The No 10. Texas Longhorns came off a disappointing loss against the Air Force Fighting Falcons last week with a resounding four-win streak in style, scoring 58 runs and allowing 19 for the remaining four games in the week against Air Force and the Baylor Bears, followed by a road win on Tuesday against the UTRGV Vaqueros in Edinburg.
On a weekly basis it seems that Texas has had wavering play against their matchups for the week. The advanced stats I have calculated so far this season continue to show that Texas as a whole, is an exceptional batting and pitching team compared to most of the league. However, we know that Texas has fallen far from what the preseason expectations were. This week, we take a dive into the situational statistics and when UT crumbles defensively or fails to develop any momentum in hitting.
We already know that the Longhorns made a massive turnaround following their choking 14-2 performance in the first game against the Fighting Falcons. To better visualize how they were able to turn the tide, the graph below shows each batter’s batting average in the Air Force series vs. the Baylor series. The number above each bar indicates how many at bats they had for the game to better put into context any averages equal to 1 or 0.
Apart from right fielder Murphy Stehly (BA = .500, .250), we clearly saw the entire team step up in the series against Baylor. The dominating stretch was led by solid performances from shortstop Trey Faltine (.429, .545), center fielder Douglas Hodo III (.250, .583), first baseman Ivan Melendez (.375, .600), and third baseman Skyler Messinger (.143, .545).
Looking at how Texas performs under pressure on the batting side, the graph below shows each batter’s OPS under different circumstances. The purple bars on the end of every cluster indicates their overall OPS with the total number of at bats above the bar, and each bar beforehand shows their OPS in particular situations.
For reference, usually each player’s OPS drops off in more clutch situations starting from when the bases are empty. Melendez, Messinger, and left fielder Dylan Campbell seem to follow this pattern. However, you will notice that the bulk of the batting rotation actually hits better when there are more runs to be batted in. The standouts in this data include Stehly, catcher Silas Ardoin, and designated hitter Austin Todd. Ardoin seems to really clutch up and hits a staggering 2.129 OPS when the bases are loaded from a sample size of seven at bats. Faltine and Messinger have had the most opportunities with loaded bases with eight at bats each, with Faltine hitting close to his overall average and Messinger performing far below his usual production. Melendez leads the nation in home runs with 21, but could not produce a grand slam during his two opportunities with loaded bases.
Hodo has the most at bats with the bases empty, but possesses only a .794 OPS compared to the .929 average of the team. Hitting with two outs is a true clutch factor and seems to be the struggle point for players like Faltine (OPS = .213) and second baseman Mitchell Daly (.167). The best under pressure this season are Melendez (.411) and outfielder Eric Kennedy (.441).
Looking at the bullpen’s talent this season, there are many takes on whether they have lived up to the hype so far. Again, the standard metrics show that Texas is 18th in WHIP and 27th in ERA, but that doesn’t seem to explain the blowouts Texas has seen in the past few weeks. The graph below is similar to the one for batting minus the two-out category. Above each purple bar indicating the average WHIP for each player is the total number of innings they have pitched this season.
To no surprise, Pete Hansen steps up when it matters, allowing significantly less walks and hits when the bases have runners on them. There is a caveat on his WHIP of zero in the loaded bases category as he has not been in a situation like that yet, though that could be another quantitative indication for his outstanding performance. Lucas Gordon has proved himself to be a consistent starter time and time again and can really lock down his WHIP when he needs to as well. However, his WHIP when the bases are empty seems unnecessarily high in comparison and could be the focal point for his improvement.
Andre Duplantier, Jared Southard, and Daniel Blair struggle the most when the chips are down, but you don’t need the numbers to see that as Duplantier allowed three of the four grand slams Texas has given up this season. Travis Sthele possesses the most typical progression in WHIP for each scenario, but his differences are marginal and could grow to become a solid relief option. And lastly, Aaron Nixon has faced the most loaded bases situations and has triumphed through them, allowing only one hit and throwing four strikeouts.
Oklahoma State has dropped to No. 15 after their 1-2 series loss to TCU. Right-hander Justice Campbell (WHIP = .860) had a great performance in the first game; however, the rest of their starting rotation was unable to match it. Right-handers Bryce Osmond (1.36) and Victor Mederos (1.52) dug a hole for the Cowboys early on and made the second and third game difficult to make a comeback in. Despite those games, the latter two still have decent WHIP rates for the season and could easily redeem themselves against Texas.
On the note of situational statistics, I compared the Longhorns and Cowboys’ outcome percentages across the whole bullpen. Each number in these matrices indicates the percentage of at bats for that scenario in which the outcome was that given event (i.e. Texas allows home runs 2.8 percent of the time when the bases are empty).
Note: these do not account for every possible outcome during an at bat.
A worrisome number that pops out immediately is that Texas allows grand slams 8.9 percent of the time when the bases are loaded. Texas has given up four on the season, and they all usually come in those games we pray are going to be easy winners (Texas State, College of Charleston, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M). In comparison to Oklahoma State, Texas generally allows less hits in all other scenarios. If you continue to look at the loaded bases column, the rest of the numbers tell a different story. While the Cowboys don’t allow as many home runs, they still allow many hits and can only provide immediate outs close to half of the time.
Another statistic to look at is the drastically low strikeout rate for Texas when the bases are empty. Granted they make up for this with great fielding, and many ground outs and fly outs. Oklahoma State boasts a 35.6 percent strikeout rate when the bases are empty which is sort of what you would hope to see for in a team as they dominate even when they are not under pressure.
Texas seems to be on a path not quite directly back into being a top feared team going into the final third of the regular season, but possibly a path adjacent to it. There are some definitive talents in both their batting and pitching rotations, but it’s a matter of bringing their extraordinary and dominant level of play to every game, no matter how low-ranking the opponent may be.