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Monday Morning Manager: Taking a deep dive into TCU Baseball’s offense over the last decade

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Though the Horned Frogs have bounced back nicely after a disappointing start, there are some recent trends worth looking into ahead of conference play.

TCU Baseball vs Texas Southern | February 23, 2021 | Lupton Stadium (Fort Worth, TX)
Tommy Sikes highlighted an offensive explosion in TCU Baseball’s home opener, but the Horned Frogs have a lot of work to do if they want to be elite in 2021.
Melissa Triebwasser

I don’t care how good your pitching staff is, it’s going to be really hard winning ball games — especially in the uber competitive Big 12 — if you only score 2.3 runs per game. That’s the hard truth the Horned Frogs learned opening weekend, when they went 2-1 against a field stacked with top ten teams, scoring three runs twice and one in the finale. Yes, they were facing off against elite staffs in Ole Miss (7-3 L), Mississippi State (3-2 W), and Arkansas (4-1), but that doesn’t excuse the 39 strikeouts — against just 14 hits — that the team endured in their first three games.

Sure, things got better as the competition got worse; the Frogs took out their aggression on Texas Southern to the tune of a 20-0 romp in the home opener and swept Liberty out of Fort Worth with three wins that featured 25 runs scored against only five allowed, as well as the first home runs of the year (three total in the series) and eight doubles.

But, a trend has been noticed by Frog fans over the last few seasons, and it’s worth looking into:

Has TCU Baseball’s offense been a hindrance to its overall success?

NCAA Baseball stats are difficult to come by, so I had limited data to comb through. I was able to track down averages for 2010-2018 from across college baseball, as well as pull Big 12 conference-only information from 2013 — when TCU joined the conference — until the present day. I elected not to include last season’s 15 games worth of data and will update for 2021 when we have more information available.

Here are the trends I noticed.

TCU Baseball Offensive Production

Season TCU BA TCU B12 BA Big 12 BA NCAA BA TCU Scoring TCU B12 Scoring Big 12 Scoring NCAA Scoring
Season TCU BA TCU B12 BA Big 12 BA NCAA BA TCU Scoring TCU B12 Scoring Big 12 Scoring NCAA Scoring
2010 0.334 0.305 8.44 6.98
2011 0.306 0.282 6.7 5.58
2012 0.271 0.277 5.8 5.38
2013 0.246 0.255 .264 (.318) 0.274 4.31 3.95 3.17 (5.5) 5.27
2014 0.278 .291 (1st) .266 (.291) 0.271 5.04 5.04 4.41 (5.79) 5.08
2015 0.285 .274 (2nd) .261 (.284) 0.274 5.87 5.61 (1st) 4.31 5.44
2016 0.302 .299 (2nd) .275 (.300) 0.275 6.97 6.54 (2nd) 5.29 (6.83) 5.57
2017 0.268 .277 (3rd) .265 (.309) 0.275 6.63 6.04 (2nd) 5.24 (6.87) 5.71
2018 0.261 .242 (8th) .271 (.309) 0.271 5.92 5.34 (6th) 5.84 (8.45) 5.64
2019 0.294 .272 (3rd) .264 (.308) 6.41 5.29 (4th) 5.41 (7.60)
Parentheticals refer to the league-leading numbers or TCU’s rank in the corresponding category. Melissa Triebwasser

The Horned Frogs have regularly been amongst the league leaders offensively in the Big 12, finishing above the league scoring average their first five years and leading the conference in runs per game (5.6) in 2015. But those numbers have taken a dip in the last two full seasons, in 2018 and 2019, as the Frogs scored 5.34 and 5.29 per game respectively — below the league averages of 5.84 and 5.41 and well short of the conference leaders (8.45 and 7.60). The Horned Frogs’ batting averages have also steadily declined, with the .242 average of 2018 the team’s lowest of the last decade and 2019’s .272 mark the lowest since 2013. 2019’s mark was good for third-best in the league, though, and near the national averages of recent years.

Playing in one of the better baseball conferences in the country, TCU has more than held their own historically on offense; the NCAA Baseball average for runs per game tends to consistently fall at or near 5.5, which is in line with recent TCU trends. But there has been a noticeable decline over the last two full seasons, a trend that has resurfaced in 2021.

The question then becomes, has the TCU program sacrificed offense in the name of elite pitching?

In each of the seasons we were able to find national data for, TCU pitching’s ERA was well below the NCAA average — often by a full run or more. Only once has their conference ERA exceeded that of the Big 12 average — in 2017 — and they have led the league or been second in team ERA five different times. In their first three years in the league, they posted a sub-3.00 ERA, and even as changes to bats and balls have made numbers go up across the country, the Frogs have still consistently boasted a far better than average staff. They’ve overpowered opponents, too, striking out nearly nine batters per nine innings across seven complete seasons worth of data (8.76/9 — the national average across that same time span is 6.08/9).

When the Frogs have been at their Big 12 best offensively — 2016 and 2017 — they have been able to roll out offenses that could put up 6+ runs per game and averaged nearly a home run per nine innings. When the offenses has struggled, so has the power — in every other year (with the exception of 2019), TCU has been below the national average in home runs per game, and often significantly. The 2019 team, one that many fans would call disappointing, had power in spades — averaging over a full home run per outing, scoring more than five runs per game, and holding opponents to around 4.5. It was the timeliness of those hits that often failed them, and giving up runs at the worst possible times defensively.

While I have avoided using 2020’s stats due to the shortened season, I do think they provide some value as a comparison to the current team, since so much of the roster is the same. In the first seven games of last season, against two Power Five opponents (Kentucky and Minnesota) and ACU, the Frogs blasted 11 dingers, 20 doubles and two triples. This year? Three traditional home runs, one inside-the-park home run, 14 doubles, and two triples (both against Texas Southern). It’s inarguable that Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Arkansas are considerably better than Kentucky and Minnesota, but TCU faced a top five draft pick in one of those games, and Jim Schlossnagle was quick to point out that his team needs to compete better in the batter’s box. So far this season, the Frogs are striking out an average of 10 times per game, the same rate as a year ago. Meanwhile, TCU pitchers are averaging 11.5 K/9 as oppose to least season’s 8.28/9.

So, what does it all mean?

For much of the last decade, TCU Baseball has had star power in the lineup. Big mashers like Bryan Holaday, Josh Elander, Kevin Cron, Evan Skoug, and Luken Baker have punctuated the middle of the order and forced opposing pitchers to work for outs — while hanging the threat of a game-changing moment with every pitch they saw. The last three years have had some promising prospects, but the candidates — Josh Watson, Jake Guenther, Gene Wood — haven’t consistently provided that true deep threat. Until that changes, I think concerns over the Horned Frogs’ ability to consistently put runs on the board are justified. We can certainly be encouraged by the weekend’s results; seeing true freshman Brayden Taylor and veterans Zach Humphreys and Hunter Wolfe send balls deep into the night is a good sign going forward. And the Frogs did raise their runs per game to over seven by beating up on Southern and Liberty over their last four contests.

The strikeouts are something to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks; TCU won’t see the elite staffs that exist across the Big 12, but SFA and Texas State are solid programs that will present a challenge to the lineup — and should give us a good idea of how this team can continue to bounce back and compete before Baylor comes to town at the end of March to kick-off conference play.

The TL;DR?

TCU Baseball is striking out more often and hitting far less home runs and extra base hits than we would expect based on recent history to this point in the 2021 season. This doesn’t mean the offense is broken, per se, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on as the sample size grows over the next few weeks.