After years of expectations conditioned towards excellence, fans of TCU baseball find themselves afraid, confused, and frustrated with a 14-11 team that has fallen out of the Top 25 for the first time in recent memory, mired at present in a 5-8 stretch, losing four in a row. This is not the TCU we’ve come to know and love; this is not a what we expect from Jim Schlossnagle club, and frankly is downright embarrassing, given the reputation of the program. So, let’s ask and answer the question on our collective minds: What is going on with TCU baseball?
Yesterday Jamie injected some optimism into the situation, citing the Frogs’ uncharacteristic youth, the MLB draft, and some historical precedent as reasons to believe that TCU is just in the midst of a rough patch. I’d like to argue that this TCU team is uniquely positioned to be unexceptional in 2018 due to their ill-timed hitting, abysmal run prevention, and unfortunate roster construction.
1. TCU is not hitting when it counts.
TCU ranks just in the middle of batting average for the nation, sixth in the Big 12. They rank 49th in walks, reflecting an above average on base percentage (91st in the nation), but are not getting the hits to bring runners in. With some quick math, TCU has an OBP of .374, with 859 ABs, which equals (roughly) 311 base runners, (subtracting out 10 caught stealing, which is a whole other thing). TCU has scored 127 runs. That’s 60.2% of runners left on base. I’m not here to adjudicate clutch or not clutch, but the point stands: TCU is getting on base at an above average clip and scoring at a well-below average clip.
TCU isn’t striking out, but they also aren’t hitting for power. Unfortunately, those go hand in hand - are the TCU hitters too timid? That’s worth keeping an eye on, as their slugging percentage is last in the Big 12 and 146th in the nation; .381 is a much lower number than you’d hope for out of a TCU team, even despite their reputation for arms over bats.
2. TCU cannot stop runners from scoring.
TCU ranks 50th nationally in ERA, but 3.52 is deceptive when considering pitching and fielding. If you were just to look at ERA, Fielding Percentage, and Errors, you’d see a team who is above average in the field and at the mound, but that is far from the whole story. TCU ranks 270th in Unearned Runs Percent, as 13.7% of their runs allowed have been unearned. One could argue this is a case of unfortunate sequencing, but seeing an elite program like TCU alongside teams like James Madison, NC A&T, Lamar, and Villanova baseball suggests more strongly that TCU has an odd mix of fielders who have a lot of learning left - and time this season is running out.
3. TCU’s overeager recruiting sapped their star power
Lineup construction is an issue here, but less so than roster construction; we knew the Frogs were losing a lot, but we have been spoiled by a ridiculous string of impact freshmen that seems to have ended this year, and it’s entirely the result of overambitious recruiting. Nick Lodolo is the exception, not the rule, and targeting these “exceptional” talents comes with the risk of a season like this, where your depth is thinned at the top of the age spectrum and the cavalry is not coming.
TCU has the raw talent to mount a turnaround this season, and I’d never count out Schloss, but due to concerning trends with hitting, run prevention, and shallow talent, 2018 looms with the potential for the worst Frog baseball season in a while.