Checking In On Baseball
Elliott Avent's young team is off to a modest 15-12 (5-7) start to the season, though they showed some life this past Sunday in the process of sweeping an extremely important double header from Virginia Tech. Whether or not that was a sign of a team beginning to put it together remains to be seen; they have a pair of must-win series (at BC, at Duke) on the horizon that will tell us more. If they can take those two series, the schedule, back-loaded as it is, gives them an opportunity to make a late run at the NCAA tournament.
Let's take a look at some of the issues plaguing this year's Pack nine. First, offense:
AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO
2008 .299 .390 .458 .848 .159
2009 .268 .378 .402 .780 .134
State's hitting for less average and less power this season, which has led to a loss of nearly 70 points in OPS from '08 to '09. Avent is doing what he can to compensate for the power outage, namely running with much greater frequency. Last year's team attempted 78 steals in 64 games, while this year's already has 59 attempts in 27 games. Considering the Pack's excellent stolen base success rate (47-59, 79.7%), this is not a bad development.
The Wolfpack's batting average is down partly because they simply aren't putting the ball in play as often as they did last season. They've struck out on nearly 21% of their plate appearances in 2009, up from around 16% in 2008. That strikeout rate is the ACC's worst; however, State's walk rate has improved a bit thus far, and only Florida State has been better at drawing free passes. Still, since they aren't compensating with added power, the strikeouts are a definite problem.
They need to start generating more power in a hurry, because they're going to start running into pitchers that not only have better stuff but better command as well. Right now there aren't a lot of guys the opposition has to worry about challenging, which is not good news for a lineup that relies on the base on balls like this one does.
HR/9IP BB/9 K/9 K/BB BABIP RA/9
2008 0.7 3.6 8.2 2.3 .298 4.4
2009 0.6 3.7 9.3 2.5 .334 5.9
As you can see from the peripherals (i.e., the things a pitcher can control; first four columns), the pitching hasn't really suffered despite the loss of rotation stalwarts like Clayton Shunick and Eric Surkamp.
His outing against VT last weekend aside, Jake Buchanan has done a fine job, as he's made marked improvements to both his strikeout rate and his K:BB ratio (which is an outstanding 4.2:1). Jimmy Gillheeney has made an effective transition from reliever to starter, giving the team a pretty solid 1-2. It gets shaky behind those two, and the bullpen has had its share of struggles, but the staff's overall performance looks fine to me.
The increase in runs allowed per nine innings from 4.4 to 5.9 seems to be more the result of opponents' higher batting average on balls in play (last year's staff was a bit lucky in this regard) and a more mistake-prone defense. Both factors are reflected in State's defensive efficiency (percentage of batted balls that are converted into outs), which is down significantly.