The new baseball used in collegiate play hasn’t had the dramatic offensive increase that some expected when the season began.
In fact, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said some of his pitchers like the lower-seam ball better.
“When they first got it, you could tell there was a difference,” said Robichaux, who has served as his own pitching coach in all of his 29 years as a head coach. “Those seams were so high on the other ball. But after they learned to get the ball down and pitched with it enough, they settled in. I’d even believe some of them would say they like it.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns, who return to Sun Belt Conference action this weekend against Georgia State in Atlanta, have seen their power numbers slump from last year’s team that ranked among the nation’s leaders in most offensive categories. That is largely an issue of personnel changes, with only two full-time starters returning this season.
The Cajuns, though, are still above the national averages offensively.
College teams nationally were averaging 0.47 home runs per game entering Tuesday’s play, up from the 0.39 mark of 2014 that was an all-time low since the NCAA began tabulating national statistics.
But those figures are not out of line with the 0.42 homers per game of 2013, the 0.48 per game in 2012 and the 0.52 homers per game in 2011, which was the first year of changed bat standards in the college game.
The year before, in 2010, teams nationally averaged 0.94 homers per game.
The Cajuns have 10 homers in 17 games, an average of 0.59 per game, to go with a team .285 batting average (the national norm is .264 entering this week). Last year’s big-hitting squad had 68 homers in 68 games and ranked fourth nationally in home runs and second in slugging percentage.
“I’ve never been one to look into all that high-seams, low-seams stuff,” said Cajuns first baseman Greg Davis, who had three homers last year in part-time duty and has one this season. “I don’t really notice a difference too much. In (batting practice), you can get into a ball and it may go a little farther than the old ones, but in games it doesn’t seem much different.”
The ball used last season had a .048-inch raised seam, where this year’s ball has the seams at .031-inch. Estimates before the season indicated the new ball would fly as much as 20 feet farther because of the lower seams, which are still are not as flat as the ball used in the major or minor leagues.
“We’re getting closer,” Robichaux said, “which I think is good for some of the kids that do want to pitch beyond high school and college. They don’t get spooked by that (minor-league) ball.”
Cajuns hitting coach Jeremy Talbot said pitchers are finding a way to use the lower seams to their advantage.
“What guys have been able to do on the mound is create a little more movement with their fastball,” Talbot said. “On the flip side, it’s a little harder to spin the breaking ball because you can’t just crank on those big, high seams. But as far as the ball carrying, that difference is very marginal.”
Robichaux added: “Listening to the pitchers, they feel they do get some sink and run on the ball. It took them a while to get the breaking ball and the sliders right, but they’re saying they’re getting a lot of later movement on the slider. I haven’t heard any big negativity.”
UL-Lafayette held an extensive intrasquad game during Tuesday’s practice and will do the same Wednesday. The Cajuns don’t have a midweek game, and their game Friday at GSU will be only their second in 12 days. Those were the two one-run losses in Sunday’s weather-forced doubleheader at Arkansas-Little Rock.
“At the start of the year we said this was the type team that could play itself into a better team,” Robichaux said. “A lot of our pitchers hadn’t faced live batters in almost two weeks, so we needed the intrasquad to get them some work.”
The Cajuns go into the third weekend of Sun Belt play leading the league in team batting average (.285), and junior shortstop Blake Trahan is the league’s top hitter individually with a .431 average that ranks him 33rd nationally.
Trahan also leads the league and is 14th nationally in doubles (nine), is tied for first in the Sun Belt in hits (28) and is second in the conference and 32nd nationally in on-base percentage (.530). He is currently the Sun Belt’s toughest strikeout, with one in every 13 at-bats.
Outfielder Kyle Clement tops the Sun Belt in triples per game (0.15), and as a team UL-Lafayette leads the league in doubles (2.18 per game) and triples (0.41 per game).
Dates have been set to make up last week’s two weather cancellations. UL-Lafayette will host Northwestern State on April 29 after last Tuesday’s game was washed out. The Cajuns will travel to Baton Rouge to meet Southern on April 28 after last Wednesday’s cancellation.