If the College World Series is like the first two rounds of an NCAA baseball tournament, fans in the outfield of Charles Schwab Field will take home a lot of souvenir balls.
The 424 home runs hit in regionals and super regionals is already a tournament record, with at least 14 games still to be played in the CWS.
The eight-team contest opens Friday with the fifth national seed Texas A&M (42-18) in Oklahoma, while the ninth seed in Texas (47-20) faces Notre Dame (40-15). #2 Stanford’s kickoff Saturday (47-16) vs. Arkansas (43-19) and Mississippi (37-22) vs. #14 Auburn (42-20).
Cave Baseball Stadium Omaha hasn’t turned in many homers since it opened in 2011. There were 28 last year’s CWS, the most since moving from the old Rosenblatt Stadium.
Based on what has happened in college baseball through the Super Regionals, that number is in jeopardy even though the wind is predicted to blow in most of the CWS.
Texas, Stanford and Arkansas are in the CWS with at least 100 home runs, and Mississippi with 99. A total of 19 Division I teams have scored at least 100 points this season, compared to three last year.
Denying rumors that the ball will be released this year, American Baseball Coaches Association chief executive Craig Keilitz said the specifications have not changed since the flat-seam ball was introduced in 2015.
Coaches and officials point to a confluence of factors contributing to the surge.
Players are older and more developed because the NCAA has offered an extra season for athletes whose 2020 seasons have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, fewer juniors have left to play professionally in the last two years because the Major League Baseball draft was cut to five rounds in 2020 and is now 20, half the number from 2012-2019.
“I think the philosophy is that it takes a little longer for the hitters to mature,” said Keilitz. “I think the turntable was a big difference. But metrics can break down the weak sides of the pitch… If you watch the games, the home runs hit by a guy throwing 95 to 100 miles per hour are absolutely amazing. But they’re on it, and when they hit it, it looks like it’s going a long way.”
The first two rounds of the tournament showed stunning results Homer. Stanford scored eight points in the first Super Regional game with Connecticut and lost. In regional games, Arkansas had seven games against Oklahoma State and Auburn scored seven against Southeast Louisiana.
In Division I, the number of home runs per game per team since the start of the season is 1.02, the highest since a record 1.06 in 1998, and only the second time the rate has been 1.0 or higher.
All of these uppercuts that Keilitz was referring to create more home runs, but also result in more strikeouts.
In Division I, strikeouts per nine innings are 8.48 per team, second only to last year’s 8.60. Pitchers from Mississippi, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Auburn have strikeout rates above 10 in nine innings.
“I think there are teams that just say, ‘We’re going to hit a bunch, we’re going to hit home runs, and we’re not going to worry about it,’ like a lot of teams in the big leagues do,” Auburn told coach Gabe Gross. , whose seven-year major league career ended in 2010.
Texas enters the program with a record 128 homers — 47 more than the previous mark — and has national home run leader Ivan Melendez, whose 32 homers are the most homers in Division I since 2003.
Melendez is one of six CWS players in Omaha with at least 20 homers. There were none last year.
Longhorns coach David Pierce said his team’s colossal result surprised him. He noted that the school record would have been broken even if Melendez’s homers had been deducted.
Generally speaking, Pierce said that the goal of his players is to hit the center or the gap.
“They don’t work every day for home runs,” he said. “Our goal is to become good hitters, and then a home run comes with it if you have your time and have some strength.”
As the number of home runs increased, the number of balls played decreased. Just over 6,300 heads have been sacrificed this season, less than half the number in 2012. Ole Miss has five bunts, while Texas A&M has only six.
Of the eight CWS teams, Oklahoma most resembles college teams from yesteryear. The Sooners put down 32 burlaps and stole 142 bases, the most among CWS teams, and hit just 70 homers.
“Just creating chaos, that’s what we’re doing,” said OU shortstop Peyton Graham, who has 32 interceptions. “We’ve taken it pretty well and we’re going to keep working on it.”