By Alexander Haynes
Success in baseball comes with the rewards of receiving higher accreditation and ranking. The flipside of success is more attention, pressure and duty to hold up to that ranking. Standing at 30th in the nation, the Texas State Bobcats have the unheralded opportunity to create separation inside of the Sun Belt Conference by playing the 27th ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleers – an opponent comprised of confidence, planning and electricity. Not only do the Chanticleers have a perfect 4-0 record on the road, but they boast 30 home runs and a .502 team slugging percentage. To summarize before the preview begins: this weekend could be a firework show.
The Chanticleers Roster
The best descriptor of what to expect from the Chanticleers is explosive dynamism. All facets of the diamond are covered by respectable performance: home runs, steals, walks, singles and doubles – they bring a unique approach game in and out. There is no definitive way to stop the team as one tactic will implicate they attack the game in another tenant.
The bravado of statistical credit goes to Kevin Woodall Jr. and Zach Biermann. They hold nine and six home runs, while batting .278 and .338 respectively. Woodall Jr.’s power does carry the team high in strike outs (26), but he combines 21 walks to make himself a versatile, veteran batter.
Seth Lancaster is one of the trickier batters on the team, able to garnish precision in his hits. Eleven doubles on the season along with 28 hits, 23 walks and five home runs is putting Lancaster in truly scary territory. The potential his bat carries necessitates that pitchers approach him carefully, not choosing to pitch “creatively.”
Without doubt, there is a mental eliminate in beating the Chanticleers. Their chaos creation on the base path is a trip into an over-booked kitchen. The juxtaposition of 39 stolen bases on 49 attempts to opponents obtaining a mere six stolen bases on 17 attempts is justifying of an extra eye on certain runners.
Lancaster (nine for 10) adds another incredible dimension to the team, while Kieton Rivers (eight for 11) adds the same finality to their attack. Pinch hitter Cameron Pearcy has seen five stolen bases on five attempts while being on base 18 times. Ten out of 15 batters who have seen time on base have obtained a successful steal.
The entire batting lineup is taught principled, athletic baseball – even, chaotic baseball at times. The principle to beating the Chanticleers is simultaneously taking advantage of every mistake while also being willing to punch formidable hits on offense. There is an element of balance between risk taking and adhering to traditional approach.
The risk taking is apt to beating the pitchers by cleaning up on hits, and then finishing them with equal puncturing of the base paths. Jason Bilous is the most poised pitcher with a 2.51 ERA; while he has provided only 17 hits, he has also walked 22 batters. The other problem is his pure willingness to taunt and deceive batters – he has 34 strikeouts. Bilous approaches some batters dancing around the strike zone, then leans batters into swinging wildly, making him equally effectively wild.
Zach Hopeck and Anthony Simonelli round out the starting positions, giving up one hit per inning pitched. They also boast higher ERAs with 4.55 and 6.65 respectively. The contrast between the two stands in their strikeouts – neither have a high proportion of walks, but Hopeck carries 27 strikes, implicating his pitching straight to the strike zone. Simonelli has only 11 strikeouts and 10 doubles allowed.
The team ERA stands at 4.31, or just below the NCAA average. Advantage exists for opponents – Anthony Veneziano has allowed 27 hits in his 22 innings of relief – but they do not allow advantage to turn into runs. Impressively, the team cleans up defensively with only 18 unearned runs.
The Chanticleers are winning by recycling their pitchers when needed with a clone, powering more runs, then cleaning up on defense with minimal errors.
As good as Nicholas Fraze and Connor Reich have been, their focused must be unparalleled this weekend to solidify victories against the Chanticleers. The most overt problem is not Fraze and Reich, but the lack of concurrent depth in the Bobcats bullpen. Fraze and Reich will most likely post their pitches with variance, trying to outsmart the Chanticleers like chess pieces. The series will be a balance of three games coming each being defined by one pitch.
As cliché as this sounds on the commentary spectrum, the one respective onus is to disavow power hits. Fraze and Reich have some room to risk allowing dribbling singles; they have shown the precision to allow a single, then force a ground out or strike out. However, what they must avoid is the power pull to the opposite field. Doubles or triples will kill the Bobcats epitomized by how the Chanticleers can steal or follow up a double with another double. Hence, they can create a run with two hits instead of needing the four hits other teams allow.
Mathematically, this limits the Bobcats to allowing six hits and two walks per game. The problem is not the hits – the average on the season is 6.65. Rather, the walks and when they come. At 4.4 walks per game, and most arriving once the bull pen takes over in innings six through eight, the analytical leverage is placed not on closer Braydon Theriot, but the bull pen. And a bull pen that has not been effective in chaining together clean innings.
Even though the walks have been survivable, the predicted highest leverage innings for this series have been the Bobcats worst innings. One walk could turn into a steal, followed by an RBI double. One hit, steal, then another hit (even separated by strikeouts) will lead to utter disaster.
While overtly depressing, this series outlook is shaping up to the tune of a firework display – homeruns and deep shots will be the killing moments in the game. The question boils down to who can intimidate and when. Also predicting power hitting as of late has come down to when Derek Scheible or Jaylen Hubbard is arriving in the batting circle.
However, there is the persistent hope the Bobcats can break apart the starters sooner than usual. As noted Scheible, Luke Sherley and Dylan Paul can take advantage of pitchers in multiple ways. Against Bilous the battle boils down to precisely those factors – the veterans presenting a more audacious than him.
Battling Hopeck could see Jonathan Ortega have a rebounding game. Ortega has created a habit of forcing zone-pitchers into frustrating counts. If nothing else, he can serve as a serviceable scout by forcing pitchers to reveal extended pitch counts. The onus then shifts to those behind him, specifically Ryan Newman, to extrapolate and bring in more substance.
Simonelli is the pitcher for Jacob Almendarez, Mickey Scott and the other batters who compound the back-end of the lineup to drive in singles. The mathematical trick is to net as many bases in few hits as possible. Thus, by risking steals after singles, then hoping Ortega or Hubbard can ring a double, the Bobcats be efficient on the base path.
The underlying statistical line which may determine not only this game, but other games against top-ranked teams is runners left-on-base. They have no room to waste opportunity.
Featured image by Giovanni Gilmore.