NIU baseball: Seams change in store for Huskies

By Steve Shonder

Baseball’s hitters aren’t seeing much of a stats increase at the plate since the adoption of the flat-seam baseball, but they say they are enthusiastic about the idea of change in favor of offense.

The NCAA made the switch this season from raised-seam baseballs to flat-seam baseballs, which are similar to what are used in the minor leagues. The change was made to take away the upper hand pitchers have enjoyed since the 2011 adoption of Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution bats.

“It’s about time that hitters got a little bit of an advantage,” said head coach Mike Kunigonis. “It’s all been about the pitchers and not scoring runs. … Just where we went from how extreme the bats changed in a short amount of time, I think this brings back some more offense. As a hitting guy, I’m excited.”

There has been a 40 percent increase in home run totals across Division I baseball through March 1 when compared to the same time period last season, which has been the intended effect, according to an NCAA news release.

“The balls go farther,” said redshirt senior Nate Ruzich. “Fly outs go farther, and there have been a couple home runs that go where they normally wouldn’t. … I think it’s better because these bats really gave the pitchers an advantage. These new balls are helping hitters out.”

Out of 22 games this season entering Wednesday’s game, the Huskies have seven home runs compared to the two they hit during the same number of games last season. Despite this, Kunigonis said it’s still too early to get a fair idea of how the ball has affected the Huskies’ performance at the plate.

“It’s just a small sample size right now,” Kunigonis said. “I think what, in my opinion, gives you a better example of how well college players hit in a year is normally their college season and … their summer stats because that’s another 50 games. You have a greater sample size.”

While pitchers were the intended targets of the new ball’s effect, they aren’t seeing much in the way of change beyond the increase in fly ball distance. The flatter seam has affected the way off-speed pitches are thrown, with pitches coming out of the hand faster.

“You have to be more aggressive with the off-speed pitches,” said senior pitcher Ben Neumann. “… The only difference is you throw it a little harder and the ball on off-speed pitches is a little sharper. Right away, you can tell the difference between the pitches if you throw with the old ones and the new ones when you change. It just all feels regular.”

Neumann said the response of the ball on off-speed pitches has resulted in a change in release points since the ball doesn’t move as easily with the flatter seams; however, the flatter seams have given pitchers an added bonus: fewer finger blisters.

“It’s a little smoother,” Neumann said. “It doesn’t really rub up against your fingers as much. You don’t really get blisters as much as you would with the other ones because they were so rigidity.”

The difference in grip translates to the field, as well. There hasn’t been any change in how the new ball takes hops, but fielders are noticing it’s easier to get a better grip on the ball. There’s also been a difference in how the ball is thrown by fielders.

“It’s easier to grip the ball on the seams,” said junior Brian Sisler. “I noticed with the higher seams when I throw it actually tailed more than it does with these seams.”