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Mizzou Baseball’s lineup is getting it done

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Roughly two weeks into the young season, and Steve Bieser looks to be off to a promising start in his Mizzou tenure.

Mizzou Baseball is 7-1 to start the year and, in all reality, should be 8-0. While the pitching staff has largely done its job, Mizzou has yet to get an ace-like performance from Tanner Houck, who took the loss in the season opener to Eastern Michigan. As Houck normalizes, Mizzou’s pitching staff should get back to being its core strength.

However, the early season driver of the Tigers’ success has been its potent offense. The bats have largely woken from a two-season slumber, averaging a touch over 9 runs per game — close to 7 if you remove the 27-run output against EMU in the second game of the year. The team is collectively slashing .352/.444/.514. That’s (a) batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage for those unaware, and (b) unsustainably good. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but those are the type of numbers that would get Mizzou deep into a postseason run late in the year. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the bats so far, but I’m not expecting the numbers to stay that high.

All that aside, it has been encouraging to see a resurgence of offense in the first 8 games. Assuming the pitching staff continues to strengthen as the year goes on, Mizzou’s chances of going from average to good all hinge on what the offense can do. And looking at the early season statistics, there are a few players I’ll be watching closely over the next few weeks.

Robbie Glendinning (.458/.618/.708)

I apologize for the frank language ... but holy hell, can this kid hit. Before the season started, I was looking at past numbers to try and get an idea of who to be on the lookout for in this unproven Tiger lineup. Glendinning, a community college transfer who originally hails from Australia, looked promising. But he was hard to predict given the only numbers I could find were partial box scores from Northern Iowa Area Community College. From what I could gather, he was a gap-to-gap power guy who gets on base and would seem to fill a nice top-of-the-order spot.

If the first 8 games are any indication, that analysis checks out. Glendinning is not only getting on base at a stupid .618 clip, but he’s making his hits count. He’s connected for 3 doubles and one home run so far.

The even more encouraging part, in my opinion? He’s walked 9 times and only struck out 6. That’s a picture of sustainability: A guy who can hit with power and consistency, but can find other ways to get on base with a good eye for the strike zone.

Glendinning has been unreliable with his glove so far — a ghastly .886 fielding percentage — but that number is also unsustainable. And if he continues to hit as well as he is now, the defense won’t matter nearly as much. I don’t think he’ll be this good all year, but Glendinning stands out to me as the most likely hitter to have consistent success throughout the season.

Brett Bond (.457/.525./.657)

If I would’ve chosen any player before the season to point to as a key offensive contributor, Bond would’ve been the guy. He’s the most proven offensive player in the Tigers lineup, even if he ended last season with a rough .216/.323/.399 line. He brings some pop to the lineup, which is something the Tigers desperately need. However, he tended to be an all-or-nothing type of hitter in his sophomore year, with 7 home runs and a strikeout rate north of 25%.

He’s still striking out at the same rate, but you can live with the strikeouts when he’s simply hitting better. Thus far, Bond leads the team in hits, RBIs and doubles, which is exactly what you want to see from a 3-4-5 hitter like him. History tells us he’ll hit some home runs, but I’m willing to trade long balls for a more sustained OBP and slugging percentage.

It’s often said that hitting is contagious, which is especially true when the team leaders are the ones doing said hitting. Bond is undoubtedly a team leader given his experience in Columbia, and he’ll play a big role in maintaining the lineup’s success.

Connor Brumfield (.433/.500/.667)

I promise I’m not just going down the line of the team’s offensive leaders. Stick with me.

I was really intrigued to see how Brumfield would perform in his sophomore year before the season began. His freshman year wasn’t a complete success, but Brumfield did impress me with his potential to be a good lead off hitter; he got on-base at a .359 rate in his frosh season.

That’s not great, but it was good enough for second on the team behind offensive machine Zach Lavy. This was in large part thanks to Brumfield’s keen eye: he walked 31 times next to 35 strikeouts. That’s highly impressive for a freshman in an SEC program. He hit for almost no power — a .252 slugging percentage — but not every guy needs to flash power potential to be valuable.

Fortunately, the power has shown up this year, if not in over-the-wall terms. Brumfield has 3 doubles and 2 triples thus far, which is eye-popping considering he knocked 5 doubles and 0 triples in all of 2016. And like last year, he’s walking just about as much as he’s striking out (4 BBs to 5 Ks).

Even though I mentioned Glendinning and Bond first, I’m perhaps most intrigued about how Brumfield fits into this lineup, if only because of the Dexter Fowler, “You go, we go,” thought process.

Glendinning and Bond should be the most potent hitters in the Mizzou offense this year, but those bats won’t be productive if the bases are empty. Brumfield is the key to making their ABs count. If he can improve on his OBP from last year and start turning those singles into doubles and triples, the likelihood Mizzou’s offense stays productive goes way, way up.

Trey Harris (.348/.385/.435)

See? I told you I wasn’t just running down the line.

Trey Harris fell victim to the sophomore slump last year. After making the All-SEC freshman team in 2015, he took a turn for the worse in 2016, seeing each slash line stat dip. Still, there were signs of improvement: Harris struck out less while walking more; he stole more bases; and (curiously) he saw an uptick in RBIs.

What interests me about Harris is not any sort of high-octane offensive potential, but more about what he can bring to the bottom of the lineup.

Harris is valuable for his defense and speed, and at this point any sort of above-average offensive input would make him an extremely valuable player. He’s a guy who’s hard to leave out of the lineup, but he’s almost always going to be near the bottom.

Harris could become a key contributor, however, if he’s able to act as a second lead off man in the 9-spot. He hasn’t been a great OBP guy to this point in his career (.307 and .299 respectively), and while the .385 number is good, it’s not likely to earn him a higher spot in the lineup with the aforementioned players hitting the way they are.

But if Harris can keep his OBP in the mid-to-high .300 range, he becomes a fascinating piece with which Steve Bieser can play. Harris’ offensive value takes another leap if he can rediscover the power of his freshman year, when he slugged 4 home runs and 7 doubles.

I’m less confident Harris can sustain his numbers, if only because he hasn’t proven it in his past. However, Harris does play a role in the ceiling of the Mizzou lineup. It’s up to players like Glendinning, Bond and Brumfield to make sure the offense is consistently productive. Harris’ contributions, though inessential in nature, could make the difference between a good Mizzou offense and a scary one.