Author’s note: This post got really long, really quickly. It covers the lineup shuffling that’s taken place over the past two weekends, but only focuses on hitting and fielding. There will be a second post to discuss the shuffling in the starting rotation and bullpen.
Baseball teams lose games - it’s just a reality of the sport. One good pitcher, one bobbled play, one big hit can hand a team a loss. Take TCU’s 1-0 loss to Texas A&M earlier this season. Asa Lacy was nails. Not much you can do about that. Same goes for the losses to Cal State Fullerton and Grand Canyon. Their pitchers got clutch outs in key moments.
And the losses to Rice and Long Beach State, while frustrating, can probably be chalked up as anomalies. Sometimes you just get rolled. As Ron Washington once said, “That’s the way baseball go.”
But the recent inconsistencies can also be chalked up to something else. They’re trying to figure out how to get guys in the lineup.
TCU used three different lineups over the weekend (and none of those lineups matched the one they went with last week against SFA), inserted Jake Eissler into the starting rotation in place of Jared Janczak, and still came away with a series victory.
And the Frogs’ lineup shuffle probably isn’t over yet, because there are a couple of questions that still need to be sorted out.
Moving Parts - The Infield
There’s a serious logjam in the infield. Austin Henry and Jake Guenther have the right side of the infield locked down, but everything else seems to be a moving target.
Adam Oviedo, projected as the starter at third base before the season began, missed the first few weeks of the season as he rehabbed from an injury. Freshman Bobby Goodloe and junior Conner Shepherd both saw time at third in his absence.
Neither hit tremendously well, though, and Goodloe made a few errors, which pushed Jim Schlossnagle to search for another alternative.
Enter Zach Humphreys.
The starting catcher took ground balls the week leading up to the Shriners College Baseball Classic. In the seven games since, he’s started four at third, one at catcher, and gotten two games off. He also shifted from third to catcher mid-game against SFA.
And he’s been good. Hump, as he’s called by the team, has hit .266 since making the move - a rebound predicted by everyone on the team after an abysmal start at the plate - and has a perfect fielding percentage at third base. Not to mention he’s walked five times over that span, to just two strikeouts.
Schloss had the option to move Humphreys thanks to Alex Isola’s breakout start to the year. The JUCO transfer is hitting .310 with a team-leading three home runs, and he’s caught four runners stealing.
So, how do you keep both Humphreys and Isola in the lineup? Start Hump at third and Isola at catcher. But it’s not that simple because now Oviedo is back.
Well, it could be. Oviedo was TCU’s starting shortstop a season ago, so he could simply slide back over, right?
Sure, but then what do you do with Hunter Wolfe? Wolfe has been great for the Frogs. He’s hitting well, and his speed has put loads of pressure on opposing teams when he gets on base, and he gets on base with regularity (he’s got the second-highest on-base percentage of regular starters this season).
Not to mention, Wolfe has six stolen bases on seven attempts, and the only reason he’s missed time this season is because of a minor ankle injury that kept him out for two games.
So now you have Oviedo, Wolfe, Humphreys, and Isola vying for three spots on the field, but it’s pretty clear Schloss wants all their bats in the lineup.
So - is making one the designated hitter the option? Not so fast, my friend.
Moving Parts - The Outfield
Two of the starting roles in the outfield are locked down. Johnny Rizer isn’t leaving center field unless something terrible has happened, because he’s excelled both in the field and at the plate.
Josh Watson is the senior leader, and seems locked into the second spot in the lineup regardless of who is leading off, and regardless of whether he’s playing in left or right field.
Through the first 12 games of the season Andrew Keefer seemed to have right field locked down. He hasn’t looked completely comfortable out there, but he’s been solid, and he’s been serviceable at the plate, even if his stats don’t look great.
But Saturday and Sunday saw Porter Brown get the start in left field, as Watson shifted to right.
Brown, who has been in the designated hitter role, has been fantastic as a true freshman (even considering the recent slump, he’s just 4-17 over the last four games), and his bat has to be in the lineup.
Beyond just his hitting, Brown - much like Hunter Wolfe - just knows how to get on base. And when he gets on base, he tends to score. Brown leads TCU in runs this season with 15, and he also leads the Frogs with seven stolen bases.
So if Schloss needs the DH spot to get one of Oviedo, Hump, Isola, and Wolfe in the lineup, that means he has to decide between putting Brown in left field and sitting Keefer, or sitting Brown and keeping Keefer in right.
Moving Parts - The Projection
My best guess is that Andrew Keefer is ultimately the odd-man out. Brown is too valuable to keep out of the lineup, and they can shift Watson to right without him missing a beat.
This affords Schloss the ability to keep all four of Oviedo, Hump, Isola, and Wolfe in the lineup, rotating whowith Goodloe and Shepherd being able to spell guys when needed.
The biggest question all of this raises is how does Schloss manage Isola’s workload behind the plate, while also giving Hump some days off.
That seems to be where Keefer reenters the picture, meaning he could very well start multiple games a week. When Isola gets a day off, Hump slides to catcher, and when Hump gets a day off, Keefer moves to right, and Brown back to DH.
Ultimately, it’s a complicated situation that we can’t fully comprehend because our name isn’t Jim Schlossnagle. It’s apparent that he’s working through different options to see what works best, but the likelihood is that we haven’t seen the last of the wonderful dance called the lineup shuffle.