Longhorns Crush Cal 13-3; Saturday Open Thread

Texas scored early and often on Friday night, putting up 12 runs through five innings before coasting to a 13-3 victory over Cal. The offensive heroes were scattered throughout the Texas lineup, including breakout games from freshman Taylor Stell (2-4, a triple, 3 runs, 2 stolen bases) and Landon Steinhagen (2-4, 2 RBI, 2 runs, a homer and a walk). Jonathan Walsh added another homer as the Horns managed 15 hits. Nathan Thornhill had another solid start, going 7 IP while giving up five hits and three runs (two earned) to go along with no walks and five strikeouts.

The Longhorns are now 9-1 since their series with Loyola-Marymount. After that split, the Horns had a .212 team batting average, averaged 3.3 runs per game, had three home runs, seven triples, averaged six hits a game and were slugging .303. In the 10 games since the Horns have improved their team batting average to .273, have had seven homers and nine triples, are now averaging eight hits a game and are slugging .394. The Horns have been aggressive on the base paths, stealing just six bases in the first 14 games but 33 in the last 10 (including a perfect 6-6 last night).

Today's game starts at 4 PM in Round Rock and is available on the Longhorn Network. A quick look at the sustainability of the last ten games after the jump.

At this point, all Texas baseball fans have to be wondering whether the Horns may actually be a *gasp* good offensive team. To help determine this, we took a look at the Texas batting average on balls in play or BABIP (check here for a good description on how to calculate BABIP). Bottom line of the stat is that it attempts to measure for luck on balls put it play by adjusting for things like sacrifice flies, home runs and strikeouts. Looking over the past few years, the Horns have fluctuated a bit in this stat, but in general a little less than a third of balls Longhorn hitters have put in play ended up as base hits since 2008 (.336 in 2008, .324 in 2009, .322 in 2010 and .313 in 2011).

Over the first 14 games of 2012, the Horns had a BABIP of .258, strongly suggesting that the Texas hitters were hamstrung by appalling luck during their slow start. As a result of the hot hitting over the last 10 games, Texas hitters have a .325 BABIP for the season (in contrast, the Aggies have a BABIP of .367 this season). Looking at just the last 10 games with BABIP as our metric it's pretty clear that the Horns have had an overabundance of luck of late with a .400 batting average on balls in play.

So is it all sustainable? The Texas offense probably won't get a hit four out of every 10 times they make contact for the rest of the season. Even if they do cool down, however, there's no reason to think this can't be a very potent Texas offense. There's no reason Texas can't hit .300 as a team or maintain its power surge (7 HR in 10 games). Erich Weiss was not going to hit below .200 this season, Jonathan Walsh and Mark Payton came to Austin as potential offensive stars, and Jordan Etier is an experienced senior whose offensive numbers have steadily improved each of the last three years. The breakout of these players shouldn't shock us.

The key to the sustainability of the offense, therefore, may be determined by whether Landon Steinhagen and Taylor Stell can stick. Steinhagen is getting regular at-bats for the first time in burnt orange after Kevin Lusson and Colin Shaw failed to capitalize on their chances. The JuCo transfer is now hitting .244 and slugged his first home run at Texas last night. A competent DH with some power would be a huge boon to the Texas offense.

Then there's Stell. The lanky CF is the fastest player on the Texas roster and is an immediate threat on the basepaths any time he gets aboard. Stell may be raw, but he has shown good plate discipline, some power and appears to play solid defense. Since starting the season 0-6 with five Ks, Stell is 3-6 with a triple, an RBI, three walks, two HBP and only one other strikeout. That Stell deserves playing time is no knock on Tim Maitland (who has been sitting with a bum ankle), as the senior has shown he can hit the ball and play defense. But Stell's upside is tremendous and he may be the only player on the Texas roster that can replicate what Cohl Walla brought to Texas in 2010.

Should Stell and Steinhagen be the real deal then Texas can survive Walsh and Payton coming back down to earth a bit. It's impossible to say how the 2012 season will play out, but the Horns will see lesser competition over the next two months and appear to have found their legs offensively.

Ultimately, there's no reason to believe what we've seen the last 10 games is any more of a mirage than the first 14 were.

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