Bryant's 30-HR season with composite bat is epicBy BERNIE WILSON , Associated Press
May. 22, 2013 7:35 PM ET
SAN DIEGO (AP) — With every prodigious drive over the fences, star third baseman Kris Bryant of the University of San Diego is adding to what could be considered the most prolific home-run hitting performance in NCAA history.
Bryant leads the nation with 30 home runs in 54 games, tied for the 11th-highest total in NCAA history.
Through Sunday, Bryant had outhomered 227 of 296 teams in Division I.
Projected as a top three pick in next month's draft, Bryant isn't finished swinging for the fences. He gets the chance to add to his totals when the Toreros play BYU on Thursday in the first round of the first-ever West Coast Conference tournament in Stockton.
Acting on a theory by USD broadcaster Jack Murray, USD statistician Mark Kramer crunched numbers that suggest Bryant would have hit 49 home runs had he been using the old aluminum bats, which used to put a "ping" in college baseball.
That would have been one more than Pete Incaviglia's record of 48 in 75 games in 1985 at Oklahoma State.
Further, the numbers suggest that if Bryant played 75 games, he'd have hit a staggering 68 homers.
"That's just ridiculous," Bryant said when he heard the projected numbers. "I mean, I wish I was around when they had those old bats. I really do think I could do that, especially given the season I've had so far."
Bryant was a senior at Bonanza High in Las Vegas the last time he got to hit with an aluminum bat. His freshman season at USD in 2011 was the first with the toned-down composite bats, which were mandated for safety reasons by the NCAA. They were put into play to perform even more like wood with shrunken sweet spots that decrease the exit speed of the ball.
Most college players weren't thrilled with the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) bats, from their performance to their sound.
"We've gotten used to them, but definitely the first year we used them there were a whole lot of complaints," Bryant said. "They weren't right. They sounded terrible. They sounded like you were hitting a pole. They just weren't very good. Over the last two years they've gotten a whole lot better. But there's nothing like the old ping of the aluminum bats.
"When you think of college baseball, you think of that ping. Now it's quite a different sound," said Bryant, who swings a 34-inch, 31-ounce DeMarini Voodoo.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bryant has adjusted to the BBCOR bats so well that his numbers this season are off the charts despite seeing few good pitches — he's tied for the NCAA lead with 57 walks — and batting leadoff 13 times.
"I guess it helps for professional baseball to have to square up and hit the ball hard," he said.
Kramer, a part-time employee in USD's athletic department, researched home run numbers in the West Coast Conference from 1985-2010 and 2011-2013. He found that the number of home runs per game hit by WCC teams has dropped by an average of 34 percent since the bat change. USD's numbers, however, were up slightly, thanks to Bryant.
Kramer added Bryant's average home runs per game this season, 0.56, to the average drop in home runs that occurred since 2011, 0.34, suggesting that Bryant would hit 0.90 home runs per game with the old bats.
Bryant already would have broken Incaviglia's record. Had Bryant played as many games as Incaviglia did, he would have hit a whopping 68.
Incaviglia hit 0.64 homers per game.
Although his research was limited to the WCC, Kramer believes the numbers give a good snapshot of how Bryant would have fared with an aluminum bat.
"If the home runs per game has dropped by 34 percent since 2011 when Bryant started college, it's reasonable to think that Bryant's numbers would increase by about that much had he played with a metal bat," said Kramer, who graduated from USD in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and received a master's in sport management from the University of San Francisco last year.
Kramer said he removed the WCC teams with the highest — USD — and lowest — BYU — changes to make his data more accurate and conservative. If he included USD and BYU in the average, the drop in homers goes from 34 percent to 37 percent, suggesting Bryant could have hit even more home runs with an aluminum bat than he projected.
Mike Gillespie, who coached Southern California to four College World Series appearances, including the championship in 1998, said it's hard to argue with Kramer's projections for Bryant.
"I'm as impressed as anybody could be with what he's done," said Gillespie, who is in his sixth season as UC Irvine's coach and witnessed Bryant's 30th homer in a loss to USD on May 15. "He's had a bull's-eye on his back and everybody was determined to pitch around him — don't let him beat you. With that bat, it's staggering. He's a freak."
Gillespie said Bryant hit four other fly balls in two games against the Anteaters this year that probably would have been homers with an aluminum bat.
So what could Bryant do with an aluminum bat?
"Boy, I think there's no telling because my view of him is that he's one of those rare guys that the park and the bat just don't seem to matter," Gillespie said. "I certainly believe 30 is just a huge number in any year, even if hit with a fungo. I don't think I'd put a limit on what he'd do. He would have killed somebody."
Gillespie remembers last season at USD when Bryant came up with the bases loaded and no place to put him.
"He hit a blur for a double that scored three runs. I suppose it was a moral victory it stayed in the park," he said.
Gillespie thinks Bryant could be in the big leagues by September, depending on which team drafts him and if it's willing to start his service-time clock that early.
The Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies hold the top three picks.
"He's Evan Longoria. He's (Troy) Tulowitzki. He's one of those rare, rare special guys," Gillespie said. "I'm glad we're done with him."
Bryant's father, Mike, played college baseball in the aluminum bat era before playing two years of minor league ball in the Red Sox organization in the early 1980s.
Now a hitting instructor and travel ball coach in Las Vegas, he calls BBCORs "stupid tin-can bats."
"You either have power or you don't, and BBCOR brings that out like wood does," Mike Bryant said. "Kris just has power."
Bryant has tied the BBCOR-era record of 30 home runs, set by Victor Roache of Georgia Southern in 62 games in 2011.
Among his homers this year was one that observers said either cleared or was even with an 80-foot light tower in left field at USD's Fowler Park. It was estimated to have gone 500 to 600 feet.
What puts Bryant in rarified is that everyone who hit more homers than he has did it with aluminum bats.
Bryant has eclipsed USD's single-season home run record by 12. He owns the career record of 53 set in three seasons; the old record of 43 was set in four seasons.
Bryant said hitting 30 homers wasn't his goal, but "it's something that's really special. I don't think it will hit me until I'm out of USD playing somewhere in the middle of the country. It's definitely been a fun year. It's something I'll remember forever."
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson