The No. 10th Texas Longhorns suffered a disappointing loss to the Air Force Fighting Falcons last week with an impressive four-win streak, notching 58 runs and allowing 19 for the remaining four games of the week against the Air Force and Baylor Bears, followed by an away win against UTRGV Vaqueros in Edinburgh on Tuesday.
On a weekly basis, it appears Texas has had a shaky game against their matchups this week. The advanced stats I’ve calculated so far this season continue to show that Texas as a whole is an exceptional hitting and pitching team compared to most of the league. However, we do know that Texas fell far short of preseason expectations. This week we’re diving into situational stats and when UT is collapsing defensively or lacking momentum when hitting.
We already know that the Longhorns made a tremendous about-face after their stifling 14-2 performance in the first game against the Fighting Falcons. To better illustrate how they were able to turn the tide, the chart below shows each hitter’s batting average in the Air Force series versus the Baylor series. The number above each bar indicates how many at bats they had for the game to better correlate averages of 1 or 0.
Aside from right fielder Murphy Stehly (BA = .500, .250), we clearly saw the entire team rise in the series against Baylor. The dominant stretch was led by solid performances from shortstop Trey Faltine (.429, .545), midfielder Douglas Hodo III (.250, .583), first baseman Ivan Melendez (.375, .600), and third baseman Skyler Messinger (.143, .545).
When looking at how Texas behaves under pressure on the batting side, the chart below shows each batsman’s OPS under various circumstances. The purple bars at the end of each cluster show their total OPS with the total number of bats above the bar, and each bar shows ahead of time their OPS in specific situations.
For reference, each player’s OPS usually drops in more clutch situations when bases are empty. Melendez, Messinger and left fielder Dylan Campbell appear to be following this pattern. However, you will find that most of the shot rotation actually hits better when there are more runs to hit. Standouts in this data include Stehly, catcher Silas Ardoin and designated hitter Austin Todd. Ardoin really seems to be holding on, hitting a staggering 2,129 OPS when loading bases from a sample size of seven bats. Faltine and Messinger had the most chances with loaded bases, each with eight at bats, with Faltine hitting close to his overall average and Messinger performing well below his usual effort. Melendez leads the nation in home runs with 21 but failed to produce a grand slam on his two loaded-base opportunities.
Hodo has the most empty-base bats, but only owns .794 OPS compared to the team’s .929 average. Hitting with two outs is a real clutch factor and appears to be the fighting point for players like Faltine (OPS = .213) and second baseman Mitchell Daly (.167). Best under pressure this season are Melendez (.411) and outfielder Eric Kennedy (.441).
Looking at the bullpen’s talent this season, there’s a lot of opinion as to whether they’ve lived up to the hype so far. Again, standard metrics show Texas 18th in WHIP and 27th in ERA, but that doesn’t seem to explain the blowouts Texas has been experiencing in recent weeks. The graph below is similar to that for batting minus the two-out category. Above each purple bar, which shows the average WHIP for each player, is the total number of innings they played that season.
Unsurprisingly, Pete Hansen shows up when it counts, allowing significantly fewer walks and hits when the bases have runners on them. There is a caveat to his zero WHIP in the Loaded Bases category as he has never been in such a situation, although this could be another quantitative indication of his outstanding performance. Lucas Gordon has proven to be a consistent starter time and time again, and he really can hold onto his WHIP when he needs to. However, his WHIP on empty bases seems unnecessarily high in comparison and could be the linchpin for his improvement.
Andre Duplantier, Jared Southard and Daniel Blair struggle the most when chips are down, but you don’t need the numbers to see that Texas has given up this season as Duplantier has conceded three of the four Grand Slams. Travis Sthele has the most typical progression in WHIP for each scenario, but his differences are marginal and could make for a solid relief option. Last but not least, Aaron Nixon has taken on the most stressed base situations and mastered them, allowing just one hit and throwing four strikeouts.
Oklahoma State has fallen to 15th after losing 2-1 to TCU. Right-hander Justice Campbell (WHIP = .860) had a great performance in the first game; However, the rest of their starting rotation could not keep up. Right-handers Bryce Osmond (1.36) and Victor Mederos (1.52) dug an early hole for the Cowboys and made the comeback difficult in games two and three. Despite those games, the latter two still have decent WHIP rates for the season and easily redeemed themselves against Texas.
In terms of situational stats, I compared the Longhorns’ and Cowboys’ score percentages throughout the bullpen. Each number in these matrices indicates the percentage of at bats for that scenario in which the outcome was that particular event (ie Texas allows home runs 2.8 percent of the time when the bases are empty).
Note: These do not account for all possible outcomes during an at bat.
A worrying number that immediately catches your eye is that Texas allows grand slams 8.9 percent of the time when the bases are loaded. Texas has given up four this season, and they all usually come in the games we pray will be easy winners (Texas State, College of Charleston, Texas Tech and Texas A&M). Compared to the state of Oklahoma, Texas generally allows fewer hits in all other scenarios. If you continue to look at the charged bases column, the rest of the numbers tell a different story. While the Cowboys don’t allow as many homers, they still allow a lot of hits and can only deliver instant outs nearly half the time.
Another stat to look at is Texas’ drastically low strikeout rate when bases are empty. Granted, they make up for it with great fielding and lots of ground outs and fly outs. Oklahoma State boasts a 35.6 percent strikeout rate when bases are empty, which is about what you would hope for a team as they dominate even when not under pressure.
Texas appears to be on a path that isn’t quite directly becoming a feared team again heading into the final third of the regular season, but possibly on a path that is bordering on that. There are some definite talents in both her batting and pitching rotations, but it’s all about bringing her exceptional and dominant level of play to every game, no matter how low the opponent might be.