At the College World Series this season there has been a single Home Run. Let that sink in. 9 games, 86 innings (two home teams had leads in 9th and didn't bat), and roughly 258 outs have been made that have only produced 1 home run. Hell, every single game in Virginia's bracket has been decided by one run, and no game has produced more than five runs total! In all, there has only been two games to feature more than five runs, and there hasn't been a single game decided by more than two runs! (Ed note: this roundtable was conducted before the offensive explosion of Ole Miss and TCU)
Much has been made about the lack of offense. Many of the commentaries have pointed to the brand new TD Ameritrade park as the culprit and declared it is hurting the game. (insert Kendall Rogers tweet). The NCAA has recognized the lack of offense and already declared they will use a new ball next year with lower seems that might produce more offense, but nobody knows if that is enough.
We "writers" over here at STL have some strong opinions on a lot of things and it seems like we even have a few ideas over whether this lack of offense has been a good thing or not, so we decided to conduct a roundtable letting everyone know how we feel!
Trogdon: I think there's got to be a compromise position between the lack of offense we're seeing at TD Ameritrade and the Home Run Derbies we used to see at Rosenblatt. I don't want to watch too many 2-1 games, and I certainly don't want to watch too many 13-12 games. I don't like the idea of using a different ball, but I'd be open to them pulling in the fences a bit.
Will: As a former catcher who worked closely with pitchers, it's great that pitchers are becoming the focal point for this CWS. But, as a former position player that knows how difficult facing an elite college pitcher is, TD Ameritrade is some crap. UVa fans will point to the dimensions of the Dav and TD and say that they are similar and there "are home runs at Davenport," but I don't view that as a legit argument. The conditions between the two stadiums are so different that they shouldn't be compared. As far as dimensions go, I actually have no problem with TD Ameritrade. A bigger field never bothered me, and it doesn't here.
What bothers me is the set up of TD Ameritrade. It appears that when they were building the stadium they didnt take into account the wind coming off of the Missouri River which stands just 2-3 blocks away and is always blowing in. Mix that in with the BBCOR bats which are more similar to wooden bats than they are the -5 metal bats the gorilla ball LSU teams of the 90s used, and you aren't going to see hardly, if any, balls flying out of the stadium.
Having said that, I am not sure what the NCAA can do about it now. They certainly aren't going to move the stadium and I doubt they ever go back to the old bats, but I am not sure changing the seams on the ball is going to be enough. What I do have a problem with is the "this is actual baseball argument." When a pitcher makes a mistake and the stars align well enough to allow a hitter to catch the sweet spot, the pitcher should be punished by giving up a home run. I have seen at least 4 or 5 balls off the bat where I literally said out loud "Shit, that ball is gone" only to have it not make the warning track. Allowing a pitcher to throw up meatballs because he knows he can't be hurt isn't real baseball. It's unfair, and something does need to be changed.
Caroline: I agree with Will absolutely. Part of the game of baseball is the fact that batters exploit even the slightest mistakes of pitchers (especially when you get down to these last few teams and the talent is just immense). It's very scary as a fan watching and knowing that if you're down, even by one, you have to mount a legitimate attack a la multiple base runners to even the score. Even with guys like Mike Papi coming up, I know that he's not going to hit a home run to tie it.
However, on the flip side, I have really enjoyed watching this year. Is it because Virginia is 2-0? Maybe. I like to think it's because we have seen great pitching from both sides, and players are really working the plate and manufacturing runs. I can't even tell you how relieved I was after that Cron BLAST and the cameras panned out and the outfielder is chilling 15 feet in front of the warning track. Sucks for CRON, yay for me.
I remember the bat switch and feeling bad for the likes of Werman, whose batting average took such a hit. Do I need homeruns to enjoy the game? No, but come on...everyone loves to see them at least every once in awhile.
Tiki: Like Caroline said, I don't have a ton to add to Will's succinct argument. I'm just going to agree with him in a very wordy and probably not very informative way.
In the games I've been watching, most OFs are playing 150 feet in front of the fences. And nobody is hitting it over their head. That's stupid, and it's a problem. The ball that Papi hit to end the game on Sunday night, I thought was gone. I literally jumped up off the couch and said the same thing Will said - "That ball is gone.". And I'm not even sure it landed on the warning track. And that was the game they kept talking about how the wind wasn't blowing in quite as badly.
Changing the ball can have a big impact, as we saw in MLB during the late 90s and early 00s. But I don't know if simply lowering the seams is enough. I don't know enough about how the seams cause drag. I also wonder if lowering the seams could make it more difficult for pitchers to grip the ball. And how might it effect the break on a curveball.
With a lot of the pitching we've seen in Omaha so far, it probably doesn't matter where they're playing, or what ball they're using. But when a pitcher makes a mistake, he should pay. And that isn't happening.
Will: For the seams, I think it could be two-fold. (remember, I am but a simple College grad trying to make it in the lawya world so "science" is not my forte) It will allow the balls to travel farther, but it will also impact the pitcher's control. If you've ever held and thrown an NCAA ball vs. a big league ball the difference are remarkable. I think we could see a lot more walks and a lot more fat pitches because a lowered seam ball has less control (in my experience). The ball will move a bit more, but maybe not how they want it to.
Schwartz: Should stadiums like TD Ameritrade exist?
Sure, why not! One of the things that makes baseball cool is that it's really the only sport in which stadiums are non-standardized and "play" differently. In the pros, you have hitters' parks like Yankee Stadium, pitchers' parks like Citi Field, and players adapt - the same thing is true for college also. TD Ameritrade is obviously a pretty extreme example, but such is life.
Should stadiums like TD Ameritrade host the CWS every year?
That's the main issue to me. The stadium used yearly to showcase the sport and determine the nation's best team shouldn't play to any extremes. Some teams are built around hitting the long ball, a legit strategy for 95% of the season, and that strategy shouldn't be completely invalidated by the ballpark where we determine the best team. A similar (but opposite) issue existed in the bandbox in Greensboro, where balls fly out of the stadium.
When a "neutral site" is going to be used to determine the champion, it should play pretty straight-up. There's basically no chance of hitting a homer during the CWS, and that's ridiculous. Bring the fences in, and things should be solved.
Tim: When I first sat down to reply to this question, I fully expected to be in the minority opinion. But that theory assumed that the question was black or white - and it most certainly isn't.
First, I'd like to say that I wish the announcers would just STFU about the topic. They mentioned it, they harped on it, they discussed it, they brought in the head of the NCAA's championships to talk about it, etc. I'm tired of hearing about. It's an important topic, but certainly not the only topic. Toss in a few more "O'Connor and The Statue" references or something.
But getting to the actual issue:
I think there are problems with TD Ameritrade. Clearly they didn't take into account the wind coming in off the river when they designed the stadium. Members of the committee have said as much. They need to fix it. I'd be supportive of bringing the fences in somewhat if the new ball doesn't make a difference (for the record, their tests have shown that it adds 20 feet to a fly ball and I think that would have allowed 3-4 HRs this year so far at least).
My concern (and why I reacted so violently online to the announcer's comments) is more about the overall "what should baseball be" discussion. There just seems to be too much clamoring for home runs. People seem to think that more runs (from home runs) means a better game. I disagree with that. I find that rather boring. I like defense. You move the fences close enough and I could hit a home run. But there's no change you can make that would allow me to make some of the fantastic catches that have happened in the outfield (particularly center field). That's what impressed me. And a lot of those wouldn't have happened if the ballpark or the ball were different. Watching the Ole Miss outfielders running to try to get to Papi's ball, even though they had little chance to get there, was almost certainly more entertaining than watching them stand there and watch the ball fly over their heads into the stands knowing they had zero chance.
I like what Will said about punishing a pitcher for throwing a crappy pitch. That's what it should be. But we don't want to go so far the other direction that we reward batters for terrible swings that somehow still manage to get out of the park. I want a solution somewhere in the middle, erring on the side of small ball if you need to make a decision.
My recommendation is that they let next year play out with the new ball and see what happens. If that's not enough, they should fix just TD Ameritrade by moving the fences in. Don't go overboard and make more changes to the ball or bats or whatever. Davenport plays just fine now. The new ball alone will make for more HRs in our park. Any more changes could make our home games boring and our road games (normally in smaller parks) downright crappy to watch.
There you have it. What do you think of the new stadium and the lack of offense in the CWS this season? What should be done?