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Fayetteville Regional Preview

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Arkansas is matched up against a pair of high-octane offenses in the Fayetteville baseball regional

Image courtesy of the University of Arkansas

Postseason baseball is here! The Hogs completed their regular-season objective: a top-8 national seed, guaranteeing homefield all the way to Omaha.

The Fayetteville regional includes Central Connecticut, Cal, and TCU. The Hogs open Friday afternoon against CCSU and then will play the winner of Cal-TCU on Saturday night. Coach Dave Van Horn has made the risky decision to hold ace Isaiah Campbell until Saturday, choosing instead to start Connor Noland against 4-seed CCSU. We’ll see why he made that decision in a second.

Team Stats

Let’s start with a four-team comparison of the offense.

As always, here’s a quick glossary in case you get confused:

  • Batting Average (BA). This one should be obvious.
  • On-Base Percentage (OB). Percentages of plate appearances where the batter gets on base.
  • Slugging Percentage (SLG). Average number of bases per at-bat. A measure of power.
  • On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS). The best overall measure of offensive efficiency.
  • Earned Run Average (ERA). For pitchers, the averaged number of earned runs allowed per nine innings pitched. This is the best evaluation of a pitcher. Anything under 4.00 is good and anything above 5.00 is bad.
  • Walks & Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP). Another pitcher measure, measuring the number of earned baserunners per inning. Anything under about 1.15 is good (under 1.00 is very good) and anything above about 1.25 is generally bad.
  • Slash Line (BA/OB/SLG). A three-number measure allowing for a quick evaluation of a hitter’s stats.

Fayetteville Regional, Offense

Stat 1 Arkansas 2 Cal 3 TCU 4 CCSU
Stat 1 Arkansas 2 Cal 3 TCU 4 CCSU
BA 0.299 0.297 0.295 0.260
OB 0.398 0.383 0.391 0.354
SLG 0.491 0.498 0.455 0.370
SB 71 54 70 30
HR 78 80 60 26
BB 13.0% 11.4% 12.6% 11.9%
K 22.2% 21.0% 18.5% 22.5%

The Hogs, unsurprisingly, lead the regional in batting average and on-base percentage. The Hogs are also the best base-stealing team. The top three all have strong power hitting. As you can see, Cal’s offense is pretty dependent on the long ball, as they lead the regional in home runs and slugging percentage but are just third in on-base percentage.

Fayetteville Regional, Defense

Stat 1 Arkansas 2 Cal 3 TCU 4 CCSU
Stat 1 Arkansas 2 Cal 3 TCU 4 CCSU
BA 0.227 0.255 0.265 0.286
OB 0.321 0.342 0.343 0.359
SLG 0.341 0.387 0.381 0.411
SB 29 22 29 41
HR 45 46 39 39
BB 10.3% 9.6% 9.2% 8.7%
K 25.6% 19.6% 23.9% 23.2%

This is definitely an offensive regional, and the defenses could get left behind. The Hogs have huge advantages in all three efficiency stats.

One thing to keep an eye on is base-stealing: the Hogs are very good at stealing, but all three possible opponents do a good job of throwing runners out.

Now let’s take things team-by-team.

Arkansas

Strengths: Ace, bullpen, power hitting, getting on base

Weaknesses: Strikeouts, other starters

Arkansas Batting Stats

Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Matt Goodheart DH L 0.347 0.448 0.500 0.948
Heston Kjerstad RF L 0.329 0.408 0.560 0.967
Dominic Fletcher CF L 0.316 0.389 0.538 0.928
Jack Kenley 2B L 0.311 0.435 0.560 0.995
Trevor Ezell 1B S 0.307 0.437 0.523 0.960
Casey Martin SS R 0.298 0.383 0.581 0.964
Christian Franklin LF R 0.277 0.363 0.429 0.793
Jacob Nesbit 3B R 0.261 0.355 0.359 0.714
Casey Opitz C S 0.247 0.392 0.307 0.699

Arkansas is as balanced a hitting team as you’ll find in this tournament. No one has an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of more than 1.000, but six Hogs have an OPS of more than .900 (CCSU has one, and Cal and TCU have four each). Arkansas is top-25 nationally in batting average, home runs per game, and total runs per game. The Hogs are also versatile: the top four hitters by OPS include two lefties, a righty, and a switch hitter.

Still, the Hogs struggled to hit late in the season and in Hoover. A lot of that was because they’d already secured their national seed, but going 1-4 over the last five could be a cause for concern, especially if the Hogs struggle to hit Central Connecticut’s pitching.

Avoiding strikeouts is still a contentious issue in baseball. The “Moneyball” revolution argues that strikeouts are mostly irrelevant as long as you get on base overall. If that’s true, the Hogs are fine: they’ve struck out a regional-leading 511 times this season while still leading the regional in on-base percentage. But Hog fans may still have nightmares of last year’s College World Series final, when the Hogs struck out a dismal 38 times in three games against Oregon State. Arkansas hitters were 1-for-31 when taking a called strike on the first pitch of an at-bat during that series. Strikeouts are probably the biggest risk to Arkansas hitting on the road back to Omaha, especially with TCU and CCSU striking out opponents on more than 23% of plate appearances.

Arkansas Pitching Stats

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Isaiah Campbell SP R 10-1 2.370 0.958
Connor Noland SP R 2-4 3.710 1.132
Patrick Wicklander SP L 5-2 4.650 1.333
Matt Cronin CP L 1-0 2.080 1.115
Jacob Kostyshock RP R 1-3 3.040 1.162
Kevin Kopps RP R 6-3 3.310 1.189
Zebulon Vermillion RP R 4-1 3.630 1.343
Marshall Denton RP R 2-0 3.950 1.098
Cody Scroggins RP R 2-0 4.460 1.488
Kole Ramage RP R 7-1 4.870 1.413

Arkansas’ pitching staff is righty-dominant, but as we’ll see as we move through the regional, the Hogs have by far the most bullpen depth. Winning the first two games will make it almost impossible to knock the Hogs out, because the other teams in this regional will not be able to get as much from their pen.

Arkansas’ biggest weakness will be the starters after Campbell (10-1, 2.37 ERA, .958 WHIP). Noland (2-4, 3.71 ERA, 1.132 WHIP) has solid numbers and has been pitching better of late, but Patrick Wicklander (5-2, 4.65 ERA, 1.333 WHIP) has had issues with control and longevity. If the Hogs are still struggling to hit, they could get into some trouble on the days Campbell doesn’t pitch.

Central Connecticut State

Strengths: Bullpen

Weaknesses: Starting pitching, power hitting

The Blue Devils won the Northeast Conference tournament as the 2-seed. They boast a strong pitching staff but have easily the worst offense in the regional. The key player to watch is closer Jared Gallagher (3-0, 1.72 ERA, .900 WHIP), who can nearly guarantee that CCSU will win any game it leads after eight innings.

Here’s how the CCSU staff looks:

CCSU Pitching Stats

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Tom Curtin SP R 5-3 3.960 1.398
Brandon Fox SP R 3-5 3.840 1.577
Patrick Mitchell SP R 6-3 4.580 1.373
Mike Appel RP R 6-0 2.310 1.205
Jared Gallagher CP L 3-0 1.720 0.900
Matt Shane RP L 3-3 4.450 1.616
Tim Buchek RP R 1-3 6.280 2.023
Andrew Braun RP L 1-1 6.330 1.667
Michael Delease RP R 2-3 6.330 1.889

The Blue Devils’ biggest issue is starting pitching. They have no clear ace. Gallagher and middle reliever Mike Appel (6-0, 2.31 ERA, 1.205 WHIP) will keep them in good hands over the last four or so innings, but if the Hogs jump on the CCSU starter, it may not matter.

On the plus side, CCSU is very good at getting strikeouts (23.2%) and the best in the regional in avoiding walks (8.7%).

However, CCSU may struggle to come back if they fall behind:

CCSU Batting Stats

Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Buddy Dewaine INF R 0.279 0.372 0.337 0.708
Sam Loda C R 0.277 0.345 0.348 0.693
Dave Matthews INF L 0.297 0.402 0.489 0.891
Jake Siracusa OF R 0.256 0.328 0.438 0.766
Peyton Stephens OF R 0.236 0.328 0.385 0.713
Chandler Debrosse INF R 0.282 0.364 0.372 0.735
Matt Bertochi INF R 0.246 0.335 0.338 0.673
Chris Kanios OF R 0.233 0.277 0.286 0.562
TT Bowens INF R 0.386 0.466 0.649 1.115

Van Horn is choosing to start Noland because he’s better against right-handed hitters, and eight of CCSU’s top nine players bat righty. So there’s a reason for the risk.

First-baseman TT Bowens (.386/.466/.649) is the team leader in every conceivable hitting category. But he’ll need some help. The other eight starters all hit below .300. Seven CCSU starters have an OPS worse than Arkansas’ starter average of .885. There’s not much power here: CCSU has just 26 home runs, less than half of third-place TCU. The Blue Devils’ 22.5% strikeout rate is the worst in the regional as well.

California

Strengths: Power hitting, starting pitching

Weaknesses: Bullpen, getting on base

If the Hogs get through CCSU, then Cal will provide a very different challenge. The Golden Bears can hit. They’re led by reigning Golden Spikes winner Andrew Vaughn (.387/.549/.728) and boast two of the regional’s four players with an OPS of more than 1.000. Their 9-player OPS average of .894 is the best in the regional as well.

Cal Batting Stats

Name POS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BA OB SLG OPS
Andrew Vaughn INF 0.387 0.549 0.728 1.277
Cameron Eden INF 0.365 0.434 0.563 0.997
Korey Lee C 0.340 0.422 0.619 1.041
Quentin Selma INF 0.322 0.380 0.612 0.992
Darren Baker INF 0.299 0.359 0.323 0.682
Max Flower OF 0.290 0.352 0.420 0.772
Grant Holman UTIL 0.269 0.353 0.463 0.816
Sam Wezniak INF 0.265 0.350 0.470 0.820
Connor Mack OF 0.224 0.278 0.367 0.645

Now you can see why Van Horn would prefer Campbell face this lineup. The Bears can take you deep, too: they have 80 home runs this season, two more than Arkansas.

Cal’s problem will be keeping the opponent off the scoreboard as well.

Cal Pitching Stats

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Jared Horn SP R 6-1 1.82 0.952
Arman Sabouri SP L 2-2 2.80 1.097
Rogelio Reyes RP R 4-3 3.10 1.344
Sam Stoutenborough RP R 7-4 4.23 1.356
Grant Holman SP R 3-3 4.82 1.393
Jack Delmore RP R 1-1 4.91 1.309
Jack Wolger RP L 0-0 5.14 1.000
Sean Sullivan RP R 2-1 5.88 1.423

Ace Jared Horn (6-1, 1.82 ERA, .952 WHIP) is very good, while fellow starter Armon Sabouri (2-2, 2.80 ERA, 1.097 WHIP) is also excellent. Cal’s staff is very light on left-handers, so Sabouri has made seven relief appearances this season in addition to his nine starts. Grant Holman (3-3, 4.82 ERA, 1.393 WHIP) and Sam Stoutenborough (7-4, 4.23 ERA, 1.356 WHIP) are also potential starters.

Cal has the worst strikeout staff in the regional (19.6%) and have allowed the most home runs (46). On the plus side, they allow opponents to hit just .255 (2nd) and have surrendered just 22 stolen bases (1st).

While Cal’s team ERA and WHIP averages are very similar to Arkansas’, Horn and Sabouri are responsible for most of the Bears’ pitching success. Here’s a bullpen comparison (I included relievers with more than 18 innings pitched: six for Cal, seven for Arkansas):

  • Arkansas bullpen: 3.82 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
  • Cal bullpen: 4.22 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

The only issue with this calculation is that Cal uses pitchers in several ways: nine different players have recorded a start, and Horn is the only Bear that has not made a relief appearance at some point. So it’s hard to define Cal’s bullpen and harder to guess what Cal will do by Saturday night.

TCU

Strengths: Ace, getting on base

Weaknesses: Bullpen, other starters, power hitting

If Cal wants to make it to face Campbell on Saturday, they’ll have to get through an ace pitcher who is nearly as good as Campbell: TCU’s Nick Lodolo (6-5, 2.48 ERA, .949 WHIP). He’s basically this year’s Casey Mize: the record isn’t great, but the efficiency is.

At last report, TCU has not decided whether to throw Lodolo against Cal or hold him for a potential game against the Hogs. If they don’t throw them against the Bears, though, their chances of winning aren’t great.

TCU Pitching Stats

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Nick Lodolo SP L 6-5 2.48 0.949
Charles King RP R 5-3 3.42 1.237
Brandon Williamson SP L 4-5 4.30 1.541
Jake Eissler RP R 3-4 6.54 1.547
Haylen Green RP L 5-1 4.06 1.380
Jared Janczak SP R 0-3 5.71 1.644
Marcelo Perez CP R 3-2 4.30 1.435
Dawson Barr RP R 0-0 4.22 1.500

The TCU pitching staff outside of Lodolo is pretty weak. Charles King (5-3, 3.42 ERA, 1.237 WHIP) is pretty effective, but that’s it. Brandon Williamson (4-5, 4.30 ERA, 1.541 WHIP) will start whichever game Lodolo doesn’t.

One thing that jumps out about TCU’s pitching staff is the high number of fly balls they allow. The Frogs have turned just 25 double plays this year (second-fewest in the regional) and allowed 24 sacrifice flies (most in the regional). That could be something to keep an eye on.

TCU Batting Stats

Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Jake Guenther INF L 0.346 0.466 0.569 1.035
Josh Watson OF S 0.335 0.435 0.549 0.984
Johnny Rizer OF L 0.313 0.383 0.536 0.919
Conner Shepherd INF L 0.292 0.388 0.468 0.856
Adam Oviedo INF R 0.288 0.379 0.435 0.814
Austin Henry INF R 0.287 0.378 0.417 0.795
Alex Isola OF R 0.264 0.374 0.385 0.759
Hunter Wolfe INF R 0.299 0.423 0.482 0.905
Zach Humphreys C R 0.278 0.343 0.429 0.772

Although returns diminish as you go through the order, the top of the Frogs’ lineup is very strong. First baseman Jake Guenther (.346/.466/.569) is a star hitter. TCU has walloped 60 homers this year as a team.

Conclusion

Arkansas is the best overall team in this regional, but Cal’s offense makes them the biggest threat. Both Cal and TCU have offenses capable of causing problems for the Hogs if the hitting slump of the last few weeks continues.

However, if Noland can win Friday and Campbell can win Saturday, then the Hogs’ chances of escaping this regional soar to 99% or better. Cal/TCU would be forced to play an extra game and then beat the Hogs twice with very weak bullpens.