The Big 12 baseball coaches have spoken, and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle doesn’t know exactly how to take it.
In their annual preseason poll, the coaches picked the Horned Frogs to finish tied for the No. 2 spot with Oklahoma State.
And why not? The Frogs again have the pitching and the defense.
“From little league coaches all the way to Ron Washington, coaches will tell you that if you can pitch and play defense, it’ll always give you a chance to win,” Schlossnagle said on the eve of his team’s 2014 season opener.
“At the same time, though, if you had told me before last season that we were going to lead the Big 12 in pitching and lead the league in defense for most of the season, I would have told you that we were probably going to have a great year.
“But we finished sixth and Texas, which was No. 2 in pitching, finished last.”
The lesson learned?
Schlossnagle didn’t have to be asked. “At some point, you have to score some runs,” he said.
The 2013 Frogs, it seems, had a season-long problem with runs, as did a lot of college baseball. TCU batted only .246 as a team and hit just 13 home runs. The 2010 Frogs, who went to the College World Series, batted .334 with 101 home runs.
Runs and extra-base hits, however, were scarce throughout college baseball and have been dwindling ever since the new, pitcher-friendly bats were put into play in 2011.
Some college teams clearly have handled it better than others. Schlossnagle thinks he and his team have had to learn to adapt as well.
“We needed a culture change,” he said. “From an offensive standpoint, we needed to be a tougher group. We needed to play with more aggression — just an overall mindset change, and Mo’s definitely brought that.”
“Mo” is Bill Mosiello, TCU’s new associate head coach who managed in the minor leagues with the Angels and Yankees. One of Mosiello’s former players is Mike Trout.
Schlossnagle thinks that last year’s team, which finished 29-28, never regained its confidence after an 0-6 start and then over-analyzed things as it searched for a solution.
Exhibit A for the ensuing frustration became first baseman Kevin Cron, whose batting average plummeted from .338 to .208.
“He’s a phenomenal young man, a 3.8 student in our business school who could have signed as a third-round pick out of high school, but he didn’t because he wanted to come to TCU and play college baseball,” Schlossnagle said.
“He wanted it so bad, but everything snowballed on him last season. He figured that if five swings were great in batting practice, 105 swings must be better. He knew that he was a big part of our lineup, and when things didn’t start out well for him, he pressed.”
What Schlossnagle hopes to see from his team this time is a lineup that’s more relaxed, less self-critical.
“They need to not be so worried about it that they break down every swing and every result,” the coach said.
“So I’ve asked them to be a little dumber in the batter’s box and just play — try not to let the previous pitch or at-bat affect the next one.”
Schlossnagle admitted that he has to loosen the offensive reins, too. He cited a sabermetric opinion that the sacrifice bunt may be baseball’s biggest waste of an out.
Schlossnagle, like many college coaches affected by the new bats, managed with a distinct station-by-station, run-by-run, bunt-happy approach over the past three seasons.
“One thing I was guilty of, if your team’s not hitting well, you don’t need to be giving up outs,” Schlossnagle said.
There are other ways, he said, to use the bunt — and better ways to get on and run the bases and help a pitching staff that rival Big 12 coaches think will be pretty good this season.
The season — and, Schlossnagle hopes, the hitting — begin Friday night.