JST asked a good question last weekend and since The Beef and I took an unexpected hiatus from our Tuesday Q&A (we were both pretty busy in our lives), I decided to turn his question into an entire post.
Three immediate points came to mind:
- Last year’s senior class included only one hitter. When Ashley Fleming left the program after last season she took with her 14.6% of the runs scored, 15.5% of hits, 16.4% of doubles and 30.8% of home runs. Those are pretty strong percentages for a player that only makes up 11% of the batting order. But how have they been replaced? The easy answer: Emily Crane. Take a look at Fleming’s 2012 season and Crane’s 2013 season after 24 games each:
It’s scary how even those numbers are and even more so when you consider that Crane is only a freshman.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Crane is Fleming’s replacement as far as offensive production is concerned. How is the entire team’s performance after 24 games compared to the same point last year? Have a look:
That’s an incredible turnaround from one year to the next. But where did those improvements come from the most? I’d think it came from…
- Last year’s freshmen are this year’s sophomores. Let me first say this, before we dive into the numbers: freshmen have the ability to step in and make an immediate impact (see also: Crane, Emily; Thomas, Chelsea) perhaps moreso than any other sport. The physical differences between high school and college aren’t as great in softball as they are in football or basketball, softball isn’t loaded down with a thick playbook like football and the prevalence of travel teams and summer leagues also diminishes any differences between the two levels.
But freshmen are still freshman and having a year of more challenging schoolwork, traveling and all the other issues that college athletes face are easier to deal with the second time around. A team should be able to expect, on average, a greater impact from their sophomores than their freshmen. So, let’s take a look at 3 sophomores who have played most regularly:
Okay, so maybe there wasn't as much change as I initially thought, but I still believe over the course of the season, these players (as well as Rachel Hay and Kelsi Jones (Ashtin Stephens is injured)) will continue to improve their numbers. Hay, Jones and Stephens are all in unique situations. Hay is stuck behind JJ Marston behind the plate and battling Carlie Rose for backup playing time. Jones is buried on the depth chart in the outfield, which is extraordinarily talented. Stephens started 50 games last year, most of them at 2nd base, and is going to have to fight hard for playing time when she returns from injury as Crane has most definitely made her home there.
- Coach Stubble changed his hitting philosophy after the Evansville doubleheader. It's hard to believe that almost a month ago, the Tigers were struggling to put runs on the board. But that was the situation on March 13th after the Evansville doubleheader. Mizzou had scored only 12 runs in 4 games against Texas A&M and the aforementioned Purple Aces and even though they'd won 3 of those games, Coach E wasn't happy.
"I thought we stunk. Really disappointed in our hitting, really disappointed in our defense, really disappointed in our enthusiasm," Earleywine said.
A couple of weeks later, he explained the major change that he made: "The emphasis for our offense has been taken away from mechanics and the emphasis has been put on timing and pitch selection."
|Rate per AB||.2348||.3094||.2155||.0387||.0028||.0663||.1271||.1657|
|Rate per AB||.4146||.3943||.3943||.1016||.0041||.0772||.2276||.0488|
So while it's difficult to fully quantify timing with numbers, we can see how pitch selection is doing. Since the change in philosophy occurred, the Tigers haven't played quite the number of games as they had before and I wanted to include all the numbers from the California trip. So what I've done is run all the above stats past the number of official at-bats to show at what rate they're doing these things. This isn't perfect, however. A walk doesn't count as an at-bat and neither does a sacrifice fly. But it still gives you a pretty good indication of how things are going.
So, looking at pitch selection, it's clear that the new philosophy is working: runs are up by 3/4, hits are up by more than 1/4, doubles have more than doubled and strikeouts are down by 70%. That shows that everything is working out nicely, right?
If you figure the quality of competition, the average RPI of the first 14 games is 81.2 and the average in the last 10 is 76.6. So at least the competition has been consistent (shattering my own preconceived notion) so it would appear that things are working out swimmingly.
Will this continue? It's a crap shoot really. Our batters still get to face Jackie Traina this weekend, trips to Baton Rouge and Lexington are on the horizon and the regular season ends with Tennessee visiting Columbia. That's 12 scheduled games against a group with an average RPI of 11. As long as the numbers against the stiffer competition don't fall off too dramatically, I don't think 9 or 10 wins out of those 12 games is unreasonable. If the Fightin' Earleywines can do that, it wouldn't shock me to see the team eclipse 40 wins in a season where 10 games were cancelled.