Are too many runs being scored in softball at all levels? Have hotter bats made it too easy to hit the ball deep? Are the bats to blame, or has athlete skill and strength changed the game? And is it a bad thing if more homeruns are hit? Is it time to consider moving the fence back?
It’s a debate that’s been going on for years now and tends to surface each time a new technology is brought to the plate in the form of better aluminum, then graphite/titanium composite. Undoubtedly athletes tend to love new advancements in bat technology and as bats improve, generations of athletes won’t remember what it was like to swing a solid aluminum bat. So is the controversy over whether bats are too hot simply an imagined one brought up by athletes who believe that “everything was better in my day”?
Surprisingly, there has been quite a bit of real research that has gone into studying how bat technology affects the game. Unsurprisingly, most of it has been on the baseball side of things. Of course improved materials and design help hitters, and when it seems they’ve won too much of an advantage, organizations like the Amateur Softball Association have stepped in to regulate the usage of certain bats in games. You can find current ASA bat regulations, including Non-Linear Bat Compression Thresholds, updated this month, here: http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball/Play-ASA/Certified-ASA-Equipment.aspx
This article outlines the change in technology in baseball bats in the NCAA (shadowed by softball bats) and the regulations that followed: http://www.acs.psu.edu/drussell/bats/NCAA-stats.html. It also features some interesting statistics on homeruns per game in relation to bat technology and regulations.
Another piece of research looking at bat performance can be found in Curtis Matthew Cruz’s 2005 dissertation for his mechanical engineering degree: http://www.dissertations.wsu.edu/Thesis/Spring2005/c_cruz_050505.pdf. This paper really gets into the nitty gritty of bat design and the more recent topic of bat rolling (artificially breaking in composite bats to make them ‘poppier’), specifically that after about 500 hits (or simulated hits) a composite bat’s performance increased about 4.2%.
Is it a bad thing?
In 2006 Little League baseball moved back their fences in order to encourage more field play. By pushing the fences back it allowed for more doubles and triples. In fact, Mr. Vance Van Auken, of Little League International, said about the decision, “We’ve noticed over time that there are very few doubles and triples being hit, far fewer than there should be.” Is it time for softball to follow suit?
Those extra base hits can certainly be a game-changer. This article in The Oklahoman from 2010 was written coming off a NCAA Softball World Series game where UCLA beat Arizona 15-9: http://newsok.com/how-many-home-runs-are-too-many/article/3467978. It argues that perhaps the days of one-run games were better played, but also considers that homeruns are entertaining and bring more people to the sport, especially spectators.
However, since the piece was written, we saw the 2014 College Softball World Series where of the final 12 games, there was only one played where either team scored more than ten runs and in half of those games, the winning team scored fewer than five runs to win. So are the bats really winning out? Or have they fueled better pitching and defense?
Are bats too hot?
As you can see, and probably already knew, bat technology has improved the hitter’s game dramatically. But is it a bad thing? No scientific report can settle something so subjective. Either you like lots of homeruns and big scoring games, or you’re a purist/traditionalist who longs for the days of defensive ball (though it could be argued that new bats create more opportunities for defensive plays).
If bats are too hot, then what’s the answer? Should fences be moved back? Baselines altered? Is it too much change when bats change the fundamentals of the game? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook. We’d love to hear your opinion!.