The Daily Gamecock

Flat seam balls could increase offense in 2015

South Carolina Gamecocks starting pitcher Wil Crowe pitches against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in Columbia, S.C., on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (C. Michael Bergen/The State/MCT)
South Carolina Gamecocks starting pitcher Wil Crowe pitches against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in Columbia, S.C., on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (C. Michael Bergen/The State/MCT)

You can’t deflate a baseball, but you can lower its seams.

And that’s precisely what the NCAA Division I baseball committee agreed to do when they voted to transition from a raised seam baseball to a flat seam ball entering the 2015 season.

The newly installed baseballs have undergone research that has proven their tendency to carry farther than the raised seam baseballs.

The switch stems from a sluggish offensive output that college baseball has endured since implementing BBCOR (Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution) model bats in 2011. Concern for player safety — particularly at the pitcher position — led the charge for a less lethal bat.

BBCOR bats slow the return speed on a batted ball up to five percent compared to the previous BESR standard, which in turn potentially spares pitchers a few milliseconds worth of reaction time.

An unforeseen consequence, however, has been a noticeable dip in offensive production. Since the BBCOR’s initiation four years ago, only 25 home runs have been hit in the College World Series. In the 16 games it took to decide last year’s College World Series champion, teams hit a combined three home runs.

In 2010, the final season before switching to the BBCOR model, South Carolina hit 97 home runs in 70 games. Last season, the Gamecocks finished with 31.

Of course, South Carolina’s 2014 squad did not encounter the same amount of success as its national champion team in 2010 did, which led to less innings played. The Gamecocks played eight more games in 2010 than they did in 2014.

However, the Gamecocks hit only 46 home runs through 69 games in 2011 with many of the same players.

Overall, home runs per game in Division I collegiate baseball dropped from 0.94 in 2010 to 0.52 in 2011, then plummeted to 0.39 last season. Compared to 2010, teams are now scoring nearly two runs less each game (6.98 in 2010 and 5.08 in 2014).

The thinking behind the new flat seam ball is that it will fly off the ball and travel farther than its predecessor, compensating for the decrease in pop found with BBCOR bats.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit more offensive,” head coach Chad Holbrook said. “If I had to guess … I’d say 10 to 15 percent more home runs [this year] ... But I do think the ball will be good for college baseball, and I do think you’ll see some more extra base hits and maybe homers.”

But the benefits that the flat seam ball brings to the game are not limited to the offensive side of the game. Some players, including sophomore Wil Crowe, have noticed certain advantages that the ball gives pitchers.

“It gives you more movement, you throw it a little harder,” Crowe said, “but it flies a little farther. So, you've got to be a little bit more precise where you put it.”

Division II, Division III and NAIA schools have joined Division I baseball in making the jump this year.

Through seven games, the University of South Carolina Beaufort — competing at the NAIA level — has scored 64 runs while using the flat seam balls.

While, yes, there could be many variables that play into averaging over nine runs per game, there's no discounting that the change to a flat seam baseball is among them.

Still, some things never change. Balls are still called balls and strikes are still strikes. The pitcher will still be 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate. The flip to the flat seam ball is just one more spin on the game of baseball.

“It’s just about keeping that spin consistent,” junior pitcher Jack Wynkoop said. “I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for pitches is not letting their slider back up or just keeping everything tight ... I think all the pitchers are liking the new ball so far.”