Will Flat Seam Baseball Change College Game?

Flat Seam vs High Seam BallFor the first time in 155 years of college baseball, teams will utilize the flat seam baseball during the spring season which is expected to infuse more offense into the game.

NCAA Division I, II and III championships will use the flat seam ball in 2015 which means teams in these divisions will use the ball throughout the regular season.

The NAIA championship will also use the flat seam ball in 2015 as schools use the ball during the season.

NJCAA Division I, II and III championships will use the flat seam ball beginning with the 2016 championship as junior colleges switch to these balls during the 2016 season.

Northwest junior colleges (Washington, Oregon, British Columbia) within the Pacific Association Division will use flat seam balls in 2015 while California junior colleges will wait until 2016 to utilize them.

Since BBCOR specification bats have been required with the 2011 season, offensive numbers have plummeted in college baseball.

The poster child for lack of offense took place at the 2013 and 2014 NCAA Division I College World Series.

Only three home runs were hit in 14 games in 2013 while only three were hit in 16 games last June. It marked the lowest home run total since 1966 when only two home runs were hit in 15 games.

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 the last two years.

Numbers the last three years have closely mirrored the wood bat era in college baseball which took place up to the 1973 season.

After several months of testing at the NCAA Bat Certification lab during the summer of 2013 at Washington State University, results showed 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.

The home run should be back in the game but not to the extent where it was several years ago before the BBCOR bat started being used.

Craig Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, said that he talked to about 50 coaches during the fall who have utilized the flat seam baseball during practices and games.

“The majority of those coaches said they saw a difference in the carry compared to the raised seam ball that has been used in college baseball for many years,” said Keilitz.

“I am excited to see how the ball performs during the 2015 season with schools that use it and how the numbers wind up, especially home runs.

“I would personally like to see more home runs in college baseball. But we don’t need to go back to the extreme number of home runs we had before.

“It appears this ball will allow for possibly better home run production than the last few years. But we have to wait and see.”

Cold Weather Concerns
Dan Blewett, a former college player who now is the owner of War Bird Training Academy in Normal, Ill., feels a big problem may take place with cold weather early in the season with the flat seam ball for pitchers.

“Going to school in Baltimore, this was a ‘southern’ trip for us – one that would escape the frostbitten northern air,” said Blewett.

“We lost the first game of my college career 2-1, a 14-inning affair that lasted almost five hours amid snow flurries and chattering teeth.

“It was classic February college baseball – cold and windy.

“Hundreds of schools tolerate this weather for more than half of their spring season, but it will quickly become less tolerable as they transition to flat seam baseballs. These games were playable as long as the field was dry and free of snow.

“What most don’t realize is that these games were made playable in large part because of high-seam baseballs, which will be a thing of the past in 2015.

“Most casual onlookers don’t see the big deal – grab the baseball and throw it, right? Not so fast.

“The issue of foreign substance use will become rampant in college baseball as college pitchers desperately try to grip a cold, flat, dry ball with cold, dry hands.

“As such, what was a minor problem in professional baseball will become a much larger problem in college baseball.

“The flat-seam baseball used in the minor leagues is very difficult to grip and throw in temperatures below 40 degrees, especially with wind and dry air.

“The Major League ball is even worse. Fortunately for professionals, this is only an issue in April and October, as the bulk of the season is played in the warmth of the summer.

“Half of the college season is over by the time April rolls around.”

Stark Differences
Blewett said there are major differences between the flat seam and high seam balls.

“1. Flat seam balls feel rounder. Larger seams protrude from the surface of high seam balls, making the ball feel square by comparison. Flat seams make the ball feel smaller, which can also make them feel less secure in the hand. Large seams can be wedged between fingers on breaking balls, but flat seam balls don’t nest as well.

“2. The leather is slicker. Leather on pro baseballs appears to be of higher quality, and it tends to get slicker and shinier the more it hits the mitt. Pro balls become souvenirs after just an at-bat or two, on average, but colleges often retrieve foul balls. This means longer circulation time. Balls that last a few innings are likely to get harder to grip as the game wears on.

“3. Pro balls are rubbed up. This makes matters worse, as ‘taking the shine’ off the pearly white ball requires very fine mud to be rubbed on. This fine mud dries into dust. And dusty baseballs are (you guessed it) harder to grip. Though the darkened color may prove a visual advantage, this is a tactile disadvantage to the pitcher.

“4. The seams are flat and narrow. Though this is obvious, flat seams mean that more curves and sliders will slip out. The MLB ball has seams that are flatter and narrower than even the minor league ball, which can make the transition to the big leagues more difficult for minor leaguers.

“5. Round balls act differently than square balls. Physics dictates that a high-seamed ball will have more turbulent flight than a flat-seamed ball, resulting in more pitch movement. However, pitchers transitioning to pro baseballs report the opposite.”

Blewett said that because the pro ball is rounder, finger pressure is more often erroneously sent through the descending edges of the ball, resulting in unintended cut and run on fastballs.

“Pitchers in the college game will suddenly find their fastballs doing things they’ve never done before, and they’ll be scrambling for answers. But, the issue comes down to pitch slippage, predominantly on breaking balls.

“It’s very difficult to ‘feel’ the ball when it’s cold, as both the leather and the skin are cold, dry and slick.

“Ask any pro pitcher throwing under these conditions, and he’ll tell you that it affects his confidence in his breaking pitches, because the ball feels insecure in the hand.

“Pitchers want to grip and rip their curve or slider, but if they’re afraid it’s going to fly over the batter’s head, they end up choosing pitches based on the ball rather than the count and situation.

“This is what we don’t want – for the ball to dictate how the game is played.

“What does this mean for college baseball?

“Collegiate pitchers will be forced to find comfort with flat seam balls as they throw them in fall and winter workouts, giving them a trial run before the season.

“But, part of this learning curve will be finding ways to get their old grip on the new baseball.

“The NCAA and other national organizations are likely to have a problem on their hands enforcing a rule against gripping aids, one that they never had to deal with.

“Hopefully, players are discrete if they use substances, and the game can go on without interruption, much like pro baseball has.

“But, if umpires decide to be strict, there may have to be rule changes.

“Players will be throwing in front of scouts in 40-degree weather with flat seam balls.

“Rather than hang pitch after pitch and see their draft stock fall, they’re going to find a substance to help them get their old grip back.

“Is this cheating? I call it survival.

“Both MLB and the NCAA should consider creating a list of approved substances that can be used sparingly to enhance grip.

“Rosin can create tremendously sticky skin when used in warm weather. So substances that mimic that same degree of tack should be considered legal within the current ethos of the game during cold weather.”

More On Flat Seam Vs. High Seam Ball
To read more of the in-depth story of this change in baseballs, purchase the Jan. 2, 2015 edition of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE. Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson explains his thoughts on the subject as well as Chicago Cubs’ Minor League Pitching Coordinator Derek Johnson.