- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2011

Offensive numbers have plummeted on baseball diamonds around the Southeastern Conference.

The change to metal bats has reduced the once-gaudy deluge of hits and cut out the “cheap” homers that were synonymous with college baseball.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri is seeing more zeros in box scores than he’s ever seen in his 29-year coaching career.

“It’s dramatic,” Mainieri said of the drop in offensive statistics. “The bats have made an enormous difference. It’s changed the way you play. There’s more hit and runs, more stealing and more moving runners any way you can.

“The days of swinging for the fences on every pitch are finished.”

The new metal bats must meet a standard _ the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) _ and are supposed to react closer to wood bats and also decrease exit speed off the bat. One benefit is a safer game. Another is a game that more closely resembles Major League Baseball.

As a result, across the 12-team Southeastern Conference, almost every offensive category has dropped compared to a year ago.

Some of the numbers:

_ Homers have almost dropped in half, with 220 homers (through 197 games) last season compared to just 120 (through 204 games) this spring. Scoring is down as well over the same period _ from 8.06 runs per game to just 6.68.

_ Batting average has dropped from .313 to .304.

_ ERA has dropped from 4.04 to 3.17.

_ Conference teams have already combined for 25 shutouts. In 2010, there were only 33 shutouts the entire season.

Some coaches are wary of the new bats, while others embrace the changes. But all agree that it’s fundamentally altered the college game.

“You can see that pitchers have their confidence back,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “When a pitcher throws a fastball over the plate and can still get an out, there’s not as much pressure to be perfect on every pitch.”

Conference play begins Friday and many of the usual powerhouse programs such as LSU, Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina have performed well during their non-conference schedule. They’re just going about winning in a much different way.

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