It's the end of May, which means it's time for people to start talking about the absurdity of aluminum bats again. Instead of simply reverting to wood bats, more and more amateur players are shifting to the other end of the spectrum, and without repercussions.
This long-controversial issue is in the news because college baseball teams are inching toward the postseason, when it becomes apparent every year that college baseball and minor league baseball are about as different as T-ball and Little League. College baseball teams have access to the newest, most expensive, most powerful — and thus, most dangerous — bats, the majority of which are now composites of metal and carbon nano-tube technology.
But that's not good enough. Why settle to hit 400 feet when you can slam 450-feet homers? So players have begun to pay outside firms $30 to "roll" their bats (two for $45!), evenly breaking in the aluminum slab and removing centimeters of dead spots. Hit for power today, satisfaction guaranteed! Meanwhile, college baseball games have turned into home-run derbies with No. 9 hitters poking junk pitches for opposite field dingers.
Naturally, though, the debate doesn't concern metal vs. wood. It's been reduced to metal vs. a better kind of metal.
There is the purist argument — aluminum bats change the game — and then there's practicality. The trampoline effect of metal bats, let alone composites and rolled composites, make wood bats make look like stickball poles, as was indirectly demonstrated in this study that proved the performance-enhancing aspect of metal bats:
Metal bat nuts like to tout the cost efficiency of their products. Buying one metal bat, they say, is cheaper than forking over for a season's worth of wooden bats. That argument is flawed for two related reasons. First, metal and composite bats retail for around $400 now, while high-end, sturdy maple bats go for around $120 and serviceable ash bats sell for around $50. Second, high schoolers, for the most part, are not going to break eight ash bats or three maple bats in a 40-game season. In North Dakota, which banned metal from high school games, the budget for bats dropped — shock!
Swanson reported that metal bat budgets from 2004 to 2006 averaged $1,793. With wood bats in 2007, the average bat budget was $1,120.
Fielding and pitching statistics were also affected. Fielding percentage, for example, increased from .907 to .935.
Pitchers were also found to be throwing less. In 2007, pitchers threw 13.39 less pitches per game than in 2004-06. Another interesting comparison is with strikeouts, which went unchanged from 4.82 between 2004-06 to 4.82 in 2007.
No wonder metal bat companies are impervious to change — they're the ones who stand to lose money. But don't fret, baseball purists. The NCAA is planning to investigate rolled composite bats, the real issue at hand.
The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee will seriously examine the issue in July, said Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association.
"I think most of us believe it's unethical," Keilitz said. "If a coach knows that a bat has been tampered with and he allows that bat to be used and there's a serious injury, that coach should forget about coaching. Because he's going to be sued considerably."
In the meantime, let's find another fickle debate and put off the change that could render this irrelevant.