The 2018 NCAA baseball season is nearing its end, so I decided to take some time to look back at how the Virginia Tech Hokies have performed this season. The following article is meant to be an objective overview of the offensive performance from the Virginia Tech baseball team this season.
Anyone who followed the Virginia Tech baseball team last season knows there was no lack of power. The team ranked sixth in the NCAA with 84 home runs in 2017. It was the most the Hokies had hit in a season since 1980, when the team hit 140 home runs.
This season has been a bit of a different story.
Virginia Tech hitters have combined for just 32 home runs through 41 games. Tom Stoffel and Sam Fragale are tied for the lead with six home runs each. JD Mundy has five home runs and junior college transfer Luke Horanski has four home runs.
Home runs aren’t the only offensive statistic to measure a team by. When looking around the Hokies’ offensive numbers, most of them are pretty similar to last season’s team, but tend to be just slightly lower.
Virginia Tech is batting a collective .268 in 2018, nine points lower than the .277 average that the team recorded in 2017. The Hokies’ on base percentage sits at .359 which is comparable to last season’s mark of .369.
One number that is significantly lower than last season is slugging percentage. Virginia Tech’s current slugging percentage is .392, which is 86 points lower than last season’s .478.
Last season the Hokies’ scored an average of 6.5 runs per game. That number has dropped to 5.8 this year, which ranks 116th in NCAA Division I.
As mentioned earlier, Luke Horanski is having a pretty impressive year at the plate. In his first season in Blacksburg, Horanski leads the team in slugging percentage with .493, on-base percentage at .436, has drawn 22 walks, and knocked in 13 doubles. Horanski is second on the team in batting average hitting .314 on the season. Micheal Fernandez leads the Hokies with a .318 average, although he has nearly 100 fewer at bats than Horanski.
Tom Stoffel and Sam Fragale, both seniors, are tied for the team lead in home runs. Stoffel is batting .298 this season and leads the team with 51 hits. Fragale has driven in the most runs on the team, knocking in 33 RBIs.
Jack Owens, who led the team with a .358 batting average last season, leads the Hokies in runs this season, coming across the plate 38 times.
While the Hokies have been putting up solid numbers this season, the killer has been leaving runners on base. Virginia Tech has left 337 runners stranded this season. Some schools don’t keep track of that statistic, so there’s no way to know where Tech ranks, but one would have to assume that number is near the top.
Head coach John Szefc has spoken all season about how the Hokies need to improve upon their situational hitting and drive in those runners that reach base.
“You can’t go out there and leave the bases loaded in the seventh, or whatever inning that was,” Szefc said after the Hokies’ 3-2 loss to Louisville on April 14th.
Virginia Tech had loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the sixth, but was unable to bring any runners home.
There was a similar situation against Old Dominion on April 18.
“We went to the ninth down two, we had left the bases loaded, we had left, I don’t even know how many guys on base,” Szefc said.
The Hokies ended up winning the Old Dominion game on an extra-innings walk-off, but the situational hitting still wasn’t there.
Virginia Tech left the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning, and left 12 runners on throughout that game. The Hokies were just 1-for-3 with the bases loaded that day and 5-for-22 with runners on base. When Tech had runners in scoring position, batters were just 4-for-17.
Although the Hokies were able to squeeze out a win over ODU, hitting with runners on is an important part of the game, and one that they need to work on in order to improve the offense in the future.
Consistency is Key
Another major issue with the Hokie this season has been a lack of consistency. As mentioned earlier, Virginia Tech is averaging 5.8 runs per game, but the differences in between games have been large.
The Hokies have only been shutout twice this season, but there have been multiple games in which they scored just one or two runs. However, they have been able to bounce back following those games and put up big offensive numbers.
Take a look at the first four games of the season for example. Virginia Tech lost 17-2 against Coastal Carolina to open the season before losing to South Alabama 7-5. In their next matchup, the Hokies defeated Oklahoma 14-6, doubling their season run count.
The weekend series against NC State showed more of the same. In the first game of the series, Virginia Tech put up 10 runs on 14 hits against one of the best teams in the country. In the next two games, though, the Hokies only scored two total runs on 11 hits combined.
The next game against Dayton saw Virginia Tech put up 19 runs on 15 hits.
Szefc has talked about the Hokies’ ability to regroup after tough losses, which would explain the high scores following a rough weekend series. In order to get better, though, the offense needs to consistently put up enough runs that the team doesn’t need to worry about having to bounce back.
Overall, the Hokies are not having a bad year at the plate. Most of their offensive numbers are middle of the pack in the ACC. The thing that’s stopping them from seeing more success is what Szefc has talked about all season, situational hitting. If the Hokies are able to not only get guys on base, but get those guys across the plate, they would be seeing far more success on the field. The hitting talent is there, the team just needs to work on utilizing it in the biggest moments.