The No. 2 Texas Longhorns have had quite a surprising turn of events in this past week of baseball, both with the upset from the Texas State Bobcats in their midweek series as well as losing one of their best pitchers, Tanner Witt, out for the season due to Tommy John surgery.
However, this next week Texas is slated to play some easy games against the College of Charleston and The Citadel. Closing the week, they will have a three-game series hosting the University of Incarnate Word back at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
I was intrigued to investigate how some of the top trending sabermetrics used in the MLB fared in predicting performance in D1 baseball. One of the goals you can expect to see through these weekly deep dives into analytics is slowly dissecting what metric best evaluates Texas players versus their opponents.
Looking into both the base statistics for batting and pitching this year, Texas has had their key players rank highly amongst the nation’s best (updated as of March 12th, one game into the South Carolina series).
Star Longhorn batters have stood out this season, but seemed to crumble during the series against the Bobcats in the latter half of their loss. The graph below shows how their players compare to their opponents for the upcoming week based on batting average and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). The graph below compares these two metrics given the batter makes up at least five percent of the total at bats for the team in order to eliminate any outliers.
As you can see, first baseman Ivan Melendez stands out at the top of the OPS range, especially with the two homers he hit against South Carolina on Saturday. Designated hitter/third baseman Murphy Stehly, left fielder Eric Kennedy, and shortstop Trey Faltine round out the top sluggers for Texas so far this season. The competition for this upcoming week pales in comparison based on the number of above average and consistent hitters. College of Charleston has JT Marr (1.013) and Trotter Harlan (1.008), and UIW’s Ridge Rodgers (1.045) as their only stellar hitters. Meanwhile, the Citadel has five solid batters in Dylan Costa, Travis Lott, Tilo Skole, Cole Simpson, and Ryan McCarthy (though all with an OPS of 1).
On the pitching side, base stats (ERA and OBA) versus advanced stats (FIP and kwERA) is a debate that can be looked into this season as we look at Texas statistics. FIP has been used extensively and better accounts earned runs that are directly influenced by the pitcher by eliminating all balls in play. kwERA seeks to do the same thing by also eliminating home runs, and evaluating only strikeouts and walks (hence K and W). Both are adjusted with constants so they can be read as a traditional ERA. For the upcoming, week the graph below shows the pitcher comparisons on ERA vs kwERA given they have pitched at least five innings.
Witt had the lowest kwERA amongst the Longhorn pitchers and it will be unfortunate to not have him as the Sunday starter moving forward. After that, left-hander Pete Hansen has an incredible kwERA of 2.5 while the rest of the team pulls towards just past the league average. Right-hander Tristan Stevens, right-hander Aaron Nixon, and left-hander Luke Harrison all still sit at zero earned runs for the season which boosts their stance on the graph.
Guys to watch out for this upcoming week are Charleston’s Privette (kwERA=2.76) and Parris (2.33), Citadel’s Beckley (3.25), and UIW’s Garza (2.78) and Higdon (2.4). The danger lies in the teams with both starting and relief pitchers who are pitching in the 80th percentile for kwERA. It leaves many hopes up to fielding errors or dingers for Texas to get through this week without another loss.
The last thing to look out for is the BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) differential between Texas and their upcoming opponents. BABIP is a crucial metric for measuring the miscellaneous talent/luck for batters outside of slugging and can aid in finding the discrepancy between great pitchers or great defenses. For instance, teams with low kwERA and high BABIP can prove a good pitcher with a bad defense surrounding him. Below is a chart measuring the differential between Texas batting and pitching BABIP stat lines as well as those of their slate for this week.
These can be an indicator of strength of schedule or simply the way in which Texas has been losing this year. In their three losses so far this season, the bulk of the runs have come off singles, doubles, passed balls, and wild pitches (with the exception of the two homers against Texas St). The two challenges Texas faces in the upcoming week are tightening its defense and figuring out how to pitch exceptionally well with Witt’s absence.