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Fun With Numbers, Or Why Baylor Baseball is so Good

Stats will never capture the balletic beauty of the game, but they can be really fun when your team is playing well.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Stats will never capture the balletic beauty of the game, but they can be really fun when your team is playing well. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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As the title would suggest, I've been playing around with some numbers, and I believe I've discovered the secrets behind the success of 2012 Baylor Baseball. Besides grission (a made-up word that means "hardnosed-ness), gumption, and grandiose swagger, I figured there had to be some statistical reason for the Bears' success. After finding it, my plan is to bottle it and then sell it (or possibly horde it so that I can drink it constantly and be good at everything... Watch out world!).

Let's begin with the Bears' Offense, which has been prolific to say the least. The first thing that caught my eye was how well-rounded the offense is. The power numbers won't blow anyone away, but Muncy and Evatt can absolutely hit one out of the park when they need to. The stolen base numbers also won't blow anyone away, but Langford, Vick, and Towey can swipe a base when they need to. Freshman OF Logan Brown actually leads the team in steals in only 38 plate appearances, so it's pretty evident that the kid can absolutely fly. Watch out for him over the next couple seasons.

But what sets Baylor Baseball apart? Why do they score so much (besides good looks and charm, am I right? Anyone?)? The Bears actually have seven starting position players with batting averages over .293, so it's obvious that the team has plenty of talented hitters, but I wouldn't say that hitting - in and of itself - really sets the offense apart from the rest of the Conference. So what is then? Get to the point, Miles!

What sets Baylor Baseball apart is Moneyball. That's right, the excellent movie (and book, which I would absolutely recommend to any baseball fan). The oversimplified concept of Moneyball is that getting players on base more often, through hits, walks, hit-by-pitch, etc. gives that team more opportunities to score runs. Seems incredibly simple, huh? It is.

The 2012 Baylor Bears have walked 152 times in 32 games. That leads the Big 12. Six of Baylor's starters get on base at well over a .400 clip. The OBP for the entire team is .403.

The really neat thing about OBP to me, however, is the side benefits that it creates. Is it great to have tons of base runners on because of walks? Yes. Is it even better that this forces the opposing pitcher to throw the ball over the plate to get hitters out? Yes. This is what leads to the Bears' .297 team batting average. They wait for their pitch and when it comes, they put a good swing on it. This is why the team has been so ridiculously successful against the stud pitchers - the Plutkos and Heaneys - of the college pitching world. They kill them with patience. They force them to work hard for every single out.

Yet another great thing about the team's approach at the plate is that patience and a good eye never slump. I've said this before, and it's true. Batting averages fluctuate based on luck and opposing defenses. The ability to take a walk doesn't.

Now, we'll move on to Defense/Pitching! Defense in college baseball is incredibly hard to quantify, but the ERA of Baylor's pitchers can at least give us a good indication that the defense behind them is playing well. ERA is a good statistic, but it's unfair that it's given solely to the pitchers. ERA encompasses the pitcher and the defense equally, since defensive limitations and misplays not ruled errors lead to runs. That Baylor's pitchers collectively sit at a 3.08 ERA is a good sign that the defense is also playing well.

I wanted to check out our pitchers a little deeper using Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP, a statistic that tries to separate defense and luck from a pitcher's performance. I like FIP a lot, but it certainly has limitations that I will discuss in a moment. First, let's look at the six Baylor pitchers who have thrown the most innings. This doesn't mean that these six are the most important, only that, with any stat, bigger sample sizes are always better.

  • Josh Turley - 2.20 ERA, 49 IP, 50 Hits, 12 BB, 41 K, 2 HR Allowed... 2.79 FIP
  • Trent Blank - 1.67 ERA, 54 IP, 35 Hits, 13 BB, 31 K, 0 HR Allowed... 2.77 FIP
  • Max Garner - 5.28 ERA, 30.2 IP, 35 Hits, 10 BB, 29 K, 2 HR Allowed... 3.13 FIP
  • Joey Hainsfurther - 2.08 ERA, 21.2 IP, 24 Hits, 6 BB, 16 K, 0 HR Allowed... 2.55 FIP
  • Dillon Newman - 2.82 ERA, 22.1 IP, 22 Hits, 5 BB, 24 K, 1 HR Allowed... 2.29 FIP
  • Brad Kuntz - 5.13 ERA, 26.1 IP, 23 Hits, 13 BB, 29 K, 1 HR Allowed... 2.97 FIP

You'll notice that I included Hits allowed in these stats, even though they are not a part of FIP calculations. I'll talk about that in a second. Before I get to that, lets talk about the other numbers. As you can see, the FIP for all six of these pitchers is very good. According to FIP, our worst pitcher of these six should sit around a 3.13 ERA. I'll take that any day!

According to FIP, both Garner and Kuntz have been unlucky to a certain degree. They should be due for some correction, which would mean better results for both of them. That would be great to see.

Josh Turley, Joey Hainsfurther, and Dillon Newman are all fairly close to their FIPs, meaning that their ERAs are essentially in line with their performances. All three are performing exceptionally well, so that is very encouraging. The only pitcher who looks due for some true regression is Trent Blank whose 1.67 ERA is over a run below his (still very good) 2.77 FIP. If Blank had a 2.77 ERA, he would still be a great pitcher, but this is actually where I disagree with FIP. I don't see Blank regressing in any real way.

Why? He's only allowed 35 Hits in 54 Innings. FIP assumes that a pitcher doesn't have any control over how many hits opposing batters get off of them when the ball is put into play. There is some evidence for this, but I simply don't agree with it. Ground balls and fly balls are outs a much larger percentage of the time than line drives. If a pitcher is giving up hard contact, more balls will inevitably fall. If a pitcher gives up weak contact, fewer balls will fall. Blank uses a funky, sidearm delivery this year, and it is making it incredibly difficult on hitters. He only throws 87-88 at the highest, but for some reason, he's getting TONS of weak contact. If you look at a game log from one of his starts, you'll notice a trend: a large percentage of the balls put into play against him are weak ground outs.

This is getting pretty long, so I think I'll wrap it up. To put it simply, Baylor's pitching truly is as good as it's been up to this point. Baylor's hitters truly are as good as they've been to this point. Baylor Baseball is absolutely as good as they've been to this point. They won't go undefeated for the rest of the season, but they're certainly going to try.