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Monday Manager: The Dalton Horton Experiment pays off

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Since losing two in a row in Austin, TCU has now won five straight games with, you guessed it, an insane run differential.

THE DALTON HORTON EXPERIMENT: No, it's a not a prog-rock band. It started out with Rex Hill moving–and feeling comfortable–in the Tuesday slot, and his offense backing him up in a 17-4 shellacking over UT-Arlington on the road. It was TCU's second consecutive win after losing two games in a row in Austin, and it was also just a taste of what they'd show in Wichita.

Despite the close margin, Friday was TCU's most impressive win of the weekend. Wichita State pitcher, Willie Schwanke, was absolutely brilliant on Friday, only making about two or three mistakes that kept him from earning the victory. To quote the great Ron Washington, for the fourth or fifth time this season, "That's the way baseball go." Sure, all of the runs he gave up were earned, and yes, he gave up 9 hits, but Schwanke was so fluid Friday it was almost unfortunate to see him make those couple mistakes. One of these mistakes is something we'll bring up later.

TCU's mound presence on Friday found a way to be better than Schwanke–and that's saying a lot. Luken Baker regained some confidence as he returned to his more dominant form after looking ho-hum, at least by his standards, in Austin, but it was Jared Janczak who stood out. Amid his 9 strikeouts, Janczak gave up only 2 hits in his 5 innings of work–which along with Baker's assistance, resulted in a shutout.

Saturday's MVP, Josh Watson, aka Triple King, blasting one into the street was just the tip of the iceberg for the series' second game. Proof that the Frogs are never out no matter how they start, TCU played a neck-and-neck ballgame in the 6th inning, but you'd never know it by the final 17-6 boxscore.

The Dalton Horton "Experiment" worked–and it was absolutely terrific on Sunday. After the Frogs had their monster inning, Horton–who finished the day 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 4K–responded by retiring seven straight batters going into the the 7th inning stretch. This young team, Horton included, has done such a terrific job this season bankrolling innings. They haven't really had a game where they score two runs per inning to get to their 10+ run games; instead, they go through the lineup once, get their timing down with the opposing pitcher, exploit his weakness and then show no mercy. Sometimes, they do this twice in a game. But generally the big, +3/4-run innings, even with the youthful pitching which has been just good enough to sustain these leads has been enough to stifle their opponents.

Team (Composite Rank)
Runs Scored
Runs Allowed
Run Differential

Florida

178

86

+92

Miami

148

93

+55

Vanderbilt

225

87

+138

Louisville

210

64

+146

Texas A&M

203

76

+127

Mississippi State

193

109

+84

TCU

198

80

+118

Oregon State

157

94

+63

South Carolina

192

78

+114

Cal

126

88

+38

We talked about it in the preview for Wichita State, but something to really pay attention to this year is just how good TCU's run differential has been this season. The Frogs are currently dominating the Big 12 in RD and rank fourth among top 10 teams as well.

Cam Warner is quietly becoming one of my favorite players on the team, and he should probably be one of yours, too. Getting buried underneath the well-deserved hype of Elliott Barzilli and Luken Baker, Warner currently has 16-game hitting streak (*knock on wood twice*). Not only did he bring a solid bat into the Northern hemisphere, Warner has also brought some solid leather. He's not at the top of TCU's field percentage, but he has made the most plays other than Skoug (C) and Wanhanen (1B), with many spectacular plays on his highlight reel.

Warner is also a glimpse at what the future of second base could look like, or at least balance out what it's more traditionally thought of. At 6-2, even though he looks 6-3 in person, Warner skews more on the DJ LeMahieu side of the spectrum. And while the opposite end of that graph is the best second baseman in the game, Jose Altuve (5-5), the future of the position is certainly open. So, could Warner be the future? Or at least an example of the future?

Here's a sample from a 2009 piece written by Dave Cameron of FanGraphs:

"It's interesting to me that we've seen three franchises go away from the traditional second base model in the same winter that outfield defense seemed to increase significantly in value in the marketplace. As the newer defensive metrics gain credibility, we saw an increase in the premium for defense at positions where defense hasn't historically been valued and a corresponding decrease at a position that has been genuinely considered a premium glove spot.

I don't think that's a coincidence. I'd bet that going forward, second base is going to look a lot more like third base."

Even with the confidence being back in the bats this weekend, Wichita State isn't Oklahoma State, they're not Texas Tech, and they may not even be as good as Oklahoma or Kansas. Despite the pleasing run-differential, this series almost feels like a drop in the bucket because, despite what TCU's record says, the Big 12 is wide open. Now, say they sweep Kansas, sweep Oklahoma, and beat Texas Tech at home, they'll have some very solid leverage going into the Oklahoma State series–which could be the weekend, should they win, where they lock up the conference.