Getting leadoff batter on key to Horns offensive production

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Freshman infielder Brooks Marlow connecs on a pitch in a recent game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Marlow and other Longhorn leadoff hitters have been swinging the bat well during UT's current six game win streak.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

After his team’s sixth straight win Tuesday evening, head coach Augie Garrido joked that Bill James, the renowned baseball statistician, should write an article about how often a team scores when its leadoff batter reaches base.

“[The percentage] is really high,” Garrido asserted. “And it drops dramatically when they don’t get on. What you can do offensively drops dramatically, too.”

The Longhorns’ offense is predicated on having the first hitter of the inning get on base any way they can. When that happens, Garrido almost always has the next batter lay down a sacrifice bunt so the leadoff batter advances to second base, hoping that an ensuing base hit will drive him in. The “small ball” philosophy has worked well so far during Garrido’s tenure at Texas to the tune of seven College World Series appearances and two national titles.

This year, the value of the leadoff batter reaching base has also been evident.

In the Longhorns’ 11 victories this season, their leadoff batter reached base nearly half of the time, at a 48.9 percent rate to be exact. On the other hand, the leadoff hitter has reached base only 29.2 percent of the time in Texas’ eight losses this year. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have scored 65 runs in the 66 innings where they’ve put the first batter of the inning on base. But in 98 innings where their leadoff hitter has not reached base, they have pushed only 21 runs across the plate.

In its last six contests — all wins — Texas leadoff hitters are batting .425 and slugging .674 while boasting a .577 on-base percentage. In their previous 11 games, only four of which resulted in Longhorns victories, their leadoff batters hit just .222, slugged .303, and posted a .321 on-base percentage.

“You’re seeing the leadoff hitter get on in a variety of ways and you’re seeing the people behind them be patient, advancing the runners in more ways,” Garrido said. “They just look like professionals playing the game so that just brings more confidence to the table and that’s the best friend you can have in this game — confidence.”

During the current six-game winning streak, the Longhorns are scoring in two-thirds of the innings that their leadoff batter reaches base and more than 40 percent of the time when they don’t. But during a five-game losing streak earlier this season, their longest since 2001, Texas got the leadoff batter on base only 11 times in 45 innings, scoring in six of them. In the other 34 frames, the Longhorns scored only three runs.

“They were pressing to get a hit,” Garrido said. “They weren’t bothering to know where the ball was and the more you do that, the more tension you create in your body. There’s a lot of rhythm to hitting. There’s rhythm, timing, and vision — they’re all connected. When you don’t have your rhythm, you lose your timing. And when you lose your timing, you lose your vision. So now you’re really in trouble.”

In Tuesday’s 9-1 triumph over Stephen F. Austin, Texas saw its leadoff batter reach base in four times in the first six innings, after which the Longhorns held a commanding 8-0 lead. Freshman second baseman Brooks Marlow was the catalyst of the prolific offensive production, leading off a 3-run second inning with a single and scoring in the third after starting the frame with a triple. Then, Marlow laid down sacrifice bunts in his next two plate appearances. The first drove in a run and the second moved runners over to second and third base as both would eventually cross the plate.

“What we try to do is get the first guy on every time,” Marlow said. “It doesn’t matter how you get on. It can be a bunt, hit, walk or an error. You can’t be picky. On base is on base.”

As often as the longhorns are getting on base, their winning streak could go well beyond six games.

Printed on Thursday, March 22, 2012 as: Leadoff hitters heating up, getting on base more often