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TCU Baseball 2016: vs Wichita State Preview

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TCU heads to Wichita this weekend looking for a bounce back series win as they take a break from Big 12 league play.

TCU will be heading into Wichita this weekend as they take a break from league play
TCU will be heading into Wichita this weekend as they take a break from league play
Melissa Triebwasser

The curious thing about Wichita is that it sits right at the halfway point between Fort Worth and Omaha. When I went up to watch TCU play in the 2014 CWS, we stopped for lunch in Wichita because the trip takes roughly 10 hours and Wichita is about five hours away from Fort Worth. One thing is for sure, they clearly love their sports teams. The restaurant (bar) that we stopped at displayed a big "Home of the Shockers" banner. They also let you play Keno, and hey, a little drinking and gambling never hurt anyone.

If Kansas is known for one thing though, other than basketball, it's their tornados. TCU's lineup might be the most complete we've ever seen them armed with, but the weather was calm, as were the Frogs' bats, last weekend in Austin. That trip to Austin marked the beginning of a seven game road trip for TCU, and they currently sit at 2-2 over the first four games of that stretch. The batnado that had been TCU's offense returned on Tuesday night as they throttled UT Arlington to the tune of 17-4. The latest reports out there are that Mitchell Traver began a throwing program on Monday that has him on track to pitch again in three weeks, baring any setbacks. That puts him scheduled to return to the rotation just in time for TCU's weekend series against Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Until, and if, Mitchell Traver returns, TCU will need to keep hoping for low pressure systems to keep those bats spinning.

Wichita State, projected in the preseason to finish near the top of the Missouri Valley conference, has had a pretty rough go of things so far. They are 9-16 on the year, but as we saw last weekend, an opponent's losing record does not a series victory make. The Shockers have also put together an 8-6 record at home and Eck Stadium, with a capacity of 7,851, is no joke. People up in Wichita take their college baseball seriously, and you can bet they'll be excited at the chance to turn things around against the Frogs.

Batnado Alley:

Pitching Preview

Projected Friday Starters

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Luken Baker - RHP 2-1 31.0 1.74 7.8 8.1 2.3
Willie Schwanke - RHP 4-2 36.0 3.25 9.5 5.8 2.5

HToad: While there have been some changes to the rotation, and we'll get to that later, the Friday and Saturday starters should remain the same. Luken Baker will take the mound looking to bounce back from his first loss of the season. The Thursday stat line of 4 2/3 innings with eight hits and four runs allowed is a little misleading when you consider that TCU committed two errors in the third inning and two more in the fourth that made Baker work a lot deeper into his pitch count than necessary. His stuff looked as good as it has all year in the early innings of that game, and I expect that we'll see a really solid performance out of him in this upcoming start.

Wichita State's Friday starter, junior Willie Schwanke, is coming off an incredible outing a week ago when he threw a complete game shutout against Cal Poly. He gave up only five hits in that game while striking out six and walking two batters. He threw 99 total pitches in that game too, so this is a guy that you can expect to put together a quality start.

Projected Saturday Starters

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Brian Howard - RHP 4-1 38.1 2.35 6.6 8.9 2.6
Cody Tyler - LHP 0-1 21.2 4.15 7.1 7.5 3.3

Brian Howard is coming off his own complete game outing from last weekend. In the Friday game against Texas, he too gave up only five hits. Unfortunately, one of those was a two run homer and despite his best start as a Horned Frog, he took the 2-0 loss. I don't expect Wichita State to have a Ty Culbreth up their sleeve in this series, so if Howard can replicate anything close to what he did last weekend, the Frogs should be in pretty good advantage in the pitching matchup on Saturday.

Sophomore Cody Tyler--the Shocker's Saturday guy--is not bad, though. If he starts on Saturday it will be his first appearance in a starting role, although he does have 10 appearances this year out of the bullpen. Last weekend against Cal Poly he only gave up three hits and one earned run through 4 1/3 of relief. The good news for the Frogs is that he wasn't terribly efficient in doing so. He managed to walk four batters and hit a guy before he was pulled with 85 pitches thrown in those 4 1/3 innings of work. The Frogs are patient at the plate, sometimes to a fault, but if Tyler starts handing out free passes this weekend he could get into trouble fast.

Projected Sunday Starters

Starting Pitcher W-L IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9
Dalton Horton - LHP 3-0 21.2 2.91 6.6 6.6 2.5
Zach Lewis - RHP 0-4 29.0 4.03 8.1 8.4 2.5

Sunday will mark freshman Dalton Horton's first start as part of the weekend rotation. Schlossnagle alluded to this move a couple of weeks ago, saying that Horton's development was starting to make a case to challenge for one of the weekend spots. Last Tuesday against Abilene Christian he went six innings for the first time in his collegiate career, allowing four runs on four hits, walking one batter, and striking out 10 in the process. Really, his start was even better than that, as he had allowed only one run on two hits through six innings. When he came out for the seventh he gave up a couple of quick hits followed by a three-run homer. All we really need out of him is to be steady and give us four or five good innings. We've won a lot of Sunday games this year with less.

Zach Lewis has been a regular part of the rotation for Wichita State all year, starting five games and appearing in a total of nine. His last start, against Cal Poly, was not one of his best. He only lasted 2/3 of an inning, giving up three runs on two hits while walking two, and he was pulled for Cody Tyler after throwing just 23 pitches. He still has not earned a win this year, and the Frogs will have designs on keeping it that way.

Offensive Preview

Offensive Comparison avg r h hr slg% ob% fld%
TCU 0.315 198 259 19 0.484 0.410 0.974
WSU 0.273 154 233 13 0.390 0.384 0.970

Slash Line: (BA/SLG/OBP)

Wichita State has not been especially dangerous as an offensive team this year, but does excel in two categories. They are ranked 35th in the nation in doubles with 52 and they are 14th in the nation in walks with 133. There's five guys on their team that have five or more doubles and six guys with at least 12 or more walks. That certainly stands out as a couple of ways they can hurt you. As far as their lineup goes, there's only a couple of guys who hit for more than .300. Those would be Mikel Mucha (.318/.388/.433), who leads the team in hits and walks and is third in runs scored and Tanner Kirk (.317/.463/.417), who is second on the team in hits and home runs. There are several other players with averages lurking just below .300, but I'm going to say the other guy to look out for is Ryan Tinkham (.261/.424/.375). While Kinkham's average leaves something to be desired, he leads the team in RBIs and doubles and is tied for second in walks and home runs.

Despite being slightly quieted this last weekend, TCU's offense remains one of the best in the nation. As a team, the Frogs sit in the top 20 in terms of batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. They are also in the top 15 in scoring, runs, doubles, and triples. Unfortunately, it looks at this point like Nolan Brown might get a medical redshirt and sit out the year. According to Schlossnagle, if he plays any later than Sunday he will be ineligible for the redshirt, so they have to make a decision on him soon. That would be disappointing considering he was expected to be one of our best hitters, not to mention that his speed on the base paths is a game-changer. If we have to do without him though, the current lineup has proven that they can get it done.

Offensively, it still begins with Elliott Barzilli (.456/.733/.495), who remains ranked in the top 10 nationally in batting average (no. 8). Barzilli leads the team in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. He still leads the team in home runs, although Josh Watson continues to go blow for blow with Barzilli and homered on Tuesday to tie Elliott for the lead at five. The other thing about Barzilli is he has the least amount of strikeouts on the team among players who have started at least 18 games. Evan Skoug (.325/.578/.441) and Luken Baker (.341/.518/.467) continue to round out TCU's big three, with Cam Warner (.312/.419/.369) not far behind. Skoug has been absolutely crushing the ball lately to the tune of 13 doubles on the year. The next closest Frog, Austen Wade, has seven. Baker had a tough game on Tuesday, but had some big hits in the Texas series last weekend and came up with a grand slam two weeks ago in the Sunday sweep of West Virginia. Warner is getting the mention because he was the spark plug that ignited a 17-4 drubbing of UT Arlington on Tuesday. Warner went 4-6 in that game with three runs and an RBI. He opened up that game with four straight singles.

Hopefully our Sunday pitching will improve under Horton and if Baker and Howard can pitch the way they did last weekend, we should be in pretty good shape. Not dissimilar to last weekend, the team we're facing is desperate to win. They have talent and they will want to use this opportunity to salvage their season. TCU likely needs a sweep to avoid dropping out of the top 10 in the polls, and to do that we're likely going to need more than just good pitching. We still have a really good pitching staff, ranked 26th overall in ERA and 18th in WHIP, but they are still young. As our pitching staff continues to develop, the offense will need to stay hot to ensure we don't add to the L column.

Run Differential ≠ Success–Or Does It?

Marsh: I'm not sure I ever want to re-live the 2013 season. Coming just short of the College World Series the previous summer, the Frogs began that season 0-6 after getting swept by both Ole Miss and Cal State Fullerton. They lost Big 12 series to Oklahoma (sweep), Kansas, and Kansas State. Those seven losses and being able to sweep any of the series they contributed to their 12-12 conference record, and a 7th seed in the Big 12 tournament–where they were eliminated by Kansas.

The Big 12, in fairness, was strange that year. The teams that finished at the bottom; TCU (7), Texas Tech (8), and Texas (9)–who weren't even good enough to qualify for the Big 12 Tournament–all made the College World Series the next year. All of those, teams, including Texas, are primed to make a Regional this year. The Longhorns obviously had a big, big Easter weekend against TCU at home as it was not only the first series win over the Frogs as Big 12 foes, but the first time they got a win against Schlossnagle since 2012. Coming off that momentum, despite losing to Lamar, if Texas can sweep an Oklahoma team that looks abysmal right now, they're going to be in really good shape. They still have a lot to prove–because again, they got swept by Lamar–but a tournament appearance seems to be this dastardly team's goal as Augie's time runs down in Austin.

As much as it stung to take an 8-1 record against Texas and turn it into 9-3, the weekend in Austin was a good wake up call for a young TCU team. And it wasn't from a lack of trying; they made much better contact than the Texas hitters and had every one of Augie's pitchers figured out after they saw him more than once. However, Augie's strategy of shuffling his strong bullpen kept TCU on its toes and forced the Frogs to adjust in a way they haven't had to all year.

Despite scoring fewer runs in Austin than they normally have so far in 2016, the Frogs are still dominating run differential in the Big 12 at +118–and it's not even close.

Team

Runs Scored

Runs Allowed

Differential

TCU

190

80

+118

Texas Tech

181

101

+80

Oklahoma State

141

71

+67

Kansas State

173

150

+23

Texas

125

102

+23

Oklahoma

124

111

+13

West Virginia

108

101

+7

Baylor

139

137

+2

Kansas

116

130

-14

How much does that matter though? At least so far, it tells us that of all things TCU could be this season, the one thing they won't be is lucky. By season's end in 2015, the Frogs had a run differential of +179, and while it seemed like the Frogs were hanging on by a thread every game (especially at the end), this large of a margin shows they were far from a lucky team. A team that despite being ranked 1st in the Big 12 in runs, ranked 39th nationally in 2015.

TCU should shatter that this year, but we're going to have to see them play more Big 12 games (their Big 12 run differential is currently +23) before we can really get excited–or mostly just overcome the anxiety of the Texas series–about this team's real potential.

At this point, we can all agree that Rex Hill's move to the Tuesday slot was a great move. And in the context of this chat, having lefty LHP Dalton Horton move into the Sunday role appeases the need in the weekend arsenal and is something that could make the Frogs less lucky–which, in this case is a good thing.