Van Horn: new bats to alter game
BBCOR standards decrease the speed of the ball off the bat
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn began planning for this season more than two years ago, after getting word of the impending change in bats across the college game.
Van Horn knew the absence of lightweight composite bats would likely mean a reduction in power numbers, so he immediately began recruiting more speed and pitching. He didn't fully grasp the impact until he watched the Razorbacks take batting practice with the new bats last fall.
"They hit more like wood,'' Van Horn said. "I think the big guys are still going to be able to hit them out of the park, but the average guy that hits some home runs, if he hit eight, he's going to hit two.
"That's the way I look at it. You'd better be able to do some other things like pitch, play defense and you'd better score when you get a chance,'' he said.
The new bats must meet a standard called the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution, or BBCOR. They are designed to decrease the exit speed of the ball off the bat with the aim of making the game safer.
Van Horn said last season's bat standard was a middle ground between the older composite bats and this season's version, and his concern is that the new bats might take too much offense out of the thriving college game.
"These bats, to me, might be a little bit too dead,'' Van Horn said. "I think college baseball is in great shape right now.''
Arkansas hit a school-record 92 home runs in 64 games last season despite the new bats. Van Horn said the offensive explosion had more to do with talent than the bats.
The Razorbacks had three offensive standouts drafted in the top five rounds of the major league draft, including first-rounder Zack Cox by the St. Louis Cardinals. Cox combined with Brett Eibner and Andy Wilkins to hit 46 of Arkansas' home runs last season.
The Razorbacks averaged 7.5 runs per game last season, and Van Horn said the higher offensive numbers in college baseball have helped give the game an identity separate from the professional version. Arkansas was second nationally in attendance at 7,704 per game last season, and with at least 17 games set to be played on television this season, Van Horn is mindful of the impact that less offense could have.
"I worry about the game a little bit because it's so popular,'' Van Horn said.
To prepare for the new bats, as well as the loss of Cox, Eibner and Wilkins, Van Horn began recruiting a different kind of player more than two years ago. He started focusing on primarily infielders who could run, with the intention of moving some to the outfield for defensive purposes.
"I'm not going to just go get a guy who can bomb away and be an adequate outfielder,'' Van Horn said. "Our outfielders can all run. They're going to save us some runs.''
Van Horn also said the Razorbacks have spent much more time working on bunting and running the bases. He said the team has spent hours bunting balls with the pitching machine set around 88 mph to 89 mph, which is difficult in its indoor batting cage.
|NEW FOR 2011|
|• BBCOR bat standards|
"They're sick of it,'' Van Horn said. "That's all we do. Hey, if we don't bunt good in the games, it's not because we didn't try.''
Arkansas' leading returning home run hitter, outfielder Collin Kuhn, hit 16 in 259 at-bats last season. Kuhn was selected in the 15th round of the draft by Detroit, but he elected to return to school.
Van Horn said he doesn't expect Kuhn to hit 16 home runs again this season. Instead, he predicted half that total for the outfielder because of the new bats, saying he would prefer Kuhn focus on hitting double and stealing bases.
Kuhn said the bats have taken time to adjust to. "The ball just doesn't come off as hot as it did in the past,'' he said. ``We've done a lot of work just worrying about hitting line drives, not home runs. If it happens, it happens, but we're not going to dwell on home runs.''