How To Hit With New BBCOR Bats
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
(From March 11, 2011 Edition)
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The new BBCOR specification bats being utilized in college baseball today are a huge factor in game times being reduced as well as lower offensive production, according to Gary Ward, Hall of Fame assistant coach at New Mexico St.
Known as one of the best offensive minds in the history of college baseball, Ward was the head coach of Oklahoma St. for 19 years as his teams led all NCAA Division I teams in run production six times, including four consecutive years from 1985-1988.
He now coaches with his son Rocky, the head coach of the Aggies.
During those years with the Cowboys, his teams averaged 9.2 runs per game.
Ward said the new BBCOR specification bats are totally different than non-wood bats used in prior years.
 “We did a static ball test to the bats we first got last fall, and those DeMarini bats had balls come off barrels 5-7 mph slower than tests in previous years by players in our program,” said Ward. “There is a good, consistent testing procedure we utilize. So if you are putting that in real game terms, you are having 25 feet less of ball flight with good contact. And that held true during all of last fall.
“It makes you work with more precision. You must be a little more linear and more square. The sweet spot is reduced. I thought it was an extremely drastic change. But when the votes are there, the votes are there.
“Since the inception of the aluminum bat, it has been refined to a degree that you had a superior tool. That is one of the reasons I liked to work with engineer Jack McKay. I wanted to know what was going on with the technology of these bats. I would go to his shop in Mt. Pleasant, Tex., and we would have six or seven radar guns set up in a test station and use different bats and cut some of them apart and look at them.
“A lot of things were refined over the years, including the end plug, sting stop and many other things. I thought engineers were doing a pretty good job with the technology. The composite bats utilized a couple of seasons ago created the change we now have in the game. Manufacturers made a bat knowing that the barrel material would break down and become hotter than when it was brand new. It was extraordinarily hot, and many teams had great success with it.
“Coaches understood that if they weren’t using the bat, then they were behind the curve. The new specification bats are kind of a knee jerk reaction to those hot composite bats. But with that being said, I personally don’t have any problem with the change.”
Wood Bat Hitting System
Ward said that smart coaches will integrate a wood bat hitting system into their program.
“It ultimately gives our program an edge with our hitting system from the standpoint that we have always taught a wood bat system.
“If you put it in simple terms, batters who swing wood bats must be more rotational in their lower body and more square or linear in their upper body in order to expose as much of the hitting surface to the pitch area for as long as you can.
“Aluminum bats taught hitters that you can be rotational upstairs and linear downstairs and load with your upper body and rotate that aluminum bat into the hitting area because the bat barrel had eight or nine inches of sweet spot. You didn’t have to square it up.
“You could indiscriminately hit the ball on the barrel. When Jack and I tested bats, we checked every two inch node on barrels, and there were about five nodes that could give you 97 percent of the power of the bat within a 10 inch range.
“As a result, you didn’t have to be precise. You merely needed to load up and be strong. And we saw an awful lot of opposite field home runs.
“Based on everything I saw last fall, it was very apparent that you can’t be a fly ball hitting ball team with the new (BBCOR) bats. There were an inordinate amount of balls hit to the warning track that probably would have been home runs with (non-wood) bats from 2010 and earlier.
“In our season-opening series with Houston Baptist, I would say there were four to five balls that would have left the park last year. The weekend before, we had an alumni game, and they used the other bats (utilized prior to 2011). All of those guys were pretty mature physically. We took batting practice, and they took BP. And it looked like men playing against boys.
“And it startled you. It was clear that the adjustment in the bat is really significant. I think you will see the pitcher throwing his fastball more. The fastball had virtually disappeared unless you were a high velocity guy or had natural movement. The last 25 years, pitchers have learned they had to throw the changeup and breaking ball and pitch backward. Throwing those pitches first would make their fastballs a better pitch.
“If you can recruit great arms at some of the elite programs around the country such as a Stanford, Texas or Arizona St., that is a huge advantage because they can throw their fastballs. But even the best we saw during my tenure at Oklahoma St., they still had to be pretty good with it.
“A lot of our big winners tended to be lefthanded guys who could finesse and change planes and change the rhythm of hitters. You routinely saw 10-8 games, and it was a game where a pitcher simply couldn’t go the distance because his pitch count got too high.
“Aluminum is a substance that is a little easier to fight pitches off with. And the other factor is when you reduce the exit speed of balls off bats, you also reduce the speed of balls that get through the infield. If you are reducing the ball 3-4 feet on an infield grounder, then that increases the range of every infielder.”
Healthier Game In Long Run
Ward said that the game of college baseball has re-gained some normalcy that will be healthy in the long run for everybody.
“Certainly under this situation as I see it unfold, it won’t hurt the aluminum bat companies who have been so gracious and so good to college baseball. I personally like where the game is going. Umpires might interpret the strike zone more literally rather than bring their own zone to every game in order to speed the game up.
“If the game keeps going on the path we have taken, the game times should be reduced which will make it more appealing to television people and fans. Basketball games take place in about two hours. When baseball games go on and on, it makes it less of a sellable entity with commercial markets.
“If I am a television network and schedule 2 ½ hours, and the game goes over four hours, I’m losing a bunch of revenue.
“We will all adjust just like we adjusted from wood to aluminum. But I think you will have to teach hitting much more. Almost every kid who comes to you in an NCAA Division I program comes from an aluminum system of hitting. They are used to swinging the pipe and getting results with less precision.
“And I think this new (BBCOR) tool is going to make all of us work harder. I wish we had more hours in the day to teach because it takes an awful lot of repetition and discipline and be relentless beyond belief in order to change a kid from an upper body rotator to a lower body leverage guy in order to get the bat square.
“During all those years I coached at Oklahoma St. and Yavapai Junior College, we used wood bats extensively during the fall for that purpose. Our intent was to prepare hitters professionally. I never wanted a hitter coming out of my system where some guy would say he didn’t know if he could hit with wood.
“There were very few who came out of our system who couldn’t hit with wood because they had been taught a wood bat system and had worked with wood up until January of every year. At that point, you take the aluminum tool and hopefully have wood bat tendencies in your mechanics.
“If you put it in scientific, precise thoughts, it would be one that says if wood is a little heavier, then I am a little later to the ball which means I must start a little earlier and means I get less visual information or travel time from the pitched ball. With aluminum in the past, you could swing it quicker and easier which resulted in more travel time for the bat barrel. Therefore, you would be later to commit the bat to the ball.
“I still feel you can swing the new (BBCOR) bat a little faster than the wood bat. I’m not sure how that variable will play into this.”
It was brought up to Ward that the time of games seems to be shorter so far in NCAA Division I games.
“Our recent Sunday game with Houston Baptist was well pitched with a liberal strike zone. It was a 1-1 game going into the sixth inning. Had we not scored six runs in the eighth to open the game up to 9-1, the game would have been played at about 2:20. The NCAA Rules Committee is looking for that. And in the long term, shorter games will help our sport.”  
Ward said the game with the current BBCOR standard bats is an interesting dynamic that has changed how teams approach offense.
“It will bring contests back to a situational game. There will be less power hitters. We have a few power hitters returning, but you don’t try to hide it from them that the power in the new bats will be less. You just have them pay attention to this. We don’t want them to be fly balls hitters because of the reduction in the power of the bat.
“But just watch. There will be another generation of these bats that will be refined and might gain a mile or two back as engineers understand the sweet spot better.”