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The Five Ways Louisville Baseball Measures Offensive Success



NASHVILLE -- Over the last five seasons, Louisville assistant coaches Eric Snider and Adam Vrable have helped turn the Cardinals lineup into one of the most consistent in the country from year to year.

The team results speak for themselves. In that span of time, Louisville has won four Atlantic Coast Conference regular season titles and made two trips to the College World Series, the most recent coming last season.

But you can also view the program’s offensive success at a more granular level, as Snider and Vrable do.

In a session on their collective offensive teaching approach at the 2020 ABCA Convention, the coaches shared that they have five key metrics they measure to determine how successful their offense was in a given season.

“Number one, we are trying to score more runs than our opponent, and there are many ways to do that,” Vrable said.

“Number two, everyone in our lineup (has) 10-15 plus doubles. (Number) Three, three guys in our lineup with double-digit home runs, and four, we want to control the strike zone. How do we do that? Our walks and hit by pitches need to be even or greater than our strikeouts. And lastly, putting pressure on the defense. We want to have 100-plus (stolen) bags by the end of the year.”

Louisville has had no trouble with the first metric. In each of the last five years, it has outscored its opponents by no fewer than 133 runs. Admittedly, that has a lot to do with the fact that the Cardinals have had their fair share of outstanding pitchers as well, but in 2016 and 2017, they outscored the opposition by a more than 2:1 ratio.

The doubles goal is a little trickier, in part because teams are never running out the same nine guys all season long. But it would be tough to argue that the Cardinals haven’t had success in this regard as well.

At least six players have had ten or more doubles in each of the last five years. Then you have to take into account players who likely would have gotten there with more at-bats. In 2019, for example, Zeke Pinkham had eight doubles in just 102 at-bats, while Zach Britton had seven in about half the at-bats of most of the regulars.

The home run goal has been accomplished twice in the last five years, in 2016 and 2017, when three hitters had double-digit home run totals. The 2015 team had just one, Corey Ray and his 11 homers, and last season there was just one, when Alex Binelas had 14. In 2018, they had no players with double-digit homers, although Josh Stowers came close, with nine.

Having free passes outpace strikeouts is an aggressive goal, especially in a baseball world where strikeouts continue to climb higher, but the Cardinals have done it twice, in 2016 and 2018. They also might have come closer to doing it last season, but widely-panned changes in the hit by pitch rule at the college level depressed that stat across the board, not just at Louisville.

Stealing bases has been a strength for the Snider and Vrable offenses. They have eclipsed 100 steals in four of five seasons, and when they missed that goal in 2017, they still had 98.

Certainly there have been offensive stars in the program over the last five years. Ray, the fifth overall pick in 2016, was one, as was two-way star Brendan McKay, the fourth pick the next year.

But success in these metrics says as much about the type of depth Louisville lineups typically have. One massive season from a power bat will only get you part of the way to the doubles and homers goal. And an elite base stealer can’t get you close to 100 stolen bases on his own.

Even with the best individual seasons, any single player in the Cardinals’ lineup is just one of a half-dozen or more hitters with averages better than .300, slugging percentages of .500 or higher, or with at least a handful of stolen bases.

20152016201720182019
Runs for/against355/232471/202464/221443/287512/281
Players with 10+ doubles66777
Players with 10+ homers13301
Free passes/strikeouts324/437321/314364/408410/409396/442
Stolen bases12710198125108

The five-year span used to examine these numbers actually lends itself well to comparison with other elite programs in the recent past. It has also been five seasons since the NCAA moved to using a lower-seamed baseball, which increased offensive output across the sport after a previous steep decline with the introduction of BBCOR bats prior to the 2011 season.

Just the average of the last five Louisville offenses compares quite favorably with the 2015 Virginia, 2017 Florida, and 2018 Oregon State national championship-winning lineups.

None of the three had more than five players with double-digit doubles totals, more than one player with double-digit homers, or more than 83 stolen bases as a team.

To be fair, those were three teams much more built around elite pitching rather than prolific offenses, but even when measured against 2016 Coastal Carolina or 2019 Vanderbilt, two teams known for putting up runs in bunches, Louisville does quite well.

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2015 Virginia2016 CCU2017 Florida2018 OSU2019 Vandy
Runs for/against357/280516/305409/359518/250578/291
Players with 10+ doubles47468
Players with 10+ homers14314
Free passes/strikeouts327/343419/575292/476398/438452/603
Stolen bases44112985180

The Chanticleers of 2016 and the last five years of Louisville offenses are more or less on par when it comes to run differential, the number of players with ten or more doubles and in stolen bases. And while Coastal’s combined walks and hit by pitch total was greater than any of the five Louisville seasons, so were its 575 strikeouts. The one area where the national champs come out clearly ahead is in having four players with double-digit home run totals.

Matching up with the juggernaut offense of 2019 Vanderbilt is a tough ask, and that is borne out in the comparison. A run differential of 287, eight players with ten or more doubles, four players with double-digit home run totals (plus two more with nine homers) and 452 combined free passes all eclipse anything Louisville has done in the last five seasons.

But again, Louisville has never struck out as much as Vandy did in 2019 and the Commodores fell well short of even Louisville’s lowest stolen base total in the last five seasons.

Vanderbilt had a better offense last season than any of Louisville’s last five, but the fact that the Cardinals are even in the neighborhood is impressive in its own right.

When selling the Louisville program to recruits, Snider says the focus is in five areas.

“We tell our players, you’re going to get your degree, you’re going to develop as a person and as a player, you’re going to help others,” he said. “We are going to win and we are going to help you engage in professional baseball.”

Clearly, the proof is in the pudding on the field. Over the last five years, the Cardinals have done a lot of winning, have helped turn role players into stars over the course of three or four years in the program and have put loads of players into pro baseball.

Offense is just one part of that equation, but with Snider and Vrable in the fold, they are getting that part of the game right in a big way.

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