Home runs on rise with new ball

OMAHA, Neb. -- The new flat-seam ball in college baseball is having the desired effect, with teams hitting 40 percent more home runs so far this season.

The NCAA announced Wednesday that teams are hitting a home run about every other game. Last year, teams homered about once every three games through the first three weeks of the season.

The actual average is 0.47 home runs per team compared with 0.33 at this point in 2014. Last season's final average of 0.39 per team was a record low.

The flat-seam ball was introduced this season in an attempt to punch up a game that has seen steep declines in offense since new bat standards took effect in 2011. Studies show the flat-seam ball travels 20 feet farther than the old raised-seam ball.

Count Nevada cleanup hitter Ryan Howell as a big fan of the new ball. The WolfPack's second baseman hit his nation-leading sixth home run in 12 games in his team's 7-6 win over UC Davis on Tuesday. He totaled eight in 42 games for Chabot (California) Community College last year.

"Everybody is benefiting," Howell said. "Ultimately, the ball is going to go farther. It's cutting through the wind. You can see it fly off the bat."

Nevada and Texas A&M are the national team leaders in home runs with 17 apiece. The WolfPack already are halfway to their 58-game total last season. The Aggies are only eight shy of their total in 62 games.

"We still have to play out the season, just to see what difference the ball truly does make," A&M coach Rob Childress said. "But this small case study says it's a positive thing for college baseball to bring excitement back to our sport."

The increase in homers has occurred in spite of poor hitting conditions -- cold weather -- across much of the country. Childress said he's curious to see whether the numbers rise even more with warmer weather, or whether there will be a decrease once teams begin playing conference games against better pitching.

Other key offensive statistics are generally unchanged. Per-team scoring is up from 5.07 runs per game the first three weeks in 2014 to 5.29 per game this year. The national batting average went from .263 to .264.

Childress said his team's power numbers were so high during fall practices and scrimmages that he feared his pitching staff might not be very good. Nevada coach Jay Johnson said the same thing.

But A&M, at 13-0, is one of two unbeaten Division I teams. Virginia is the other. And Nevada, at 11-1, is off to the best start in program history.

The long ball gets a lot of credit.

"I'm an offensive-minded coach," Johnson said, "so I like the fact that the power element is back."