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TCU Baseball is off to its strongest start since 2017

The Horned Frogs are showing similarities to the 50-win College World Series group from three years ago.

Lefty Haylen Green has been an invaluable presence out of the pen for TCU Baseball this season. He understands the big stage better than most on an otherwise young team.
Melissa Triebwasser

We’re only a few weeks into the college baseball season, but it’s hard not to get excited when the TCU Horned Frogs are playing well.

The Horned Frogs defeated California 6-1 on Sunday to complete the team’s second Power 5 sweep this season (Kentucky). TCU reached 10-1 overall with the victory, becoming the first group to win 10 of its first 11 games since the 2017 team that finished at the College World Series with a 50-18 overall record.

There’s a lot of baseball left to play, but early indications are there could be some Lupton Magic happening later in the season. But as we look deeper into TCU’s strong start to the 2020 campaign, are there more reasons to be excited?

We should first recognize that the Horned Frog pitching staff has been excellent to start this season. Johnny Ray was recently named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week for a dominant performance against Minnesota on Feb. 22, when the redshirt sophomore retired 21 straight batters and notched TCU’s first complete game shutout since 2018.

Through Feb. 27, Horned Frog pitchers are posting a top-30 ERA (2.28) and K/BB ratio (3.63) while ranking 10th among NCAA Division I teams in WHIP (0.94). TCU hurlers are striking out 8.49 batters per nine innings, a slightly lower rate than the 2017 roster that fanned a Big 12 leading 9.48, but the 2020 team is currently on pace to best the 2017 team in both K/BB ratio (3.07) and WHIP (1.22).

2017 featured a steady 1-2-3 punch of starters Jared Janczak, 6-foot-9 righty Brian Howard and future first-rounder Nick Lodolo. 2020’s Horned Frogs are moving toward building their three-man rotation with Ray, senior Charles King and 6-foot-9 lefty Russell Smith. A consistent rotation will pay dividends in the Big 12, where the Horned Frogs finished second in 2017.

Another connection between the 2017 and 2020 teams is left-handed reliever Haylen Green, who has already thrown 10.1 scoreless innings this season and limited batters to a .147 opponent average. Green threw sparingly as a freshman in 2017, logging 20.1 innings, but he posted a respectable 3.10 ERA while holding hitters to a .155 batting average.

The sample size is small, since the 2020 team has only logged 11 games compared to the 68 games the 2017 team played, but the theme remains that both teams rallied behind plus pitching over those respective seasons. Offensively, there are a few key differences between the two teams, but this year’s bunch may have more upside.

Future draft selections Evan Skoug and Luken Baker were anchors in the TCU lineup during the 2017 campaign, accounting for 28 of the team’s 58 homers with Skoug totaling 20 on his own. This year’s lineup doesn’t feature those same power players, but there does appear to be more power distributed around the diamond. The 2020 Horned Frogs are currently outpacing the 2017 team in both home runs per game (1.09 vs. 0.85) and XBHs per game (3.63 to 2.63).

In addition, Skoug and Baker combined for 27.4 percent of TCU’s RBIs during 2017. This season, nine Horned Frogs have already recorded at least five RBIs through 11 games. 2017’s team finished the season with a .268/.373/.402 slash line, and over 11 games, 2020’s team has posted a .276/.397/.475 line. If these numbers can hold, the 2020 team will see slightly more production this season while getting contributions from numerous Frogs and not just a few.

Ultimately, it’s early in the season, but the 2020 TCU baseball team has shown signs that it could replicate, or even surpass the program’s successful 2017 campaign. The pitching has been rock solid, and the offense has been a tad better due to multiple Horned Frog players chipping in. If these players can avoid injuries, we could be looking at a very long and prosperous run for the purple and white.

The Frogs’ next challenge comes this afternoon, when UT Arlington travels across the metroplex for a game at Lupton. First pitch is scheduled for 4:00 PM in an attempt to avoid incoming weather.