By Alexander Haynes
Early season victories and calculations will deliver season-long expectations. After going 2-0-1 against UC Santa Barbara, then beating rival UTSA 5-2 on Tuesday night, the Texas State Bobcats evidenced they can win games they should. The challenge, however, shifts to now beating Appalachian State University in the opening Sun Belt series. There is a dual narrative at task here. First, not falling to the mental hurdles that can be playing in-conference opponents. Second, which may seem a contradiction, they must improve in stable analytics, knowing that in-conference games will set the tone for the remainder of the season. Analytically, that stability is found within the complementary style – the key to how far Texas State will go this year, and certain to be tested this weekend.
Appalachian State Mountaineers Roster
A season after going 19-36, the Mountaineers once again find themselves at 5-9, being outscored in most outings, winning only one game a series, and falling to analytical boredom. In the larger scheme of things, they are a team wallowing after getting shut out three times, holding a -19 run differential and a team OPS of only .633. Opponents have achieved the average .775 OPS, most notably due to the achievement of a .400 SLG and 10 homeruns compared to the Mountaineers .311 SLG and five homeruns.
On a macro perspective, the defining notion for the Mountaineers is their lack of ability to control game flow. They have allowed substantially more hits than gained (-38), but contrasted to the opponents they have played, do not hold subtly worst efficiency – in other words, they do not finish.
On a micro perspective, the Mountaineers can still usurp their opponents with momentary control. Much of this series will be in the microcosm of pitching. Drew Beck may maintain the most potent situational control in the lineup. He has hoisted the most hits (13), naturally obtaining the second highest batting average of .277. His .426 SLG and .364 OBS makes him the pesky middle of the lineup batter who can define game flow by forcing an inning to last too long.
Kendall McGowan and Alex Leshock hold the other two noteworthy batting averages at .280 in 25 at-bats and .270 in 37 at-bats respectively. McGowan has yet to see a large sample-size, but extrapolating his statistics outward, he could be the most enduring batter. Leshock is the only batter on the roster who has a substantially better OBS contrasted to SLG at .438 compared to .378. Theoretically, this paints Leshock as the most efficient batter in the lineup. The analytics are also showing his nine walks to eight strikeouts make him the most patient batter.
After those batters, however, the Mountaineers’ batting typology goes back to swinging and hoping for the right pitch opposed to establishing a pattern of expectancy. Teams which benefit each other in the batting lineup are the most successful; the Mountaineers are the type of team defined by the opposite method.
Joel McDaniel has 17 strikeouts to two walks; Riley Smith has 10 strikeouts to seven walks; Jason Avers has 18 strikeouts to seven walks. Those are the three leading batters on the team, and that does not even begin to attribute bench hitters who befall to the same frustrations. Furthermore, once on-base, steals are a factor of the past – Leshock is the only threat for chaos as he has three stolen bases on five attempts.
The Mountaineers’ pitching staff, by contrast, is at the average mark for NCAA pitching with a 5.18 ERA. Leading the cast is Colin Schmid, who has seen 25 innings of pitching in his four starts. Schmid does not often allow opportunity, holding a 2.52 ERA. Finding how exactly the Bobcats can break his hold will be an interesting study in a confident and instinctive pitcher.
Andrew Vaccacio, the second-most utilized pitcher at 20.1 innings, shows that the line between confident and breakable is tedious. While only allowing four more walks than Schmid (12), and two more hits (18), those numbers have created six more emphatic runs. By the time the heart of the lineup has experienced his pitching twice, Vaccacio begins to dissolve.
And in leaving the rest of the game to the bullpen, the Mountaineers begin to shakily incriminate a 5.18 ERA. Brandon Boone has appeared in three games (starting once), and while a 4.61 ERA is not egregious territory, six of his 20 allowed hits have been doubles; painful extra bases creating a 4.61 ERA. Kaleb Bowman has a 6.75 ERA with 10.2 innings of work, while Reed Howell holds the team high 11.12 ERA.
Closing pitcher Luke Watts has two saves in his resume this season, but again can be hurt by a lack of concise pitching. His 2.89 ERA, but eight earned runs allowed, is reminiscent of an average closer who will control games then suddenly turn into a chaotic roller coaster.
Against the Appalachian State Mountaineers, the Bobcats have a certain responsibility to continue working for one another. The separation between the Mountaineers and the Bobcats is the way the Bobcats benefit each other; analytically represented by a .720 OPS split equally between slugging and on-base percentage. There is a science to their plate approach that has been groomed through 15 games – the question is if that science can be turned into consistency.
Amidst the recent success, Jonathan Ortega has quelled his strikeout litany, but continues to hit poorly, finding contact only 13 times through the season. ‘If’ is no longer a factor – his hitting must become a de facto aspect of the veteran lineup.
Dylan Paul was having similar lack of contact issues earlier in the season. Now, he represents a bulldozer in the lineup. His .911 OPS is barely eclipsed by the other power hitter Derek Scheible at 1.071. Paul has been maintaining better plate control (10 strikeouts, 17 percent of at-bats) than Scheible (19 strikeouts, 35 percent of at-bats). Then again, Scheible’s power groove has put him as the sole player with multiple home runs, currently sitting at five.
The underlying point in contrasting power hitters Paul and Scheible is the same style can complement each other in the subtleties of approach. Both have been incredible assets for the team and complement one another in their strengths. Hence, pitchers will be unable to identify one pitch that works for all the batters in the lineup.
Take for example Luke Sherley – his consistency in taking pitchers far into the count has granted him a .926 OPS and most notably 14 walks to seven strikeouts (17 percent of at-bats). Once on base, Sherley has been the definitive chaos creator with six steals.
Efficiency in walking has also benefited Jared Huber even in his lower attribution of 37 at-bats. Despite nine hits (.270 SLG), he has achieved a .429 OBS by walking nine times. Cole Coffey has also attempted plate patience to replace a dismal .158 batting average by walking six times in 19 at-bats.
Again, the underlying factor in the contrast of overt success with power or standing strong in the batting box is the Bobcats are finding ways to produce scoring opportunities. The subsequent question then becomes how the team can ensure those who arrive on base can be sent home by the back-end of the roster. And against manipulative pitching, that is a question which remains.
Until the batting lineup has proven the ability to stare down veteran pitching, the Bobcats own pitching will be the commodity to control game flow. A 2.82 team ERA is being pioneered by Nicholas Fraze (.68 ERA), Connor Reich (2.05), and Cam Baird (1.26 ERA), leading to outings which the bull pen can conclude with relative ease. Fraze is maintaining an ability to ebb and flow to different batters, netting 25 strikeouts. Reich is contrasted with the quicker ball and more brazen approach, thus does need to be careful against the Mountaineers hack-and-slash bats. Baird and Brayden Theriot have two and three saves respectively, assisting in the brevity of games.
The confidence found in those four pitchers is slowly starting to pour over into the arms of Zachary Leigh and Wes Engle. While Leigh and Engle have not been as controlling, singular innings of greatness are the signal of potential to pin down batters deep in Sun Belt play.
In summation, the game against Appalachian State represents an opportunity to continue in the success of what might be termed complementary play. The season is long; much more than three weeks must be shown to make a team truly formidable.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf.