Baseball: Army- UNC-Greensboro preview

Going into their midweek game this week vs. a very tough NC State, the UNCG Spartans are sporting a nice 6-1 record. There are other numbers besides W's and L's however, that tell a deeper story of the team The Black Knights will face off against this weekend.

The two teams The Spartans have gone 3-0 on in successive weekends are, Cleveland State (2009, 19-31, 251 RPI) and Albany (2009, 26-31, 214 RPI) with their lone loss being a 12-2 mid week shellacking by #14 UNC. Mid week games are usually underclass starting pitching looking to gain experience, or weekend relievers tuning up their games. The fact that UNCG could only muster 2 runs off a midweek starter is the first piece of the scouting puzzle.

Let's examine some further numbers to see if The Spartans are as greatly a formidable opponent as their record may indicate.

The first is their pitching. Army can expect to see three upperclassmen as starters, Juniors Greg Smith, Colby Hyatt, and Blake Hassebrock, all righties (in fact, UNCG only has one lefty on the whole staff). With the exception of Smith (9 starts in 2009) they have very little starting experience up until this year, although with good programs, that's not an anomaly to have underclass relievers and upperclass starters. There are two hugely relevant stats that jump off the page about these three arms. The first is that their ERA's are a very tiny 2.38, 2.53 and 3.24 respectively. The second is that none seems to make it through the sixth inning. One answer can generally be applied to both of those observations, it's still early. Pitchers are still building up their pitch counts, hence the lack of depth in their starts and their ERA's may be more reflective of their opponent rather than their mastery.

In two of these pitchers cases, (Hyatt is a JC transfer and numbers not readily available) the ERA's being posted so far this year are way, WAY under what these pitchers have historically thrown. Last year, Smith hoisted a 6.93 ERA with a WHIP of 1.72, while Hassebrock was at a 5.32 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. (WHIP= Walks + Hits divided by Innings Pitched. It's a great baseball insider stat of a pitchers ability. WHIPS's of around 1.00 or under are considered very good. Anything over 1.5 is a guy you should score pretty well off of.) While most educated baseball minds would assume that these numbers are about to change greatly when faced with better opposition, they have one huge advantage working in their favor this weekend…Army's only played one three game series so far this year while this will be UNCG's 9th through 11th games.

That means that they've got arms that are finding a groove while the Knights are still shaking off some winter rust and not settled into their swings. UNCG's offense will also have taken many, many more outside reps, in games and practices, something that just can't be duplicated indoors at West Point. So whatever statistical advantage you could argue for the Knights, is highly mitigated by the experience of The Spartans. It's an intangible that just can't be weighed until you see how it plays out on the field.

A closer look at UNCG's offensive numbers proves very revealing. In spite of a +2.6 runs per game scoring differential, they are hitting at an anemic .264 pace. Those two numbers only jive if the offense is living off of defensive miscues by the opponent, and/or tons of walks. With UNCG playing nearly all its games at home to date, they have a fielding percentage of .975 compared to an abysmal .929 for the opposition. Quite frankly, Albany and Cleveland State were booting the ball all over the place and UNCG proved it could capitalize on opportunity.

Solely by the numbers, the picture is of a team that pitches and fields at a very high level, is below average hitting, but very opportunistic with opponents mistakes.

The Army side of the ball, should be quite a matchup. Expect Fouch, Porter and Koenigsfeld to have elevated their games tremendously on the bump from week one. They all posted good performances, but working to live hitters indoors is pretty good work for pitchers. Game savvy upperclassmen aren't likely to be emotionally intimidated by seeing a team that has had good reps, and their ability to work on perfecting the aspects of their own game isn't hindered much by indoor reps. If Army can locate their pitches, they should carve up UNCG batters like a fat Thanksgiving bird. This could be a complete mismatch in Army's favor and likely what the series will hinge on.

On the hitting end, that remains to be seen. Are the UNCG pitchers really that good, or was the competition that weak? Has Army learned enough from that first weekend to be able to sit back on the off speed stuff, or will they still be too anxious and out in front? Will a 12 day layoff cool down a scorching hot Kevin McKague and will his teammates be elevating their games?

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Army should expect to see competent D1 pitching, but it's doubtful to be overwhelming. The hitters will probably all be better than the first weekend, where we already hit at a robust .333 clip but not anywhere near where they will be. If Army pitching is as good as it should be against a weak UNCG offense, the Knights should only need a couple of runs a game to win.

Army should be looking at making a statement this weekend. UNCG will be no pushover, it's a quality opponent, but Army should be up to the task, every inning of every game. If all three aspects of the game improve from week one, hitting, pitching, and defense, it's reasonable to expect Army to prevail and prevailing with authority is just a matter of how much they will have improved since week one.

My prediction…it looks like a great weekend for Army Baseball!


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