Half way through the conference schedule the Diamond Hogs are sitting pretty with 10 wins. This has them on track to produce their first 20 win season in SEC play since they went 22-8 in 1999 to win the SEC championship. As was written earlier this week, pitching has been a large part of the success this season. However, this team is extremely balanced by perhaps the most potent lineup we have seen at Baum Stadium.
I will be using two projections in this piece for some offensive numbers. One will be a 56 game projection to account for the scheduled amount of games. Another will be a 64 game projection to account for the amount of games the Hogs have averaged since 2009, excluding the 2016 season when they did not make the post-season.
Ever since the NCAA changed the rules for bats in 2011 to make them less powerful, Arkansas has not seen a homerun surge like the last two seasons. In fact, before last season they had not hit over 53 homeruns since 2010 when they hit a school record 92 long balls. The Razorbacks currently have 60 home runs through 38 games, which is an average of 1.58 home runs per game. For perspective, in 2010 they hit 1.44 home runs per game, and last season when they hit the third most home runs in school history they averaged 1.30 home runs per game. Currently, they are on track to hit 88 home runs in 56 games this season, and 101 in 64 games.
What makes these statistics even more remarkable is that the Hogs don’t have a single player on pace to hit 20 home runs this season. Both 2010 (Brett Eibner, 22) and 2017 (Chad Spanberger, 20) were beneficiaries of a 20 home run player. Even the 2009 squad who finished with 80 home runs got 19 from Andy Wilkins. This season, however, the team is quite balanced with 6 players currently sitting between 5 and 9 home runs.
Freshman Heston Kjerstad is leading the team in several major offensive categories. He is at least tied for the team lead with a .373 average, 10 doubles, 9 home runs, and 37 RBI. But he is not the only player making a case for Freshman All-American. Casey Martin boasts a .331 average, 8 home runs, and 32 RBI, and both are within striking distance of Zack Cox’s 2009 Freshman home run record of 13.
There is no doubt that 2010 was statistically the best offensive team the Razorbacks have fielded. Other than hitting a lot of home runs, they also produced a ton of extra base hits (233) and finished with a high batting average (.306), on base percentage (.396) and slugging percentage (.444). Currently sitting at .309, .410, and .509, respectively, and having played the third strongest schedule in the country so far, it seems reasonable to believe that this team will be setting multiple offensive records. Their 136 extra base hits also have them on track for 200 in 56 games and 229 in 64.
As I have written before, the main snag in the 2018 season has been errors. Though the defense has improved lately, the blunders this season have been the difference in multiple one-run games. That being said, the Hogs’ fielding percentage is .974, only a couple of points below the two best seasons over the last 10 years. It just goes to show that when the errors are losing you games, they are a greater point of concern.
It will be fun to see how the Diamond Hogs finish this final sprint to the end of the season. With an RPI of 4 and still yet to play eight total games against the RPI ranked 3, 10, and 12 teams, they could find themselves with the strongest schedule in the country when all is said and done. Win more than you lose and that is the recipe for a potential national seed for the NCAA tournament.
Below is a table comparing the offensive stats each season since 2009. If you will notice, the gray years are seasons Arkansas went to the College World Series. 2009 hit there way there, 2012 pitched there way there, and 2015 was an anomaly as they were a balanced team with a difference maker in Andrew Benintendi.
They have been to the CWS every three seasons since 2009, and it has been 3 seasons since they last made it. You picking up what I am putting down?