Hokies Baseball Team Needs To Find New Ways To Create Offense

Tech lost five players from last year's batting order. Can they find a way to replace them? Or will they have to change the way they play the game?

If there was one thing Virginia Tech's baseball team excelled at last season, it was hitting the ball. Even before the 2013 season began, Baseball America dubbed Tech's batting order one of the most dangerous 3-4-5 combinations in the country. They weren't wrong, as Pete Hughes' team drove in an impressive 6.4 runs per game. But that success was not met without failure. If the Hokies want to build on last year's impressive season, they are going to have to change how they play offense.

To get started, here are some commonly used stats and how Tech fared against the other 295 teams in division one baseball.

Statistic Measured:

Result:

NCAA DIV I Rank:

Batting Average

0.29

52nd

Walks

195

147th (Tied)

Doubles

129

10th

Doubles/Game

2.08

23rd

Hits

642

22nd

Home Runs

56

8th

On Base Percentage

0.36

107th

Runs

398

33rd

Sacrifice Bunts

34

192nd

Scoring/Game

6.4

40th

Slugging Percentage

0.44

22nd

Stolen Bases/Game

0.92

177th

Strikeouts:Walks

1.78

142nd

WHIP

1.45

152nd

While Tech was great at hitting the ball, they left much to be desired in every other part of the offensive game. Former head coach Pete Hughes had a lot of sluggers to work with. Chad Pinder, Tyler Horan, Andrew Rash, and Mark Zagunis could all be counted on to send one over the fence when the team needed it most. The Hokies' offensive philosophy was to step up to the plate and crush the ball, driving in runs off of big hits. While being ranked 8th and 10th in home runs and doubles respectively is quite a feat, it appears that the rest of the game got left behind. This may come as a shock, but the biggest key to baseball is getting on base. Being the 107th best team at making it to first base just isn't going to cut it at the tournament level. The first issue is Tech didn't take nearly enough walks (ranked 147th). Working the count is an area where the team can look to improve this year. The all or nothing principle of hit a home run or strike out can work for some teams, as Tech's 40-22 record last season shows, but hitting the ball in itself will not win a championship.

If Tech can be smarter at the plate and on the base paths, they could take their game to the next level. The Hokies did not even average one stolen base per game last year. Leaving guys stranded on first can create double plays, and quickly turn a potential run into nothing. In addition, the team only succeeded on 34 sacrifice bunts, another example of a failure to advance runners. Moving runners out of danger and putting pressure on the defense to focus on the guys on base is critical in chasing college starting pitching.

Here is how Tech stacked up against the rest of the ACC, one of the toughest baseball conferences in the country:

Team:

Runs:

Hits

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

SB-ATT

G

AVG

AB

UVA

489

673

134

31

43

312

332

64-87

62

.312.

2157

GT

414

683

117

24

58

257

449

77-110

64

.304.

2244

UNC

542

759

126

24

49

369

353

87-121

71

.303.

2506

VT

398

639

129

16

55

195

392

57-91

62

.291.

2194

FSU

435

604

146

18

35

359

390

44-71

64

.287.

2101

MD

306

513

118

16

13

209

306

94-120

55

.279.

1836

Duke

293

508

95

17

21

209

349

51-76

55

.277.

1833

NCST

402

642

127

14

29

261

435

110-144

66

.277.

2319

Clem

340

586

85

15

22

257

387

111-152

62

.276.

2124

WF

331

516

94

13

30

290

412

72-91

55

.273.

1889

Miami

278

508

83

8

14

244

371

80-114

62

.257.

1973

BC

174

359

72

5

13

198

365

32-47

52

.209.

1720

The Hokies are right there with the ACC's elite in terms of hits, doubles, home runs, and batting average. What's missing are the walks, stolen bases, and runs. UVA scored 99 more runs than VT in as many games, and UNC scored almost 150 more, indicating that VT's strand rate was a serious problem. In the stolen bases category, the Hokies were 10th in the ACC. In walks, Tech was dead last. Certainly it appears that the Hokies inability to oscillate between mashing and playing small ball is what held them back last year. The best teams will choke up and manufacture runs when the opposing pitcher is bearing down and not giving up anything fat over the plate.

The 2014 batting order is in limbo. Only four players remain on the team from last year's prolific lineup. All American outfielder Tyler Horan and infielder Chad Pinder were selected in the MLB draft. Andrew Rash, Gary Schneider, and Chad Morgan are also gone, though none of them were drafted. These five players accounted for 54 percent of the runs scored by Tech's starting nine in 2013 as well as 64 percent of home runs. The infamous Pinder-Rash-Horan combo will be difficult to replace. As a result, the Hokies may not see as many home runs as they enjoyed last year.

The good news is that catcher Mark Zagunis is returning. Zagunis batted .341 last season with a team leading .433 on-base percentage. He also hit nine home runs, tied for second on the team. Joining him in the lineup will be veterans Sean Keselica, Alex Perez, and Brendon Hayden.

Here is a look at some of what VT is losing from last season's batting order:

Player:

Batting Avg:

On Base Pct:

HR:

Hits:

RBIs:

Alex Perez

.255.

.344.

1

52

24

Sean Keselica

.307.

.368.

5

67

31

Chad Pinder

.321.

.404.

8

77

50

Andrew Rash

.315.

.368.

11

75

62

Tyler Horan

.342.

.391.

11

88

50

Mark Zagunis

.341.

.433.

9

79

51

Gary Schneider*

.329.

.391.

2

46

11

Chad Morgan

.250.

.304.

2

44

25

Brendon Hayden

.208.

.284.

4

41

29

* Did not finish the season due to injury

It will be interesting to see how coach Patrick Mason chooses to replace all of Hughes' power hitters. Many of the players Mason recruited in 2013 are best suited to a defensive style of play, but the answer may lie with some of these 15 incoming recruits. James Stroud is a highly rated outfielder from Virginia Beach who hits with power and may be able to fill Tyler Horan's big shoes. He also throws a good fastball so he may end up in the bullpen as well. Mac Caples of Midlothian, VA gives Tech a patient hitter who likes to hit line drives and can also play 3rd base. Garrett Hudson, a product of Delaware, has a very quick bat and might be another option to replace the absent Chad Pinder in the infield. If the newcomers can't fill the void, Mason will have to look to last year's bench.

2014 looks to be a rebuilding year on the offensive side of the field. If the Hokies can find more ways to get on base and advance runners, it should make up for the depth lost at the power hitting positions. Only time will tell if new head coach Patrick Mason can lead his team back to the ACC championship, and another shot at making it to the NCAA Tournament.

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