By Alexander Haynes
The Baylor game, now two weeks past, began a haunting trend for the Texas State Bobcat baseball team. The 5-17, seven inning loss dripped into a weekend series against Georgia Southern with the team going 1-2. Despite scoring 17 runs on the series, the Bobcats lost late, losing in 11 innings on Saturday, then losing 7-10 on Sunday.
The Bobcats had opportunity against the Texas Longhorns, pushing 10 runs into the ninth inning. The 10-6 lead was a continued string of rejuvenation through hitting; a relaxed contrast to the earlier season woes. Then, as if a curse was looming, the Longhorns’ Ko Clemens scored a run to bring the score to a tight 10-7. And as the Longhorns loaded the bases, the inevitable Grand Slam (a literal SportsCenter highlight the next morning) gave Texas a 10-11 win, sending the Bobcats to Arkansas awkwardly silent at 22-22-1.
On a narrative standpoint, the Bobcats are overwhelmed in inevitable heartbreak, a processional breakdown through the latter half of innings. Yet, as the analytics point out, there is still hope for the duplicitous team to win on the back of their bats as they march into Arkansas for a break from the heartbreak that has been Texas.
Arkansas State Red Wolves Roster
The Arkansas State Red Wolves have fared their own balance of up-and-down play, including a 14-26 loss to Coastal Carolina, then a 31-7 win over the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Standing at 15-25, 6-15 in the Sun Belt, the Red Wolves have been entirely temperamental. They have a –43 run differential, a .755 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), and an overwhelming 371 strikeouts. Hence, they are not necessarily balanced across the spectrum of the lineup.
Yet, that lack of balance is not indicative of the entire team being bereft of function. Kyle MacDonald is their most powerful batter, hitting at a 1.076 OPS with a .283 isolated slugging percentage (ISO). Those numbers are only epitomized by his nine home runs and 52 hits. However, MacDonald also brings plate patience with 28 walks to 36 strikeouts – he is the complete package of a collegiate hitter.
No other batter has the power to reverberate with a home run (second highest being five), but three others can bring functional deep, outfield hits. Jeremy Brown brings a .171 ISO, Winston Welch a .162 ISO, and Tobias Johnson a .166 ISO. Johnson has five home runs, while Brown and Welch have carried doubles. Brown is also second in hits at 49.
Grant Hawkins is the other notable batter who can be expressively agile on the base path, stealing 10 bases on 13 attempts. Hawkins also is a pest of a batter, crowding the plate and being hit an awkwardly high number of 12 times. In a term, he is consistently just above average, walking 33 times and striking out 44 times – a quaint note of balance for the Red Wolves.
As explosive as the Red Wolves have been, one of their wonders is that they have been entirely inconsistent in exploding – an all or nothing performance. However, part of the troubles has been a lack of support from the pitching staff.
Bradley Welsh is the pitcher who throws with the aim to strikeout most effectively, gliding through innings with 54 strikeouts and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). However, he also has provided the most contact, allowing 63 hits with a 4.5 fielding independent pitching rate (FIP – which measures a pitcher on his three true outcomes, of which 4.5 is teetering on the edge of poor for NCAA baseball). Welsh provides too much opportunity amidst his strikes, leaving room for power hitters to chase him.
The other starter who takes notoriety with the most innings, 65.1, and lowest earned run average of starting pitchers at 3.72, is Nate Alberius. Alberius has 47 strikeouts (6.5 K/9) and a complete game on the record – he can be fundamentally provoking on opposing batters to make contact on bad pitches. Alberius is trending toward the average of a 4.1 FIP, implicating what has been seen; he can manipulate batters that fit into his categorical attack and will struggle against more potent terms.
Bo Ritter is the most consistent bull pen member, striking out 27 batters through 30.1 innings of relief (8.07 K/9). He has a 3.1 FIP, being proficient on his own account. He rarely gives teams opportunities to string together hits, leaving lineups akin to the Bobcats in trouble in late battles.
Taking on the Red Wolves is more about the Bobcats executing for a redemptive wave of success. Avoiding a fall beneath a .500 record is essential to gather momentum heading into the latter portion of the season. In summation, the Bobcats have failed to take advantage of opportunities that have been gifted toward them.
One of the first notes where the Bobcats can irritate the Red Wolves is on the base path; the Bobcats have a collective 43 steals on 63 attempts, with Luke Sherley leading on 12 successful attempts. The Red Wolves meanwhile have recorded an egregious 63 errors, 24 more than their opponents. And while those errors may not be on base stealing, it points toward an underlying premonition of sloppy fielding. Overall, they have allowed opponents to steal 52 times on 64 attempts.
Yet, to steal, batters must get on base first. Sherley is leading the team in holistic hitting, being one of the most important cogs to the puzzle of stringing together plays. His .154 ISO, 48 hits, and aforementioned stolen bases are compounded by a positive walk to strike out ratio (28 walks, 23 strikeouts). He is creative in finding ways to move throughout the diamond.
Derek Scheible is the second leader in runs batted in (RBI) at 31, adding an above average .215 ISO. Through 10 home runs, nine stolen bases, and the aforementioned power, Scheible devastates pitchers, effectively putting them on edge. However, Scheible’s middle-of-the-road batting average (.245) points to an underlying need the Bobcats have to continue to bring together – complementing one another. Not every hitter delivers power or austerity, but every batter can bring expansive help with consistent singles.
Through the span of haunting games, the Bobcat batting lineup has been explosive, scoring 32 runs since April 24. Jonathan Ortega has 23 walks, now with a positive BB/K ratio, upping his batting average to .292. Jaylen Hubbard has been deriving hits, now at 52 on the season, while Dylan Paul crept into double digits on doubles (10 on the season). They have found ways to locate bad pitches, and against a Red Wolves team whose staff hints at where their pitches are incoming– none of this should change.
However, in that same span since April 24, the Bobcats have allowed 48 runs, 31 taking away the Baylor game. The +1-point differential dually displays how fun the batting lineup has been and how heart breaking the pitching staff has been. Zachary Leigh working in the bullpen has not been as beneficial as once expected, Cam Baird, Anthony Pagano and Brayden Theriot are effectively wild one moment, effectively scary the next. Kyle Bradford has been the best relief pitcher, yet his pitching style keeps him to one inning.
The goal on the weekend is for pitching endurance. Nicholas Fraze and Connor Reich must survive six innings with complete command of their pitching. The bullpen right now has no two-inning, stretch pitcher, and thus a short outing on Friday or Saturday will hurt the bullpen on Sunday. Much like the batting lineup came around, the pitching staff must each fulfill their unique roles for one another.
Featured image by Giovanni Gilmore.