Red Wolves Seek Redemption in Jackson
The two teams square off again this weekend at a neutral site in Jackson, Mississippi due to winter storm Thor’s impact on Arkansas.
Last season the Red Wolves and Mavericks battled to a season split, each winning two games, with the exception that UT-Arlington’s win propelled them into the SBC Championship Game where their season ended in a one-run loss to the top-ranked Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Arkansas State led the game at the SBC Tournament Semi-Final at Stanky Field in Mobile, Alabama by a 7-6 score heading into the home half of the eighth inning.
A-State’s senior closer Morgan Croft (RHP) was on the bump with two outs and nobody on base and the Red Wolves were poised for another shot at the Cajuns, this time with NCAA Regional aspirations in the balance. However, back-to-back, two-out walks to Darien McLemore (So., ) and Ryan Bottger (Sr., ) put the game-winning run on base and senior Matt Shortall was quick to deliver with a two-run double to the gap in right center to give the Mavs the 8-7 lead. UTA’s junior closer Chad Nack (RHP) came on to close out A-State in a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Mavericks’ team that downed the young, upstart Red Wolves to end last season is vastly different. Gone from the team is 70 percent of the squad’s 2014 offensive production with five every day starting position player moving on. Also missing are all three of last season’s weekend starting rotation arms with more than 230 innings of work plus a jack-of-all-trades hurler. Meanwhile, a lot of familiar faces will be staring them down from the opposing dugout, looking to show this weekend that this year is going to be different.
Arkansas State returns most of its’ offensive pieces from 2014 with the addition of a junior college transfer named Ty White who roams the outfield and in recent games has proven to be a feisty and effective lead-off hitter. White is hitting .351 with a .419 OB% and three stolen bases on a team that prides itself at getting on base and being aggressive on the base paths but also contributes a .406 BABIP so he is also an excellent gap-finder for the offense.
A pair of freshman have also seen a lot of early action in the lineup with shortstop Jeremy Brown having clubbed a couple of homers already this season and outfielder Tim Seldomridge who is off to a slow start to kick off his A-State career.
The Red Wolves return some nice rotation pieces with sophomore righty Tyler Zuber off to a hot start, currently on a 14 inning scoreless streak, at 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and a .134 OBA. Friday night arm, senior right-hander David Owen is 2-1 with a 2.41 ERA, fresh off firing eight scoreless innings against the Houston Baptist Huskies, with a team-leading 17 strikeouts on the year. Senior southpaw John Glidewell is also coming off his best start against HBU and is looking to make it two in a row.
Fans in Mississippi will be in for a gap-hitting festival as these two squads square off as both are very high in BABIP. BABIP is a sabermetric value that shows how effective a team is at hitting the ball into gaps. It literally stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. The only downfall to the figure is that it discounts for homeruns so apparently “over the wall” isn’t technically a gap.
Arkansas State has a .294 BABIP on the year but is outdone by the Mavericks with a .336 BABIP. Another sabermetric known as the Secondary Batting Average (secA) shows how effective a team is at getting bases. We all know that getting more bases leads to more runs. Arkansas State has a .268 secA versus the .221 posted by the Mavericks.
This leads to another figure, which team hits for more power. Simply stated, if you subtract the team/player batting average from the team/player slugging percentage you get a figure called the ISO, or isolated power average. A-State posts a .108 against UTA’s .086 which shows the Red Wolves have more power bats in the lineup, which is a turn on last season.
Not Them Again!
Most A-State fans will recognize the pesky and frustrating bats of seniors Travis Sibley (SS) and Levi Scott (1B) in the series this weekend. Both are off to stellar starts and are being used effectively all over the Mavericks’ lineup while accounting for the team’s only two homers on the season. Sibley is hitting only .273 but is killing the ball with a .182 ISO. Scott is hitting .375 with a .474 OB% and a .188 ISO but the big figure with him is his ability to find gaps with a .423 BABIP.
On Saturday night, the Red Wolves will see the same face that closed them out last season as the junior closer who posted a 1.26 ERA in 35.2 innings of work last season is now the senior Friday night starter Chad Nack. Nack opened the season throwing 15 consecutive scoreless innings with the first six coming in the Mavs’ opener against the Missouri State Bears in which he left the game with a 2-0 lead only to see it evaporate when it got to the pen in a 7-2 loss.
Nack fired off seven more scoreless innings against the Southeastern Louisiana to pick up his first win of the year. Then after opening with a pair of scoreless frames against the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (6-3) before the wheels came off, with the help of an error, scoring four runs on five hits in the inning. The right-hander went on to surrender 12 hits and six earned run in the 5.2 inning outing.
Arkansas State can be excited with the power production bursting out of the bats swung by sophomore third baseman Tanner Ring and juniors Matt Burgess (1B/OF) and Austin Baker (OF). Ring has nine hits on the season and four of them have been for extra bases with a pair of homers. His .425 SLG% bears this out but it is highlighted even more by his .200 ISO which is the highest isolated slugging percentage of any player in this series.
Burgess has five doubles and is second on the squad with a .143 while Baker is strong at a .132 ISO. Add in the pressure relief that has come with the early RBI help from White (10 RBI) and sophomore Joe Schrimpf with 13 RBI, these power hitters are free to keep looking for fastballs to drive deep.
Keep In Mind
Sophomore Christian Hollie has been a quick contributor to the Mavericks’ lineup hitting .290 with a .452 SLG% in an offense that has yet to solidify a lead-off man. Freshman hurler Brad Vassar has battled through a pair of starts with a 3.86 ERA while opponents hitting nearly .300 against him. Senior Colin Tornberg is versatile with the ability to start and close a game but is sitting at a 16.20 ERA while allowing a .400 OBA.
The Mavericks are in the process of discovering their offensive identity and a variety of lineups and players learning roles will just take time to get things put together. UTA is not an aggressive team on the bases so far, whether that is the result of philosophy, opportunity or both still isn’t clear but it will become salient as SBC play opens. If the Mavs get better starting pitching outside of the No. 1 starter it will help as the offense finds itself. However, the bullpen can’t continue its’ early season inconsistency.
Mark West covers the Sun Belt for College Baseball Central.
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