We've reached the final section of the ODB Big 12 Baseball Primer, where we'll take a look at the supposed big boys of the league. If you want to read about teams that aren't very good, check out Part 1 or Part 2. This is the adults' table. This is where the grown-ups sit... Although for some reason, Oklahoma has also been skulking around, and even though A&M and Texas have asked them politely to leave, they just aren't getting the hint that they're not very good this year. Awkward...
I can't really blame them though. When everyone says you're going to be great before the season begins and then you play like crap for weeks on end, it's a little hard to handle. Without further ado:
Oklahoma was ranked coming into the year and picked to finish 3rd in the conference behind only A&M and UT. Unfortunately for them, they currently sit 19-14 (4-8 Big 12), and they are definitely outside the NCAA Tournament bubble looking in. They are only 6-11 against 2011 Tournament teams, including sweeps at the hands of both Texas and A&M. So what went wrong? Pretty much everything.
Oklahoma scores 5.4 runs/game and gives up 5.0 runs/game. That's not a lot of room for error. They sit toward the bottom of the conference in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. The also sit toward the bottom in ERA, batting average against, and runs allowed. Their pitchers are dead last in the league in giving up walks. If one wanted to be hopeful, one could point out that Oklahoma does have a few pretty decent pitchers, including Damien Magnifico who is rumored to throw as hard as 98 mph. However, eight of Oklahoma's pitchers maintain ERAs over 5.40. That's just awful. If I redid this Primer, I would certainly not have Oklahoma in this section with the good teams. Rather, they would live at the bottom of the mid-range teams below Missouri and probably Oklahoma State.
The University of Texas, on the other hand, has only been a mild disappointment in baseball this year. Way to go, Horns! Augie Garrido and company had a pretty rough time in their pre-conference schedule, going 7-6 against 2011 NCAA Tournament teams. This included a three game embarrassment against Stanford that could have been labeled child abuse. Unlike Oklahoma, however, UT has some good things going for them. First, they played the 2nd hardest pre-conference schedule in the Big 12 (after Baylor). Second, after they got into conference play, they totally redeemed themselves with a 7-2 record thus far. They should make the Tournament (on name alone, but let's not go there), and they could make a run once the post-season starts. They currently score 5.6 runs/game and let up 4.6 runs/game - not elite, but not terrible either.
Some other good things for UT are a solid pitching staff anchored by ace closer Corey Knebel, and while their offense isn't elite by any means, they can score some runs. They don't hit for much power, but they get on base at a fair clip (.373). What I'm basically saying is they're a poor man's Baylor. And yes, that is fun to say.
Quick note before we get to A&M: Did you know that only three Big 12 teams have above .500 records at this moment? The conference cannot be called deep this year, and with Baylor and A&M beating the living hell out of every team they see, it's quite possible that only three teams will get NCAA Tournament invites this year. Last year, the Big 12 had six teams in the Tournament.
Texas A&M University is truly a 2012 baseball powerhouse. It's difficult for me to even be flip about them, because they're just really good. They are truly a worthy opponent. They score slightly more (6.7 runs/game) than Baylor and give up slightly fewer (3.5). Their current RPI is eight, and they will absolutely host a regional unless something strange and terrible happens to their entire team.
Their offense is led by Tyler Naquin. He is good. How does .422/.497/.578 sound? Their pitching is just as dominant as Baylor's and possibly deeper. While Baylor has given weekday starts to guys like Max Garner and Brad Kuntz, who both struggled to ERAs in the fives, A&M has given their spot starts to guys like Gandy Stubblefield and Corey Ray who carry identical 3.15 ERAs. A&M's weekend starters, Michael Wacha, Rafael Pineda, and Ross Stripling, all sit well below 3 in ERA terms. The primary difference I can see between Baylor's starters and A&M's is that Trent Blank, Josh Turley and company give up fewer homeruns, while the Aggies strike out far more batters.
If pressed for weaknesses, I could say that their schedule thus far doesn't strike fear into my heart. The Aggs lost a series to Cal State Fullerton earlier in the year. They beat up on pretty decent Pepperdine and Michigan State teams, but that's about it for wins that impress me. They do still have a good Strength of Schedule, however, so this obviously isn't that big an issue. The Baylor/A&M series should be a heck of a battle.
So there you have it. The Big 12 Primer is done. You now know your enemies. Where does Baylor fit into all this? I know what I think. What about you?