College Baseball Needs Rule Changes To Tone Down Offense, Protect Players


Image credit: (Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images)

This has been an incredible College World Series so far.

Walk-off hits have outnumbered blowouts. The games are dramatic. Stars like Christian Moore and Jac Caglianone have been spectacular.

It’s been wonderful, which is why I don’t take any pleasure in playing the role of an annoying scold: as great as this CWS has been, Division I college baseball is edging into dangerous territory.

Players are hitting the ball too hard.

Brody Donay’s 118 mph exit velocity on his mammoth home run in Florida’s win over Kentucky on Wednesday made him the third different player to post a 117 mph EV in the College World Series, joining Moore and Caglianone.

This isn’t a complaint about home runs overtaking college baseball. College fans have no issue with 4-3 games replaced by 14-13 slugfests. The addition of the pitch clock and devices to call pitches has taken away a lot of the dead time and endless signals that were bringing college games to a screeching halt. If anything, the college game is crisper than it was a few years ago even if there is more scoring.

But now we have data that we didn’t have before. We have a better way to understand and explain that the college game is entering a danger zone.

A 117 mph exit velocity is the point where we’ve reached a level of power that few ever reach. It’s the world of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Oneil Cruz and Shohei Ohtani.

MLB has tracked the exit velocity of every ball put in play since 2015. Over 10 seasons, only 46 MLB players have hit a ball 117+ in a game. Four different MLB teams have never had a hit tracked at 117+.

This year, Cruz, Stanton, Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ketel Marte are the only MLB hitters to hit a ball 117+. That’s 2,246 team games with a total of 14 balls hit 117+. In the majors, a ball hit 117+ is exceptionally rare.

If you attended just one MLB game this year, you have a 1.2% chance of seeing a ball hit 117+.

In the College World Series, we’ve seen three balls hit that hard by three different players in 24 team games (12 games played, but each game counts for each team in the game). 

If you’ve attended one CWS game this year, you have a 25% chance of seeing a ball hit 117+.

Moore has already hit four balls 115+ in three games in the CWS. Only five MLB hitters have hit four or more 115+ mph balls during the 2024 season. The Guardians haven’t hit any 115+ balls in the past 10 seasons. Cruz’s 10 115+ hits lead the majors. At his current rate, Moore could nearly equal that during his time in Omaha.

I can hear some of you complaining that it’s unfair to compare the exit velocities of balls hit with a wood bat to hits off metal or composite BBCOR bats. But that’s actually my point. The BBCOR bat regulations were instituted to ensure that these bats generally match the performance of wood bats, especially in terms of top-end exit velocities. That’s not happening. We’re seeing 19, 20 and 21-year-olds producing balls hit every bit as hard as balls hit by the strongest fully-grown adults in the major leagues.

It’s not just a couple of sluggers. There have been 39 big leaguers (just over one per team) who have hit a ball 114 mph+ in 2024. In college baseball, a 114 mph exit velo is becoming almost routine.

It is worth noting that MLB measures exit velocities using the Hawkeye system. College baseball’s EVs at the College World Series are measured by Trackman. The two systems are generally seen to correlate closely.

There are plenty of theories as to why that’s the case. But whatever the reasons, the result is worrisome for player health.

After I looked at the home run rate and the hard-hit rate in D-I baseball for a piece last week, I heard from a few college coaches. In addition to talking about theories for why the college game has changed so dramatically in recent years, the bigger point they made was the fear of what could happen. They worry that at some point, a ball is going to come screaming back up the middle and maim a pitcher–or worse.

When a major league pitcher steps onto the mound and faces Stanton or Ohtani, there is some risk. A slugger like that could hit a ball back up the middle hard enough to make it almost impossible to react. It has happened before and it will likely happen again. 

But the risks are mitigated. The bats are solid wood. The pitchers are, like the hitters, the best of the best. They generally have the means to avoid giving up blistering contact.

In college baseball, the risks are magnified. The talent disparities between the best hitters and the worst pitchers are much larger. A team can ask an 18-year-old pitching a mid-week game for a small school to face a 21-year-old likely top-10 pick who is hitting the ball as hard as anyone in the majors.

With a non-wood bat, performance can be adjusted in a way that isn’t possible with solid wood. College baseball has a long history of doing this.

In the late 1990s, drop five bats (where the bat could be up to five ounces lighter than it’s length in inches) were producing exit velocities 10-15 mph harder than wood bats in laboratory settings. So they adjusted the bats.

The bats were changed in the late 1990s because teams couldn’t get insurance coverage anymore. That was because there were a series of injuries from pitchers and fielders getting hit by comebackers.

The game was safer after it eliminated drop fives. That adjustment worked for roughly a decade. Then the discovery of bat rolling meant the game once again got out of whack. So the bats were adjusted.

The switch to BBCOR standards fixed that, but initially took too much offense out of the game. That problem was eradicated. Now, the game has returned to the issues the college game saw in the 1990s and late 2000s.

Every time we’ve been at or anywhere close to this home run rate in college baseball in the past, the rules have been changed. 

It’s time to start looking at measures again to tone down some of these top-end exit velocities in the interest of player safety.

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