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TCU Baseball Preview: Offensive and Defensive Preview

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Losing five of their six best hitters, the TCU offense has their work cut out for them. But should the Frogs learn to capitalize on runs, a National Champion is in their future...

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

TCU baseball is just two days away. Friday night, the Horned Frogs will play at Lupton for the first time since their nail-biting win against Pepperdine last summer. Last year's team was something special, undoubtedly. But will anything short of a National Championship feel like a disappointment?

The personnel changes will hurt, but should the Frogs capitalize on scoring runs; they may finally lift a trophy in Omaha.

Finding an Identity and Maximizing Run Potential

Losing five of their six best hitters, TCU won’t be scoring as if Doug Meacham suddenly picked up the leather and stitch. This is still a patient team, driven by Schlossball. If Garrido’s mircroball got any smaller, it’d disappear off this planet. Texas tenured coach produced nearly double the sac hits than what Schloss’ club does. So how much of a small ball team is TCU really? And are they a small ball team by trait or simply output? TCU ranked 30th last year--which would make then No. 4 in the conference behind Texas, Oklahoma State, and Kansas respectively.

Rank

Team

Games

Sac Bunts

1

Texas

67

104

2

UC Irvine

66

94

3

Oklahoma St.

66

88

-

Washington

59

88

5

Oregon

64

87

-

Virginia

69

87

7

LaL

68

80

8

UCLA

56

79

Source: NCAA.com

TCU’s lacks what C&C Music factory has; the power. That’s where Catcher/1B, Evan Skoug, comes in. He will split time between catcher and 1B--which will be perfect, because as we know, there’s a lot of baseball to be played between now and June. Having Skoug, named a  Top-100 Prospect by Baseball America, and the No. 1 player in Illinois, is nearly a shoe-in for Freshman of the Year in the Big 12. Regardless of where he plays in the field on a given day, having Skoug’s bat consistently in the lineup will help ease the losses of Cron and Fitzgerald.

TCU’s offensive identity certainly isn’t scoring runs. I don’t want to depress you in how low the Frogs’ 5.0 RPG (runs per game) was ranked--but, basically double Carton Fisk’s number. Their total runs, which ranked 63rd, isn’t much better. Would it help and take off pressure of guys like Morrison, Alexander, and the new Sunday starter--the latter of which will definitely give up more runs than both P-Mo and Alexander? Sure. But to what extent does it matter?

The Frogs can survive and win Championships with pitching; but there is a line. Of the 8 CWS teams from last year, 5 teams ranked in the Top 25 in runs, including champion Vanderbilt. The only teams to not; Texas, UC Irvine, and TCU. If Billy Beane taught us anything however, finding ways to get runs will get you wins, but it’s pitching that wins you championships. Louisiana-Lafayette learned this in the Super Regionals, and Louisville learned it in Omaha. On the other side of the coin, and as TCU learned the hard way, a pitching staff designed for championships can only get you so far when runs aren’t being scored. Winning championships takes both. Vanderbilt had both, and that’s why they won it all.

So where is this line and how does TCU get passed it?

The Frogs certainly hit the ball; they ranked 11th in hits last year. They are completely capable of hitting, yet they ranked 67th in OBP. So what’s happening? Is it weakness in the lower part of the lineup? Or even in the middle? It bring us to TCU’s Achilles Heel from last year and the year before that; leaving runners on base.

With bats like Fitz, Cron and Boomer gone, how does TCU fix that? There’s not as much evidence in college; but if you follow MLB trends--hitting your best hitter second ends paying more dividends that batting him third. In regards to the archaic theory of hitting your best hitter 3rd, it should be noted that there’s a greater chance of scoring a runner from first with no outs than scoring one from second with one out.

The idea of batting Odell second last year belongs to this narrative. Letting him take some for the team and try to get C. Jones in scoring position produced dividends here and there, but it didn’t boost TCU’s prospective runs significantly. For instance, last year’s lineup generally went; C. Jones, Odell, White, Cron, Fitzgerald. If you keep C. Jones at first, you have a guy with a high OBP who’s a threat on the bases and could maybe even get you to second while your second hitter, and best hitter, Boomer White is still at the plate--rather than having Odell, who either seemed to; strike out, slap the ball, or bunted to move C. Jones over, leaving the pressure on White, and thus possibly force Kevin Cron hit with two outs and come up with nothing. This is still slightly unorthodox in today’s college game, sure. But this isn’t a team that’s going to go full dunk city on everyone. This a team that’s more like a Kentucky basketball--they’re going to wear teams down in and out of conference and win close games with great defense (pitching included).

They still have to maximize potential though. And this is where my case for Crain to bat 2nd this season comes in. Boomer White is long gone and I haven’t gotten to see anything from Connor Wanhanen, but I have seen Crain--and I know that he led the team in hits last year. By all means, Wanhanen could be a better hitter and become a superstar. And trust me, I know I’m not Schlossnagle. I’m not making the lineup. But if I were, at least at first, I’d bat Crain 2nd and Wanhanen 5th. The lack of power isn’t a problem, because in college, you can win without it. However, the lack of scoring runs is a problem--and Crain in the two-hole gives the Frogs their best chance to score runs and take the pressure off of a dynamite pitching staff. This of course, is all subject to change. Wanhanen could end up being the best contact hitter, and I’ll be wrong. But if I’m making a lineup tomorrow, I’m going with experience.

Last year’s season was magical. It was dominated by four great pitchers and heroic moments. But it was also a season that could’ve ended in the Regionals in Fort Worth had the 22-inning marathon not gone TCU’s way--because playing the next day, facing elimination might not have not gone so well. Hell, Sienna almost beat them that weekend. TCU's offensive identity remains to be seen. It's wide open at this point. And that's exciting. They’re one of the best teams in the country, but if they want to return to Omaha, they’re going to have to start capitalizing on runs. If they can, they’ll return to the Cornhusker State and even possibly win it all.

Marsh’s Dream Lineup

  1. Cody Jones, CF

  2. Garrett Crain, 2B

  3. Derek Odell, 3B

  4. Evan Skoug, C

  5. Connor Wanhanen, DH

  6. Nolan Brown, RF

  7. Keaton Jones, SS

  8. Jeremie Fagnan, 1B

  9. Dane Steinhagen , LF

The Gloves

The defense shouldn’t, and likely won’t, digress. The Frogs were on the cusp of a Top-10 defense last year, and with the best gloves returning--mainly up the middle with Crain and Keaton Jones--there shouldn’t be any reason to think that TCU won’t be in the Top-10 if not higher in fielding percentage. The outfield, if anything should improve, with C. Jones anchoring in centerfield with a new left fielder (Steinhagen) and right fielder (Brown).

Rank

Team

PO

A

E

AVG.

6

Texas Tech

1763

810

51

.981

7

Tennessee Tech

1585

602

47

.979

8

LaL

1828

773

56

.979

9

Dartmouth

979

439

31

.979

10

Oregon St.

1590

692

50

.979

11

TCU

1840

756

60

.977

Other Wishes and Predictions for the Offense

· Keaton Jones finally hits a homerun

· Skoug hits more than 10 homeruns

· TCU finishes in Top 30 in runs scored

· Cody Jones steals 40 bases

· TCU’s RPG is greater than 5.3