When the Cats were knocked out of the regional by Kent State last year I told myself I was going to make a point to listen or watch as many games this year as I could. Unfortunately that hasn't worked out as much as I would have liked and I haven't been able to keep up with the baseball team as much as I wanted to this season. With that in mind, I was curious to what the main culprit was behind a season that has not gone as well as expected and so started to look at some of the stats for this year's team and how they compared to the last couple of UK squads.
Neither the pitching nor the hitting has been as good as they were last year. In fact, the hitting is even worse than the 2011 team.
In comparison to last year, the Cats are scoring about 0.7 runs less per game while giving up 0.7 more runs per game to opponents. The pitching is much better than 2011 which is the main reason why UK still has managed a winning record despite a poorer offense.
So why are the Cats scoring so many fewer runs? In a word: power. Or more specifically, the lack thereof.
Despite a poor batting average, the Cats have still managed to put runners on base at a comparable rate to the previous 2 years thanks to a big increase in walks. The team is on pace to draw 234 walks in 55 games this year. (Last year's team drew 226 walks in 63 games). All those free passes have helped to offset a serious problem both in getting hits and hitting for power.
The 2011 and 2012 squads both had amazingly similar batting lines. Last year's team scored about half a run more per game though, suggesting that they were better able to clump their hits together. This year's team on the other hand has seen a huge drop in power as well as a big drop in batting average.
The batting average is pretty easy to explain. If you look at the last column above you can see the Batting Average on Balls In Play. If you aren't familiar with that stat, it's simply a way of looking at how successful a hitter is when the defense has to make a play on the ball (i.e. it omits strikeouts and homeruns). There's about a 40 point difference between this year and the previous two in BA and that difference is entirely due to what happens when they actually put the ball in play.
The lack of power is the real problem though. A 70 point drop from last year can't be accounted for entirely by a lack of hits - this team has a real problem hitting the ball hard. They are on pace to hit 108 doubles and homeruns in 55 games this year. That's 48 fewer than 2012 and 54 fewer than 2011 over the same number of games.
Nor are the 2 deficiencies unrelated. While a poor BABIP can be due to some bad luck (too many `at-em' line drives, not enough `ground balls with eyes') it will also be affected by a lack of power. The inability to hit the ball hard means more catchable fly balls, slow rolling grounders, and fewer line drives.
The Cats still have a chance to get some good wins. Beating Indiana and sweeping Missouri would get them back on track heading into the SEC tournament. But to do it they are going to have to find a way to score more runs and they'll have to do it by stringing together walks and singles and do a better job capitalizing when they have runners in scoring position than they did against Vandy this weekend.