You may have noticed that the preseason #1 ranked baseball team has stumbled out of the gate a bit, now sitting at 5-6 on the season after losing two of three at Stanford over the weekend. The Horns have only played two home games (2-0), so Horns fans haven't had a chance to see the team play up close and personal much yet. But no need: the numbers tell the whole story.
The short of it is, the Horns aren't hitting well or pitching well.
Duh, right? Okay, okay, let's dive in to where the problems actually are.
Starting with the pitchers. Compare the two sets of numbers:
2005 BB/9 K/9
K Kasparek 3.82 5.67
K McCulloch 2.92 6.40
A Alaniz 3.25 7.83
2006 BB/9 K/9
K Kasparek 5.89 5.04
K McCulloch 4.80 8.40
A Alaniz 3.92 5.03
Oops. Every single pitcher has seen a spike in their walk rate. McCulloch has increased his strikeout rate, but Alaniz and Kasparek have seen theirs drop. (It should also be noted that after starting in 12 of the 15 games that Kasparek appeared in last year, Augie has inexplicably moved him to the bullpen. This is a huge misallocation of resources and a direct reflection of Augie's fetish with "shut down" closers. While we've been spoiled the past few years with Huston Street and J. Brent Cox, a good closer is worthless if you can't give him the ball with a lead at the end of the game. Augie needs to fix this. Soon.)
The batters, meanwhile, are really struggling. After posting an On Base Percentage of .382 and a Slugging Percentage of .443 last year, the Horns have dipped to .338 OBP and .381 SLG. Adding to the woes have been the nine double plays the Horns have grounded in to, nearly double the rate from last year.
There are lessons in here, kids. "Small ball" has this sexy aura about it, but it's really a misguided offensive strategy. At some point, you need to rake extra base hits. It's fine to win with pitching and defense, but the Horns aren't going to Omaha if they slug .381. Or get on base at such a low clip.
The good news is that the pitching can, and will, improve. The walk rates will get under control, and the K-rates from last year probably weren't fluky. The Horns pitchers have just struggled out of the gate a bit. It happens. We're only 11 games in to this thing. The problem to watch more carefully is the hitting, as the Horns are relying on quite a few new bats. If the newcomers don't start raking, the Horns are going to have to be awfully dominant on the mound to return to Omaha.