College Sports

June 20, 2014

TCU’s pitching advantage neutralized by stadium at College World Series

Cavernous TD Ameritrade Park helped other teams’ pitchers match the Horned Frogs’ staff.

For all the advantages that TD Ameritrade Park shifts in a pitcher’s favor, it was perhaps the one the College World Series home park doesn’t provide that stung TCU the most: Consistent run support.

The Horned Frogs’ pitching staff entered last week’s CWS opener against Texas Tech with the best team ERA in the country, a minuscule 2.19. And the numbers in three games this week weren’t too out of the ordinary: two earned runs against the Red Raiders, two against Virginia and six against Ole Miss.

Still, TCU flew home Friday morning after back-to-back losses, 3-2 to the Cavaliers and 6-4 Thursday night against the Rebels.

TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan, a first-round pick who is expected to sign with the Kansas City Royals, threw eight innings and gave up one earned run Tuesday against Virginia. But his first CWS start ended with a no-decision after the Frogs lost on a sacrifice fly in the 15th inning.

Finnegan said TD Ameritrade’s cavernous dimensions — 335 in left, 408 in center, 335 in right — combined with the almost wood-like bats was an equalizer for other pitching staffs.

“There wasn’t a team in that thing that could match our pitching staff, besides, maybe, [Vanderbilt],” he said Friday after TCU returned to campus. “Literally, it’s just timely hitting. You can’t put the ball in the air, because if you do, it’s an automatic out. You have to somehow find a corner, which doesn’t happen very often.”

Against Virginia, Kevin Cron nearly broke through for TCU, hitting two balls hard to left field. The first appeared to be a home run off the bat, but both fizzled before the warning track.

Cron’s solo home run to left-center field Thursday night tied Ole Miss at 4. TCU went hitless the rest of the game.

An earlier rally from the Frogs ended with the bases loaded when Derek Odell’s ball to the right-center field gap floated long enough for the Ole Miss fielder to make the catch.

“[The field] is just so big, and with the bats we use these days, it’s just horrible,” Finnegan said. “We hit four balls [in the last two games] that should’ve been gone and probably didn’t go anywhere. It kind of sucks. College baseball is just different now. It’s good for the pitcher, but it still sucks because your team can’t score as many runs.”

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said last week that he was expecting TD Ameritrade Park to have a similar effect — if not a greater one — on offenses as TCU’s Lupton Stadium. Lupton is a bit smaller than TD Ameritrade, but hitters in both parks generally face a stiff wind.

The effect at TD Ameritrade has been across the board this week. Entering Friday, there had been only two home runs hit in 10 CWS games. In 2010 — TCU’s last trip to Omaha and the final year both at Rosenblatt Stadium and with non-BBCOR bats — 32 homers were hit in 14 games.

The Division I Baseball Committee voted in November to use a lower-seamed ball in the 2015 tournament. Schlossnagle said he thinks that will help.

Still, the frustration this week was hard to avoid for TCU.

“[Cron’s] best day all season was the Virginia game, and all he had to show for it was a ground-ball single back through the middle of the field,” Schlossnagle said. “We faced two starting pitchers the last two games that gave us an opportunity to score runs in the first five or six innings, and we didn’t do that.”

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