Texas baseball just completed a losing weekend series with lowly Kansas, giving the Horns a 19-15 record on the year and a stout 4-8 record in Big 12 play. Tied for last in the conference.
Texas can't score runs. Because it is not built to score runs. And the guy in charge is having trouble showing his work on the blackboard. Augie's preferred baseball aesthetic: a team of well-oiled fielders and swift base runners selflessly manufacturing runs and playing error free baseball behind a good pitching staff - has been more or less marginalized by the dismal, inevitable science of baseball statistical Sudoku. Baseball isn't much more mysterious than a series of inputs over time. The Moneyball Wars are decided, and the nerds won. In a rout. If you believe that detracts from the art and romantic mystery of baseball, I agree. Go read George Will essays. Let the nerds flick their abacus.
Augie may or may not be aware of all of this (even though his best teams at Texas bunted less and demonstrated more extra base power than his others by substantial margins).
The overall premise is straightforward enough: bunting ultimately costs you runs. More importantly, beyond the embrace of the in-game tactic itself, which costs a team about a quarter of a run per inning with men on base, is that the adherence to the ideology of run manufacture in recruiting means you're often left with a team of limp bats, good base running, and adept fielding. While agreeable to our artistic notions of the "complete ballplayer", it forgets that the primary purpose of non-pitchers is the scoring of runs, primarily by knocking the baseball very hard into and over walls with some consistency. Even if that player is a fat piece of shit, lumbers around the bases like a Sleestak from Land of the Lost, and fields like an asthmatic playing dodgeball. All of the attributes of a baseball player aren't weighted equally in the mathematics of the game. Yet Texas is constructing rosters that suggest we think so.
What's enticing and frustrating is that this Texas team has the pitching part of the equation figured out nicely. Augie always has. The Horns have an outstanding 2.68 team ERA. Unfortunately, opponent ERA is 3.40. In Big 12 play, Texas has a sparkling 2.51 ERA. Unfortunately, opposing staffs have a remarkable 2.06 ERA.
In simple run output, the Horns rank 248th in the country. While ranked 17th in runs allowed. While those crude numbers are unadjusted for opponent strength, they're instructive. Texas has a run generation problem.
The magic number for Texas run output is a modest 4. When Texas scores four or more runs, the Horns are 13-2. When we don't? 6-13.
It's not just that the Horns lack power (boasting an anemic .347 Slugging Percentage). They're also not very good at the plate in a sneaky run manufacture, let's-just-get-on-base sort of way, boasting an equally feeble .348 On Base percentage. One might expect a compensatory superior fielding percentage, but we're actually trailing our opponents (.971 to .978).
Augie Garrido is a fantastic coach - possibly the greatest college manager ever - who has forgotten more baseball than I'll ever know. And I love that he uses baseball as a broader teaching tool about things that matter beyond bread and circus. In fact, his value add is so great that he can nearly overcome mathematical laws. The question, then, isn't what he knows. It's what he's willing to learn. When stubbornness takes a few miles off of the fastball, don't expect the rest of college baseball to bunt. They're going to keep hitting it hard off of the wall.
So when do we go to the bullpen?