into pro ball if the flat seam ball is used since pitchers won’t try to grip the seams tighter.