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College World Series 2019 Pod Preview

Arkansas is paired with an old Omaha foe and a couple of upstarts

Image courtesy of the University of Arkansas

It’s one thing when “OmaHogs” is a fan nickname for the name. It’s much riskier when the athletic department itself brands the team with a reference to the College World Series. Don’t make it, and opponents have plenty of material to mock you with.

But the Hogs made it, and their chances of avenging last season’s Finals loss got a tremendous boost when top-seed UCLA and 4-seed Georgia were eliminated on their own drives to Omaha. The Hogs are now heavily favored to come out of a four-team pod that includes 8-seed Texas Tech and two of the last four teams in the entire field: Florida State and Michigan.

The Hogs will open with Florida State while Texas Tech and Michigan face each other. This next week will basically be a regional: double-elimination, play until one team is left standing. Starting 2-0 makes your position nearly unassailable, as your semifinal opponent will be forced to play an extra elimination game and then beat you twice. Last year, Arkansas started 2-0 and then knocked that semifinal opponent (Florida) out in one game.

Let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with in this 4-team pod, starting with the offense:

College World Series, Offense

Stat Arkansas Florida State Michigan Texas Tech
Stat Arkansas Florida State Michigan Texas Tech
BA 0.300 0.272 0.281 0.301
OB 0.396 0.398 0.380 0.405
SLG 0.492 0.457 0.448 0.475
HR 85 81 69 67
BB% 12.6% 15.3% 12.6% 13.7%
K% 22.3% 24.0% 19.2% 19.0%

Texas Tech is easily the biggest offensive threat. The Red Raiders don’t have overwhelming power, but they rarely strike out and can knock out base hits all day long. Florida State is heavily dependent on walks and home runs and will struggle if an accurate pitcher can induce weak contact (see: Campbell, Isaiah). Michigan has the weakest offense on the group and must rely on winning low-scoring games.

College World Series, Defense

Stat Arkansas Florida State Michigan Texas Tech
Stat Arkansas Florida State Michigan Texas Tech
BA 0.225 0.241 0.226 0.253
OB 0.316 0.334 0.324 0.345
SLG 0.343 0.368 0.336 0.355
HR 52 51 43 32
BB% 10.1% 11.2% 10.3% 10.9%
K% 25.5% 26.4% 23.7% 25.5%

The Hogs and Wolverines boast the top defenses. Both Florida State and Texas Tech can be beaten at their own game: FSU is vulnerable to power hitting and walks, while Texas Tech is vulnerable to solid hitting.

Arkansas

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

Weaknesses: Strikeouts, other starters

We’ll start with Arkansas for comparison purposes. The Hogs hit Ole Miss pitching hard in the Super Regional, even notching 12 hits in a 13-5 loss in Game 2. They enter Omaha on a hitting hot streak. As a team, the Hogs are best in this pod at balancing contact hitting (.300, 2nd), on-base percentage (.398, 2nd) with home runs (85, 1st) and slugging (.492, 1st). The Hogs can also steal bases (78). They haven’t been great at drawing walks, but they hit well with two strikes and run up a pitch count even if the offense isn’t clicking. Strikeouts (22.3%, 2nd-most) are the biggest weakness, as the Hogs have way too many strikeouts with runners in scoring position when simple contact might have advanced a runner. Leaving runners on the bags can hurt you if get into a shootout with a big offense.

Arkansas Batting

Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Matt Goodheart DH L 0.356 0.453 0.539 0.992
Heston Kjerstad RF L 0.323 0.401 0.551 0.952
Dominic Fletcher CF L 0.316 0.382 0.535 0.917
Jack Kenley 2B L 0.324 0.442 0.578 1.020
Trevor Ezell 1B S 0.328 0.439 0.573 1.012
Casey Martin SS R 0.293 0.370 0.556 0.926
Christian Franklin LF R 0.267 0.356 0.408 0.764
Jacob Nesbit 3B R 0.262 0.340 0.351 0.691
Casey Opitz C S 0.232 0.370 0.286 0.656

The bottom of the order isn’t great, but the Hogs have a pod-best six batters with an OPS of .900 or better. The real balance is in power hitting: three batters in this regional slug .600 or better, and none of them wear cardinal red, but the Hogs are best overall team at slugging.

Arkansas’ weakness is probably strikeouts. I already discussed this in the regionals preview, but although Arkansas hits well with two strikes, letting the count go to two strikes in the first place is a recipe for disaster against elite pitching. The Hogs found that out against Oregon State last year. It’ll be interesting to see how many 2-strike counts Hog batters face, and how well they do in those situations.

Arkansas Pitching

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Isaiah Campbell SP R 12-1 2.26 0.92
Connor Noland SP R 3-5 4.00 1.10
Patrick Wicklander SP L 6-2 4.29 1.29
Matt Cronin CP L 1-0 2.00 1.07
Jacob Kostyshock RP R 1-3 2.89 1.11
Kevin Kopps RP R 6-3 3.66 1.22
Zebulon Vermillion RP R 4-1 3.63 1.34
Marshall Denton RP R 2-0 4.50 1.17
Cody Scroggins RP R 2-0 4.19 1.44
Kole Ramage RP R 7-1 5.25 1.50

Nothing can be said about Isaiah Campbell (12-1, 2.26 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) that has not already been said. He has the most wins and the best ERA, WHIP, and BB/9 of any starting pitcher in this four-team pod. He’s been magnificent in his two postseason starts so far, pitching 16 13 innings and allowing just three runs.

After Campbell, things get dicey. Freshman Connor Noland (3-5, 4.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) couldn’t get out of the second inning of Game 2 of the Super Regionals. Noland is a contact pitcher, meaning that he has great control and rarely issues walks. But there’s a downside: he allows a lot of contact and allows good hitting teams to get into a rhythm against him. A potential start against Texas Tech in Game 2 seems like a dicey matchup.

Fellow freshman Patrick Wicklander (6-2, 4.29 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) generates a lot more swings-and-misses and has allowed 21 fewer hits than Noland this year, but it comes at the expense of control. In Game 3 of the Super Regional, he had trouble locating his fastball was lifted in the second inning. Because he allows fewer hits, he’s less likely than Noland to give up a several-hit backbreaking inning, but his pitch count rises quickly and he allows a baserunner in almost every inning he pitches.

If Noland or Wicklander struggle, the Hogs can still win games with a very deep bullpen. Closer Matt Cronin (2.00 ERA, 12 saves) is an all-American, while Jacob Kostyshock (1-3, 2.89 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) and Kevin Kopps (6-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) are effective in middle-relief.

Florida State

Strengths: Plate discipline, home runs, bullpen

Weaknesses: Starting pitching

Florida State is the Cinderella of this group. In legendary coach Mike Martin’s final season, he’s taken the Seminoles from one of the last teams in the field to Omaha, his 16th trip. In theory, the Noles might simply be happy to be here for their coach and go 0-2 and back to Tallahassee like other Cinderellas. However, the fact that Martin hasn’t won a national championship might be the extra motivation to keep Florida State playing hard.

Florida State won’t be intimidated by the Hogs, as they’ve gone 5-0 in the postseason, knocking two SEC teams (Georgia and LSU) out on their own fields.

Florida State Batting

Name POS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BA OB SLG OPS
Mike Salvatore SS 0.341 0.430 0.541 0.971
Robby Martin DH 0.332 0.414 0.473 0.887
Drew Mendoza 3B 0.319 0.484 0.620 1.104
Matheu Nelson C 0.277 0.439 0.439 0.878
J.C. Flowers CF 0.271 0.372 0.511 0.883
Nander De Sedas 2B 0.241 0.365 0.352 0.717
Tim Becker LF 0.286 0.400 0.531 0.931
Reese Albert RF 0.299 0.406 0.552 0.958
Carter Smith 1B 0.247 0.366 0.376 0.742

The Seminoles boast a balanced batting order. While also-balanced Arkansas has two players with a sub-.700 OPS, Florida State has zero.

The big key is to make sure no one is on base when third-baseman Drew Mendoza (.319/.484/.620) comes to the plate. He has 16 home runs and a higher slugging percentage than any Razorback. Not allowing too many baserunners is the key to beating Florida State in general: their gameplan is to draw walks (15.6%) and then hit dingers (81) while guys are on base. They’re not great at generating offense in any other way. Solo home runs won’t kill you: three-run home runs when you walked the first two guys are what kills you.

Florida State Pitching

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
C.J. Van Eyk SP R 10-3 3.80 1.28
Drew Parrish SP L 8-5 5.11 1.32
Shane Drohan SP L 3-1 3.66 1.84
J.C. Flowers CP R 0-0 1.40 1.09
Chase Haney RP R 2-2 2.73 1.00
Conor Grady RP R 9-5 3.64 1.21
Clayton Kwiatkowski RP L 0-0 4.00 1.50
Antonio Velez RP L 5-2 4.26 1.26
Jonah Scolaro RP L 3-2 5.00 1.29
Austin Pollack RP L 0-0 10.22 2.15

Florida State will not start their staff ace, C.J. Van Eyk, with Martin choosing instead to go with lefty Drew Parrish (8-5, 5.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) against the Hogs. This is a good decision: while Van Eyk is the better pitcher overall, he’s a fastball-dependent righty, the kind of pitcher the Hogs have been strong against all year. Parrish, on the other hand, has less speed (fastball at 90-92) but relies more on this off-speed stuff to keep batters off balance. He gets into trouble when batters get a hold of his stuff, allowing team highs in all extra-base hits (33) and home runs (15) this season.

Starting pitching has been pedestrian for the Seminoles, but their bullpen has some good arms. Closer J.C. Flowers (1.40 ERA, 12 saves) is also the starting center fielder, which is pretty impressive. Right-handers Chase Haney (2-2, 2.73 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) and Conor Grady (9-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) are solid options.

Texas Tech

Strengths: Contact hitting

Weaknesses: Throwdowns, starting pitching

The 8-seed Red Raiders lost to Arkansas 7-4 in last year’s College World Series are likely the Hogs’ biggest threat this year, at least until the Finals. They boast a big offense that can create a high-scoring game.

Texas Tech Batting

Name POS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BA OB SLG OPS
Cameron Warren 1B 0.354 0.448 0.664 1.112
Josh Jung SS 0.342 0.476 0.636 1.112
Dru Baker 3B 0.326 0.403 0.457 0.860
Kurt Wilson LF 0.243 0.329 0.432 0.761
Brian Klein 2B 0.317 0.411 0.425 0.836
Dylan Neuse CF 0.307 0.418 0.518 0.936
Cody Masters DH 0.303 0.386 0.470 0.856
Braxton Fulford C 0.292 0.389 0.416 0.805
Tanner O'Tremba RF 0.267 0.374 0.411 0.785

First baseman Cameron Warren (.354/.448/.664) and shortshop Josh Jung (.342/.476/.636) are easily the best two-batter combo in the entire field. Both have slugging and OPS figures higher than any Hog. The rest of the Tech batting order is pedestrian, but not bad. The Red Raiders don’t have a ton of power, ranking last in this pod in terms of home runs (67) and a distant second (.457) in terms of slugging. But they have a higher batting average (.301) and on-base percentage (.405) than Arkansas. They are pretty good at generating walks (13.7%, 2nd) and they don’t strike out very often (19.0%, 1st). Holding them under about six runs is going to be a tough task without Campbell on the mound for the Hogs.

Texas Tech Pitching

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Caleb Kilian SP R 8-3 3.93 1.11
Bryce Bonnin SP R 6-1 4.42 1.51
Micah Dallas SP R 7-0 3.38 1.24
Clayton Beeter CP R 0-3 3.20 1.53
Taylor Floyd RP R 5-3 2.81 1.29
Dave Haveman RP L 2-1 2.57 1.24
John McMillon RP R 3-3 3.30 1.44
Erikson Lanning RP L 0-1 4.81 1.40
Mason Montgomery RP L 3-1 5.14 1.66

Tech’s critical weakness is, of course, their defense. The pitching isn’t terrible: the numbers for Caleb Kilian (8-3, 3.93 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) are underwhelming for an ace, but Micah Dallas (7-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) and former Hog Bryce Bonnin (6-1, 4.42 ERA, 1.51 WHIP) aren’t bad second and third options. Bonnin has had major control issues but opponents are only hitting .231 against him. All starters are right-handed.

Also right-handed is closer Clayton Beeter (0-3, 3.20 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) and top reliever Taylor Floyd (5-3, 2.81 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). The only lefty likely to see serious work in Omaha is Dave Haveman (2-1, 2.57 ERA, 1.24 WHIP).

One thing to watch with Texas Tech’s defense is the catcher position. Braxton Fulford has really struggled to nail baserunners this season as Tech has allowed an astounding 92 stolen bases this season. Around 80% of stolen base attempts have been successful against Tech. The Hogs could have some success if they try to run.

Michigan

Strengths: Starting pitching

Weaknesses: Power hitting, getting on base

If there’s any team just happy to be here, it’s Michigan. The Wolverines have the tournament’s most impressive series: taking two of three from top-seed UCLA. But major weaknesses seem likely to keep their stay in Omaha short.

Michigan is by far the most offensively-challenged team in the field. But their strength is their starting pitchers.

Michigan Pitching

Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Name POS THROWS W-L ERA WHIP
Karl Kauffmann SP R 10-6 2.59 1.05
Jeff Criswell SP R 7-1 2.74 1.31
Tommy Henry SP L 10-5 3.54 1.10
Willie Weiss CP R 2-2 3.08 1.50
Isaiah Paige RP R 3-0 2.98 1.16
Benjamin Keizer RP L 4-1 4.01 1.12
Walker Cleveland RP L 5-3 4.34 1.21
Jack Weisenburger RP R 3-1 4.25 1.48
Angelo Smith RP L 1-0 4.66 1.79
Blake Beers RP R 1-1 6.04 1.61

Beating staff ace Karl Kauffmann (10-6, 2.59 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) won’t doom the Wolverines, but after second-man Jeff Criswell (7-1, 2.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) takes his turn, the options start drying up. The bullpen is decent, with right-hander Isaiah Paige (3-0, 2.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) as an excellent option, but by the time a team reaches its fourth game in Omaha and is out of regular weekend starters, the scores start going up, and I’m not sure Michigan can hang in a high-scoring game.

Michigan Batting

Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Name POS BATS BA OB SLG OPS
Jordan Brewer OF R 0.338 0.396 0.586 0.982
Jordan Nwogu OF R 0.327 0.442 0.580 1.022
Jack Blomgren IF R 0.309 0.418 0.406 0.824
Blake Nelson IF R 0.299 0.399 0.398 0.797
Jimmy Kerr IF L 0.269 0.370 0.475 0.845
Miles Lewis OF S 0.266 0.366 0.410 0.776
Ako Thomas IF R 0.262 0.532 0.374 0.906
Jesse Franklin OF L 0.254 0.384 0.470 0.854
Joe Donovan C R 0.245 0.318 0.436 0.754

The righty-dominant Wolverines don’t match up well against Arkansas pitching even before their low on-base and slugging numbers are figured in. Michigan is a decent hitting team (.281, better than Florida State), but unlike the Seminoles, they don’t generate much power and they don’t generate many walks, ranking 4th in the regional in both categories. With five starters hitting below .270, it seems unlikely that they could win more than one game in Omaha.

Conclusions

Florida State and Texas Tech are both serious threats to the Hogs. Michigan would have been a much-preferable first-day matchup. Still, the Hogs are rightly favored to emerge from this pod and reach the Finals for the second straight year.

Hog fans should probably cheer for Michigan to beat Texas Tech, as the Red Raiders have the most dangerous offense but are likely to run out of pitching if they have to go through the loser’s bracket and play an extra game. Against Florida State, Hog pitchers must limit free passes and the defense must avoid errors. A home run is likely, but little harm is done if it’s a solo shot. Facing Parrish, the Hogs need to be disciplined, not swinging at junk and allowing Seminole pitchers to induce weak contact. Against either Texas Tech or Michigan, the key is getting hits with runners in scoring position.

If the Hogs can do those things, we’ll be back in a week previewing the College World Series Finals.