Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Mid-Season Look at the Iowa Baseball Team

I love Baseball and I love the Iowa Hawkeyes. However, I follow Football and Basketball much closer than I do the Iowa Baseball team. Most of that is because they are rarely on TV. It also doesn't help that they haven't been historically good at the game, and this year hasn't been an exception so far.

Well, lately I've been thinking about ideas for a post on here, and finally the inspiration hit me. I was walking around Scheel's last weekend, and I saw this awesome Iowa Baseball shirt. I decided to buy it. I then thought to myself, I'm going to wear this and know close to nothing about the how the current team is doing this year. So, I decided to write about the Baseball season so far. One, so in case anybody asked me about my shirt, I could actually sound knowledgeable about the team. Two, because I actually would like to care about Iowa Baseball, more than I do now.

So, for this post the numbers are through March 31 only. None of the Big 10 games played yet are in here. In this post, I'll be looking at offense only. Tomorrow will be pitching. Let's go!


This is how Iowa's bats stack up to the Big 10 average. Not very good. Iowa is 5% below average at getting on base (OBP). Iowa as a team gets on base at a .344 clip, compared to the .362 league average OBP. They are also 43% below average in the power category, which I measured by Isolated Power (ISO). For those not familiar with ISO, it is simply Slugging Percentage (SLG) - Batting Average (AVG). It gets rid of the singles a player hits, leaving you with the average extra bases per plate appearance for a hitter. The Hawkeyes ISO is a measly .056, compared to the Big 10 average of .099. Iowa is also 22% below Big 10 average in scoring runs (Runs per 9 innings). Iowa is scoring 4.30 R/9 this year, while the average Big 10 team is scoring 5.50. They are, however, 4% above average when you look at their strikeout to walk ratio (K:BB). Iowa averages 1.75 strikeouts for every 1 walk. The Big 10 average is 1.82 K:BB.

Look at Iowa's triple slash line: .247/.344/.303. Now look at the average Big 10 team: .281/.362/.380. That is why Iowa's offensive scores on the above chart averaged out to an offense that is 17% below the Big 10 average.


Moving on to the individual hitters, now. First, here are Iowa's batters in order of the number of plate appearances this year:

When looking at the numbers below, keep in mind that these are very small sample sizes. Most of Iowa's biggest bats have only stepped up to the plate around 80 times this year. You can't make sweeping judgments off that many plate appearances. So, the numbers are a reflection of why Iowa has done what it has so far this year, and is not necessarily a reflection of the true talent of the player.

Now, let's look at what has happened when those hitters have come to the plate:

First, Mike McQuillan, Trevor Willis, Chett Zeise, and Bryan Niedbalski have all gotten a hit in at least 25% of their plate appearances this year. Not surprisingly then, the lowest batting average in that group is Niedbalski, with a .286.

Tyson Blaser has been an out machine so far this year. In his 87 plate appearances this year, 48 of them (55.17%) have ended with him hitting into an out. Casey Karling and Sean Flanagan have been worse, but neither have more than 25 plate appearances a piece. Phi Keppler is also worse and has 44 plate appearances, but he is also a pitcher, if that means anything in college baseball.

Niedbalski and Willis have been among the best on the team at putting the ball in play, but they have also been very strikeout prone this year. Niedbalski has struck out on 29.17% of his plate appearances this year, while Willis has K'd in 24.27% of his plate appearances. Big 10 average on K/PA is 18.49% this year.

As far as Walks per plate appearance, Iowa has quite a few players who are better than the 10.16% Big 10 average. Chett Zeise has reached base via the walk, in 14.52% of his 62 plate appearances. Also on the above average list: Kurt Lee (11.36%), Andrew Ewing (11.25%), Tyson Blaser (10.34%). There are more, but those four guys have put up their walk rate's in at least 60 plate appearances. So, if there is one strength for the Iowa offense, it's that they are pretty decent at taking a walk. See, not all doom and gloom.

Now, let's move on to power:

The graph above shows the Isolated Power (ISO) and Extra Base Hits per Plate Appearance (XBH/PA) for Iowa's hitters. Ignore Sheppard, who has only logged 10 plate appearances. Instead, move on to the next guy, Trevor Willis. Now, keep in mind that Iowa has the absolute worst ISO in the whole Big 10, at .056. I mean, the next worse team is Illinois, who has an ISO of .089. Iowa is bad. Putting that in context, Iowa's leader in ISO, Trevor Willis, has hit 3 doubles and 4 triples this year. Iowa, as a team, has hit 1 homerun all year. But, considering Willis is hitting .299/.374/.425, it's at least good that he leads the team in plate appearances. For comparison's sake, Willis' .126 ISO is 27% better than the Big Ten average ISO of .099. The only other player that is above average on the team, with regular plate appearances, is Chett Zeise. His 116 ISO+ (ISO adjusted to the Big 10 average), means that he has been 16% better than the average Big 10 player in extra bases per at bat.

When you look at how often a player is likely to get an extra base hit compared to the number of times they step to the plate, the orders shifts a bit. Sheppard and his 10 plate appearances are still number one, but the guys with regular plate appearances change slightly. Tyson Blaser leads the team, averaging an extra base hit on 8% of his plate appearances. After that, Willis, Zeise, McQuillan, and Niedbalski all hover around 6%. Considering Big 10 average is 6.86%, Iowa has one guy above average in this category, and four of them hovering around league average. Iowa really lacks power.

Finally, let's take a look at OPS:

Once again, ignore Sheppard. After him, though, we get to the guys with regular plate appearances. Instead, Chett Zeise's .833 On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) is the best on the team. He's the only one on the team to crack .400 in both categories, with regular plate appearances. Which, is very good. Trevor Willis is next, with a .799 OPS. Considering, he has a .299 batting average, Willis' .374 OBP shows he knows how to take a walk. His .425 SLG is also best on the team, with regular plate appearances.

The Big 10 average OPS is .742, which means that Iowa has two more hitters that are above league average in OPS: Mike McQuillan and Andrew Ewing. Ewing, is especially interesting, considering his OPS is above average, thanks in large part to his .421 OBP. That is a difference of .115 between his batting average and OBP. The man can take a walk, as was evidence by his 11.25% BB/PA. His bat doesn't have much pop, though, as his SLG is only .323, and his ISO was only a paltry .021.


Needless to say, offense is not a strength of this team. Shockingly enough, Iowa didn't grade out dead last in offense. But, instead their 17% below Big 10 average offense, beat out Michigan who rated out 19% below average. When you add that to the decent pitching they've had this year (as you'll see in the next post), Iowa still isn't a great team. They do, however, move closer tot he middle of the pack in the Big 10, overall.

What Iowa lacks the most on offense, is clearly power. Put those bats in what, according to Boyd's World, is a ballpark that is clearly not hitting friendly (Duane Banks Field suppressed runs at 63% of the average college baseball field from 2007-2010). And, that's bad news for Iowa's offense. On the bright side, it is good news for Iowa's pitching. But, I'll cover that more tomorrow. Instead, the main thing to take away from this post, is that Iowa's offense is bad. Got it? Good. But, hey. At least we beat Michigan!

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