This may shock you, but the best case scenario for Texas this summer could be hosting a regional but not a super.
It would be crazy to argue that any team would be worse off not hosting a regional as the potential advantage of getting the 4-seed followed by the 2/3 winner's second best pitcher is too great to pass up. But what about if the Horns had to go play on the road for a super regional?
It's certainly not unprecedented as the Horns made it to the CWS in 2003 playing through Florida State and won a title in 2005 after traveling to Ole Miss. While they had to go on the road in '03 and '05, I wouldn't argue that those teams better served by leaving Austin for their super regional matchups.It might be very premature, but one could argue that the best case scenario for the 2014 Horns might be a home regional and road super regional.
To see why let's dig into the numbers to compare how the Texas offense operates at and away from UFCUDFF. I used Sunday's loss to TCU as the stat cutoff date. The Horns had played 26 home games, 3 neutral games and 12 true road games.
Texas hitters during the 26 home games have a team line of .243/.392/.358 (Avg/OBP/Slg) with an OPS of 0.750. Texas is scoring 3.91 earned runs per 9 innings at home. The three neutral games were played at cavernous Minute Maid Park against three excellent pitching teams (Houston is #1 in ERA, Rice is #16 and SHSU is #42). Texas hitting struggled to a .234/.356/.326 line and opponent ERA of 1.46 though the Horns swept those opponents.
In the 12 true road games Texas hitters are mashing the ball to a .289/.405/.467 with OPS of 0.873 and opponent ERA of 4.74. Assuming my math is right, just by leaving UFCUDD Texas hitters are improving their batting average by 15%, OBP by 3%, slugging by 26%, OPS by 14% and scoring 4% earned runs.
If we further remove the three neutral games in a UFCUDFF-like setting (Minute Maid) that's very different from what Texas would face in a super regional then we get a 19% increase in batting average, 3% increase in OBP, 30% (!) increase in slugging and scoring 21% more earned runs.
Bottom line is that Texas hitters have been much, much better on the road than at home this year. Few (if any) other college teams have ballparks that look and play like UFCUDFF or Minute Maid Park, so having to play somewhere like LSU might be a good thing for Texas hitters.
"But that's not surprising," you say flippantly. "Have you considered that Texas pitchers are probably getting a similar bump by getting to pitch at UFCUDFF that would be cancelled out in a road series in a silo?"
Actually, I have. And the answer to your question is that Texas pitchers have been excellent wherever they've gone. As a matter of fact they've actually been a been a bit better statistically on the road than at home.
At UFCUDFF opponents are hitting a ridiculously bad .215/.349/.299 with OPS of 0.513 and Texas pitchers have a team ERA of 2.39. Let's say we're being kind and take away the Saturday loss to Stanford in which Texas pitchers gave up 11 runs as an outlier. Texas pitchers still have an ERA of 2.05 which is obviously ridiculously good.
When Texas leaves UFCUDFF though they're even better. In the 15 games away from UFCUDFF Texas pitchers have given up a .225/.325/.290 slash with an OPS of 0.514 and opponent ERA of 1.75 (!). In just the 12 road games the Horns have given up a .233/.333/.287 slash with an OPS of 0.510 and an opponent ERA of 1.98.
Texas pitchers have been slightly better on the road, giving up slightly more hits but fewer walks and fewer extra base hits. Texas hitters have been MUCH better on the road.
Figuring out why is the $64 million question and your guess is as good as mine. My best guess is that it's a mental thing. Texas hitters know they only need to score 3-4 runs in any given home game given the environment and quality of Texas pitchers. Texas hitters get tight, they fail to execute on their bunts and hit very poorly with RISP. Texas hitters also know they're playing in more offense friendly parks when they go on the road. They're looser leading to better execution at the plate, more hits and more runs.
It's not like Texas hasn't played quality opponents on the road. They have a series win over Texas Tech (ISR #15), sweep of Oklahoma (ISR #67), series split against Cal (ISR #69) and road midweek wins over Rice (ISR #16) and Texas State (ISR #82). All of those teams also have capable pitchers with staff ERAs ranging from #16 nationally (Rice) to #106 (Texas State). The competition hasn't been any better at home, and Texas has been extremely disappointing in the four home games they have played against the country's best pitching (0-4 against TCU and Rice at home).
Maybe it's a mental block, maybe it's bad timing, maybe it's a smaller sample size for road games, maybe it's something else. Texas would have to be thrilled if it got to host a super regional considering the last two seasons and I know I've put the proverbial cart several miles in front of the proverbial horse here.
But it is at least worth considering and not panicking if the Horns don't get a national seed next month.
On to Okie State. The Cowboys come to town with consecutive conference sweeps preceded by a nice series win over Texas Tech. Kinda exactly how the Horns were playing before the TCU sweep. OSU played one of the conference's weakest non-conference schedules (SoS 113) but their success in the Big 12 has them as the conference's second highest ranked team. OSU's strong conference play also has the Cowboys ranking first in pitching and hitting, but Texas swept the last team it played with that title (OU).
OSU is a better matchup for Texas than TCU was. They pitch well but don't strike a ton of hitters out. OSU can't match TCU's starting pitching depth but their bullpen depth is impressive. Closer Brendan McCurry might be the best reliever in the conference (5-0, 0.29 ERA, 11 saves, 34 K, 4 BB, .190 opponent BA, 1 earned run in 30.2 IP). Scoring early, making OSU use multiple relievers and avoiding comebacks will be the key to a series win.
Texas has its work cut out for it this weekend but a series victory will get the Horns back on track with two remaining conference series (after this one).
Parker French is on the mound tonight. The game is on LHN and first pitch is at 7 PM. This'll be your open thread.