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No Longer Digging the Long Ball

The long ball was replaced by the long game at this year’s Little League Baseball World Series. With home runs and scoring down, closer games were more common and managers were forced to play a much more strategic game.

“I’ll rethink a lot of my strategy, quite frankly, because I think it’s really hard to hit a home run on a 225(-foot) field in Little League these days,” said Kurt Barr, who managed the Great Lakes Region champions from Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores, Mich. to a 2-2 record and fourth-place U.S. finish at this year’s tournament.

With less balls flying out of Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums and less runs being scored, more games remained close to the end and the endings tended to be more dramatic. Of the 32 games at the series, nine were decided by one run and six more were decided by two, more than doubling the number of one- and two-run games from 2017.

Four games lasted at least nine innings with Little League games scheduled for just six. A year ago, the only extra-inning game quickly came to an end in the seventh.

After just two games ended in walk-offs a year ago, there were six such circumstances this year, with the winning run scoring in the bottom of the sixth three times and in the bottom of an extra inning three more times.

Without the preponderance of home runs, the games ending early on the 10-run rule were cut in half to just four this year. One of those occurred in one of the two international consolation games that are part of the official World Series schedule.

With big bats gone, “small ball,” with more stealing, bunting and otherwise moving runners may become more prevalent, according to Barr, who also manages teams in travel tournaments.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “I love the quality of baseball that’s being played. It forces defense; it forces small ball; it forces you, as a manager, to think about how do you move guys over and the whole sacrifice thing.

“It’s not, ‘Just go up there and barrel the ball and flip it over the fence,’ because that’s frankly what was happening.”

Little League Baseball made the decision in 2015 to have USA Baseball set standards for new bats as of January 1, 2018 with the goal of using bats that performed more like wooden bats.

Change reduced what is often described as the trampoline effect off the bat, cutting down the hard-hit balls in length that were taking over the game and also those that were hard-hit in terms of speed.

USA Baseball’s position in announcing the changes was that there were not safety problems, but some have been pleased by the reduction in exit velocity of balls going through the infield as much as in the balls flying over fences.

Runs were not as the same premium in 2015 when Kitasuna from Tokyo, Japan, came from eight runs down to defeat Red Land, Pa., 18-11, in the title game.

With changes known to be on the way, last year’s World Series featured 61 home runs in 32 games. In all, 14 players hit multiple homers and 43 hit at least one.

This year, only Ji Hyung Choi from Seoul, South Korea, (three) and Carlos DeJesus from Guayama, Puerto Rico, (two), hit more than one. Only 16 hit a home run at this year's World Series.

Bat manufacturers have shown in the past that they have the ability to create bats that will perform at a higher level. Their mandate now is to create bats with less “pop.”

“The good thing about it is that it’s more of a defensive/pitching thing,” said Gerald Oda, manager of the Honolulu, Hawaii team that went 5-0 with four shutouts to win the title.

The West Region champions won three games while scoring three runs or less, including their opener when they did not score until the bottom of the 11th of a 2-0 victory over Peachtree City, Ga.

“You take out that sometimes, you watch baseball long enough and you see you can just throw the bat out and (the ball) can go,” Oda said. “With these bats, it will not go.”

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson.

Photo courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball

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