By Alexander Haynes
In baseball, games are in series. A process of details in which players will have a slew of great, mediocre and bad moments. And it’s those trajectories are why baseball is best played in series. The analytics, lessons, heartbreak and positivity flow through the season to become influential in a game focused on insistent improvement. With that premise, the Texas State Bobcats have the team duty of winning each series, and the individual duty to support one another in the ups and downs of the season.
That has already been seen through the first few games; when Derek Scheible and Jonathan Ortega struggled in the opening, and Jacob Almendarez found proficiency in pulling hits. Taking that kind of focus into each series, especially this weekends against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in San Marcos, will define the fine line between finishing .500 or .750 in the win, loss category.
The Stephen F. Austin Roster
A quick look at the Lumberjacks’ record may undersell their potential. Yes, they sit at 0-7, but five of those losses have been at two runs or less in high scoring forays. The underlying notion is intriguing bats that have come up short behind a less than appealing pitching staff, hosting a stark negative 21-point differential. Also, to be noted is they have yet to play at home, a fact that becomes important considering their 1.109 Park factor in 2017, finishing at 29-28 overall and 21-7 at home.
The leader of the batting lineup has been Jared Martin, slashing for 12 hits (leading the team by five) while also compiling a .821 SLG with a .500 OBP. Martin has garnished his success off deep, outfield ball placement, netting five doubles and two home runs in the young season. He is joined by Skylar Black, whom has a .700 SLG with two doubles, a triple and a home run.
However, the problems for the Lumberjacks arise quiet steadily without a well-rounded hitter, save Martin and Black. Josh Campbell has seen some success in his 17 at bats, but a closer look also shows he has been hit by three pitches. Although seven players have four or more RBIs, no one player boasts an ability to bat player’s home with the ferocity closing teams need.
There is also a systemic lack of walks wherein no player who has seen above 10 at-bats has a walk percentage above 21. The implication would be this is a team which gets on base with straightforward, pulling hits to the outfield. Furthermore, once on-base, they rely on the follow up hitter advancing them – only two of their six stolen base attempts have been successful.
Despite those factors, their games have been close. Do not mistake a team lacking super star power for a team lacking the ability to take advantage of sluggish outfields. The Lumberjacks adequacy in plopping precise hits is a factor that must be watched.
The hitting has been largely dampened by a pitching staff owning a collective 8.02 ERA and the longest surviving pitcher being Trevor Kiminski at nine innings. Their starters lack endurance, and their bullpen is an experimental process of youth. Only Austin Hearn (3.1 innings) and Jake Norton (.1 innings) have not allowed a walk.
There may be a point which the pitching staff finds consistency, but until that happens, there are little signs of positivity. 17 wild pitches and 18 batters hit by pitches only further epitomize fundamental control problems.
The single sign of positivity has arisen from Kiminski’s two starts – he has eight strikeouts compared to three walks, but still owns six earned runs, while allowing one double, a triple and a home run. Finding the threat here is an exercise in futility.
Leaving off on the Lumberjacks frustrating pitching staff, the Bobcats baseball team must take advantage of every single mistake while being annoyingly patient. The Lumberjacks will walk batters, and those walked batters can create further chaos by stealing. Those steals should be limited to once or twice in a game; the Lumberjacks have a small sample size in catching steals, and only 12 errors, with four coming from one player.
Another approach to this series, akin to last weekend against McNeese State, is focusing on how the batting lineup can concentrate on their own abilities. Although belabored upon, they have lacked consistency throughout a game, and try to fulfill two identities at once. Only Dylan Paul is batting with a slugging percentage above .500 (.552), making the team adequately, adequate.
The balance in the lineup will come from a rise in Luke Sherley and Scheible. There have been at-bats where Scheible pings fouls for several minutes, owning patience, only to fall under the temptation of a juicy fastball; those trips must end. Sherley has five walks to five strikeouts, and even has powered three doubles, but his lack of consistently placing the ball has been frustrating. Sherley does need more power, rather simplicity in taking a single if that is the pitch being offered.
Another way to describe the Bobcats lineup has been a subtle pressure on the back half of the lineup to slash for power instead of slashing for straight-forward success. The power potential exists within players such as Jaylen Hubbard and Paul, but until players join Almendarez in finding simple ways to get on base, the lack of RBIs will be a death knell.
Then again, the Lumberjacks lineup is much of the same, presenting an intriguing test for the Bobcats pitching staff. From Friday to Sunday, this is a matchup about endurance, and thus pitching efficiency. The Lumberjacks own bats will walk when given the chance, but are happier simply dropping balls in the outfield.
The Bobcats need to focus on forcing the Lumberjacks into dribbling ground outs and pop-flies. The lack of power from the Lumberjacks lineup does allow freedom in riskier pitches toward the latter half of the lineup. This does not mean pitching straight meatballs – that is laziness – but does allow for the quick out through pitching toward the lower half of the zone.
Nicholas Fraze (12 strikeouts) and Connor Reich (14 strikeouts) will be the most intriguing pitchers to watch evolve this weekend throughout the rest of the year. They have seen variety in their pitching, throwing in multiple lanes to keep teams guessing. Brandon Lewis is another starter who should get vast experience this weekend. Lewis struggled in his first outing against Oklahoma State after not being able to stop bleeding after a home run. Last weekend, he contrasted that outing with a quick five inning startup that set a tone of consistency. Lewis has only a certain subset of pitches in his arsenal, which may force him out of games around the five or six inning mark.
The hinge point then becomes how the bullpen can carry the team. The connection between the starter and closer (possibly Brayden Theriot) will be important to finishing the process this weekend. There has been a habit to bounce around the point of getting outs, allowing for one slip of a pitch to create a deep hit, starting a depressing flow of hits.
All in all, the underlying goal for the Bobcats this weekend is to take control akin to their operation last weekend. Methodical approach to plate combined with pitching that leans toward experimental, even risk at points, can use this series as a launching pad for that missing line which can make the Bobcats a dominate force against Sun Belt opponents.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf.