SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — New bat rules aimed at keeping the ball in play and pitchers safer are having another effect at the Little League World Series: fewer home runs.
Until this season, bats were frequently made from reinforced carbon fiber polymer. The problem was that as they were used over time, the bats actually sent balls farther and at higher speeds — sometimes called the trampoline effect.
Under a new bat performance standard from USA Baseball, bats in 2018 are now built to act more like the wooden bats used in the majors — less ping and less pop. While keeping pitchers and infielders safer from laser comebackers and line drives, coaches agree the new bats have less power.
“Crazy different, man,” said Kurt Barr, coach of the Michigan team representing the Great Lakes. “You see it out there, it takes almost a perfect shot to hit it over a 225-foot fence. The ball sounds good coming off the bat, the swing looks good and these things just die.”
Only 10 home runs had been hit in 21 games as the LLWS reached its midpoint Monday night, with no team accounting for more than one.
In 2017, a whopping 61 homers were hit across the tournament and the U.S. champs from Lufkin, Texas, hit 11 by themselves.
No pop off the barrel means teams can’t rely on the long ball anymore. Whether that’s a good or bad thing seems to depend on whether you’re asking a coach or a player.
“I’ll rethink a lot of my strategy, quite frankly, because I think it’s really hard to hit a home run on a 225-foot field in Little League these days,” Barr said. “With that said, I think it’s fantastic. I love the quality of baseball that’s being played, it forces defense, it forces small ball, it forces you as a manager to think about how to move guys over and the whole sacrifice thing.”
“It’s not ‘just go up there and just go barrel the ball and flip it over the fence,’ cause that’s frankly what was happening.”
Hawaii coach Gerald Oda said the change has had pros and cons.
“The good thing about it is that it’s more of a defensive pitching thing, and you take out that sometimes you can just throw the bat out and (the ball) can go. With these bats it will not go,” Oda said. “The difficult thing, too, is that not everybody is big, so it makes it really difficult for especially the younger guys that haven’t hit their growth spurt or are that big and strong.”
The players are on the opposite side of the fence, unlike the baseballs.
“I just wish it was the old bats so it would go farther,” said Ka’olu Holt, a pitcher and third baseman for Hawaii. “(We’d get) more base hits and it would be more exciting because we’d get more hits in and it would be harder for the pitcher.”
Aukai Kea, a pitcher and infielder for Hawaii, is one of the 10 players to hit a home run in this tournament, ending an 11-inning game against Georgia with a walk-off blast in the first game.
“This year’s bats are kinda toned down so it’s harder for the hitters to get on base,” said Kea. “Since you guys are talking about the other night, I thought that ball was gone but it just hopped over the fence. Just by luck it hopped over the fence. If that was with the other bats, I’m pretty sure it would have hit someone on the hill.”