When Jeff Waggoner took over as the coach at Marshall University, college baseball was a power hitter’s game. Teams could compensate for mistakes and lackluster pitching with two- or three-run homers.
Not so anymore.
Starting in 2011, college baseball mandated the new BBCOR bats, metal bats that react like the wooden bats used by professionals. The results were dramatic. Batting averages came down, power numbers dropped, scoring fell and coaches found themselves once again teaching the fundamentals of the game.
Waggoner has liked the change.
“I enjoy it,” said Waggoner. “You see a lot of these kids come into your program out of high school and they don’t understand where to bunt the ball or the situational game and you have to start from the beginning.”
As a team, the Herd hit .294 in 2010 and in 2011 the average dropped to .284. But even more telling of the impact of the change in bats was the drop in home runs. Marshall launched 55 homers in 2010 and only 37 in 2011. That meant Waggoner had to adjust his style as a coach and spend more time during fall ball working on situational hitting.
“You’ve got teach the hitters more,” explained Waggoner. “It’s a situational game and produce runs and be able to win one run games so you have spend more time in the fall on situational stuff than you did in the past.”
It also means you must find ways to win close ballgames, something the Herd struggled with in 2012. Marshall was just 5-13 in games decided by two runs or less last season.
While the pitchers have been the benefactors of the alterations to bats over the last two seasons there are signs the hitters are starting to catch up. This past summer in the Cape Cod League, the premier summer wooden bat league for college players, the overall batting average was up 12 points from 2011 to 2012 and power numbers jumped as well. In 2011, just 159 homeruns were recorded. That number more than doubled in 2012 with 384 long balls.
“The Cape Cod batting average went up this summer. I think the hitters are more used to using more wood in practice and using the new bats and helping them stay inside the ball,” said Waggoner. “The hitters are developing a little more, which is helping them have more success in the Cape Cod League, and it helps them get ready for pro ball.”