As the number of home runs escalates in college softball, debate begins over whether composite bats are too powerful
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 13, 2010
When it comes to college softball, Hawaii head coach Bob Coolen picks the long shots.
"We could go back to 1-0 and 2-1 games, but it's going to be a boring element," said Coolen, a former college baseball pitcher. "I've always preferred a livelier game."
The debate is moving to meeting rooms, where NCAA officials are deciding whether composite-barreled bats - credited with the increase in home runs and run production in recent years - are good for the sport.
The debate escalated following this year's College World Series, where there were 35 home runs hit in 15 games. There were 9.4 runs scored per game. By contrast, according to the Associated Press, in the first NCAA College World Series, there were 10 shutouts in 14 games, with six finishing with 1-0 scores.
Each of this year's World Series teams, including Hawaii, which set an NCAA record with 158 home runs, were asked to submit two bats each for studying. Of their 40 bats, the Rainbow Wahine prefer the 5-year-old Stealth model, an Easton-manufactured two-piece, composite bat.
Coolen said there is no doubt the composite bats are helpful to technically efficient hitters. Composite bats consist of graphite fiber, which is lighter than aluminum, the most widely used material for softball bats up until a few years ago. As such, composite bats can have large barrels and, subsequently, a wider so-called "sweet spot."
There are three layers to a composite bat. With time, the barrel of that bat develops more "rebound-ability," while the tapering gains flexion. "Like fine wine, a good bat gets better with age," Coolen said.
Slow down a video of a composite bat and it will resemble baseball's wooden bats in bounce and flexion. Drives that used to be soft flies now have oomph.
"Isn't it more exciting to see a home run rather than a flyout? Coolen said.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea told the AP: "It just depends on what the game wants. I think the right people are on it right now, and are trying to get a grip on the game. I love the home run, I just don't think that the home run should be hit by everyone in the lineup, and there's a lot of home runs being hit."
Hawaii high schools have entered the discussions, voting this week not to use composite bats. But in a contradictory decision, the high schools will move the pitching rubber back 3 feet, to 43 feet from home plate, a change that should benefit the hitters.
"Baseball went back to the aluminum because of the strength of the players," Coolen said. "The ball was coming off the bat with phenomenal speed."
Those concerns, Coolen said, do not apply to college softball. Coolen said softballs are now made with a softer interior, going from a denser 5.0 core to a 4.7 core.
Also, every college softball bat is certified to have an out-of-the-wrapper exit speed of no more than 98 mph. All of the UH bats have received certification from the American Softball Association.
Coolen noted that in international and professional competition, bats are allowed to have exit speeds in excess of 100 mph.
"Once these players go pro, they get livelier bats," Coolen said.
He added: "At our level, what do you want to see? Do you want to see home runs? I know that was the expectation when fans came to see us play. That was the expectation when we went to places.They wanted to see two, three, four homers a game."
Coolen said there is one thing that can counter power hitting: good pitching.
"I would rather a pitcher raise the level of her game to compete with the nature of where the game is now," Coolen said.
Coolen also said teams are expanding the playing dimensions of their stadiums.